"Masters of War" is a song by Bob Dylan, written over the winter of 1962-63 and released on the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in the spring of 1963. The song's melody was adapted from the traditional "Nottamun Town". Dylan's lyrics are a protest against the Cold War arms build-up of the early 1960s.
With many of his early songs, Dylan adapted or "borrowed" melodies from traditional songs. In the case of "Nottamun Town", however, the arrangement was by veteran folksinger Jean Ritchie. Unknown to Dylan, the song had been in Ritchie's family for generations, and she wanted a writing credit for her arrangement. In a legal settlement, Dylan's lawyers paid Ritchie $5,000 against any further claims.
Dylan first recorded "Masters of War" in January 1963 for Broadside magazine, which published the lyrics and music on the cover of its February issue. The song was also taped in the basement of Gerde's Folk City in February and for Dylan's music publisher, M. Witmark & Sons, in March. The Witmark version was included on The Bootleg Series Vol. 9 – The Witmark Demos: 1962–1964 in October 2010. The Freewheelin' version, recorded April 24, 1963, by Columbia Records, also appeared on the...