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Dylan's rock album without the rock
on 2 October 2007
Bob Dylan released his fourth studio album, ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN, in August 1964. Due to the prolific nature of many recording artists during the 1960s, this was his second album of the year. And what an album it is. This record has a special place in my heart, as this is the very first Dylan album I listened too all the way through.
Earlier in the year, Dylan had released his third album, comprised solely of protest music, entitled THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'. That album was very dark and starkly depressing. Dylan, not one to be tied down to a "movement," completely changed directions, abandoning the heavy protest music of his previous LP, TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGIN', and instead focusing on a more cerebral, beatnik style of music and lyrics. Dylan lays all the groundwork for his next three releases on this album.
The critical appraisal of ANOTHER SIDE is that it is a transitional album, which is largely true. From an artistic standpoint, ANOTHER SIDE belongs with the electric trilogy both thematically and lyrically. The writing marks a significant change and evolution of Dylan's music, branching out more into interpersonal songs, surrealistic songs, comedy songs, and devastating love songs.
Dylan wisely moved beyond the folk protest movement, and pretty much establishing the folk-rock movement. Acts such as The Turtles, Johnny Cash, and The Byrds took five of the songs on the album to the upper echelon of the singles charts. This chart success helped established Dylan has one of rock's premier new song writers, a status which would only grow as the decades rolled on.
Dylan states with the opening track that he doesn't want to be a "spokesman of a generation," but just a friend. "It Ain't Me Babe", besides the literal reading of a person saying he won't be a woman's lover, is much the same message as the opening track, but this time much more direct and confrontational. He ain't the spokesman for the protest movement, so get over it.
"My Back Pages" continues this theme of abandoning protest sentiment for a more personal, intimate approach. He states he wasn't as wise as he was pretending to be, and has been returned to a sort of innocence ("I was so much older than, I'm younger than that now). Almost thirty years later George Harrison, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Roger McGuinn, Neil Young, and Dylan would play an electric version with each singer trading off verses at Bob's 30th anniversary celebration. Great version, great video, and great guitar solo by Clapton.
The remaining tracks are Dylan following the poetic techniques he first pioneered in "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" to their logical conclusion, culminating in "Chimes of Freedom," his undeniable masterpiece from ANOTHER SIDE. "I Shall Be Free # 10" and "Motopsycho Nitemare" glady restore Dylan's sense of humour on prominent display, which was so sadly lacking on his grim, humourless affair of TIMES THEY ARE. The reference to Hitchcock in "Nitemare" is worth the price of admission. "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "Black Crowe Blues" are minor gems in Dylan's 1960s songbook. "Black Crow Blues" is notable for its piano, the only track to have an additional instrument besides guitar and harmonica. It is also Dylan's first commercial recording where he plays piano. To date, he's never played "Black Crowe Blues" live.
"To Ramona" is one of the most memorable songs of Dylan's acoustic material. "I Don't Believe You (She Acts like We Never Met", Dylan later radically rearranged and played an electric version with the Hawks (before they became The Band) in the famous '66 tour. You really should check out the electric interpretation found on THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOLUME 4: THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL CONCERT.
"Ballad in Plain D" is a poignant anomaly in Dylan's canon. The song details his bitter breakup with Sue Rotolo, his girlfriend in the early 1960s and the woman pictured with Bob on THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN. (Over forty years later she still gets recognized from that photograph). The song is a very intimate look at Dylan's love life, shocking for a celeberty known for his love of privacy. In 1985, when asked by an interviewer of there was any song he wished he had not written, Dylan [told an interview that] singled out this song, wishing he had left it unrecorded, or at least unreleased, due to the highly personal nature of its lyrics. For such a private man, "Ballad in Plain D" is a very rarely afforded view into Dylan's personal life at the time. Dylan wouldn't grant that liberty again till the 1975 release BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, a full eleven years later. For that reason alone we should pay attention to it. For this listener, it's a great song.
The album was recorded in a single session, with Dylan polishing off two bottles of Beaujolais wine. Fourteen songs were recorded with complete takes, of which eleven made the final cut.
The first of the three songs left on the cutting room floor was the first take of one of Dylan's most famous songs, "Mr Tambourine Man." Dylan cut the song with Ramblin' Jack Elliot singing harmony on the chorus, and with Dylan flubbing some of the lines. This would not be released until 2005's BOOTLEG SERIES 7.
The second is "Mama You Been On My Mind," a song Dylan gave to Joan Baez who would make it an international hit as "Daddy, You Been on My Mind." Dylan and Baez would duet on the song during the mid 1960s.
The third song, and still unreleased (though widely available via bootleg), is "Denise". The song uses the same music as "Black Crowe Blues," but has different, and for many fans superior, lyrics.
Dylan in later years has expressed dissatisfaction with the title. He thought that was stating the obvious. And to some degree it is. You can tell by this record he's getting bored with folk music and instead wants to go onto bigger and better things.
ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN sounds like the next evolutionary link in Dylan's artistic journey. While TIMES sounded like a forced protest album (which it largely was, despite containing some phenomenal music), ANOTHER SIDE sounds like the real successor to FREEWHEELIN'.
FREEWHEELIN' featured Dylan the protestor with Dylan the poet. His next two albums would later explore that dichotomy. During the TIMES sessions Dylan was recording music far outside the straightjacket scope of "traditional protest" music, but rather than release an accurate snapshot of where his music at, he released only his most adamant protest music. Just like he changed his focus to protest music for TIMES, Dylan again shifted gears for ANOTHER SIDE. While TIMES was a one-off, ANOTHER SIDE represented the direction Dylan's career would go for the next several years.
Ultimately, ANOTHER SIDE stands as one of Dylan's best albums. For all intents and purposes, it is the precursor to his electric trilogy, though it has no electric instruments. Dylan naturally progressed from this to the rock and roll music of his next three releases. While that fact is easy to point out decades after the fact, it was quite the shocker to the folk critics, fans, and establishment. Ah, but that is another story.