on 9 October 2012
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME is Dylan's fifth album, released in 1965. Commonly regarded as one of the most influential albums in rock history, BIABH is one of Dylan's most famous albums, and also one of his best.
By 1965, Bob Dylan had released four albums in the space of three years. The first was a traditional folk album with only two original songs. This was the proving grounds, for the market Dylan aiming for focused mostly on traditional material, not new song-writing The second was Dylan the song-writer, and proved to be one of the 1960s' most important albums. The third, Times They Are, featured Dylan the protest singer. The fourth was Another Side, which moved away from the protest-folk sing to a more surreal method of songwriting. For the protest-movement, it appeared for certain they were about to lose Dylan as a member of the movement.
When Dylan released BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME, he made it quite clear that not only was he distancing himself from the whole protest-folk movement, he was plugging in and turning on. While in ensuing years this decision has become the stuff of rock and roll legend and mythology, it should be noted this was a tremendously risky direction at the time. If Dylan didn't have the material to back his decision, he could fall flat on his face and his career could be over. Dylan was making a gamble that he could transition to a new fanbase - a very difficult move to pull off for any pop star. Fortunately, Dylan not only had the songs to back his decision, he crafted some of the most enduring music in rock history.
Dylan went electric on this album, but only for half of it, leaving the second half as acoustic. Though it appears Dylan was hedging his bets by doing half electric/half acoustic, the acoustic set is so masterful and so far beyond what anyone else was writing at the time, it works. This would be the last solely acoustic songs that Dylan would record for a studio album for over twenty seven years. Ironically, the acoustic songs are some of the best of Dylan's career, and in several ways outshine the electric half, though the electric songs got more attention when initially released.
Starting with "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and ending with "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", Dylan opened the floodgates of his genius. All eleven songs are expertly crafted, and BIABH features some of the best lyrics in rock music. For this listener, of all Dylan's albums this is the one that most likens back to Dylan's beat heros. As I am a beat fan myself, I tend to look at this album rather fondly.
Before we address the songs, like any Dylan album, there are a number of outtakes, some of which match the songs that made the cut. "Farewell Angelina" came as a shock when it was released in the BOOTLEG SERIES. A well known song from Joan Baez (who made it the title cut of her 1965 album), scholars and fans did not think he had recorded the song. Not only that, the BOOTLEG SERIES recording featured previously unknown verses. This is undoubtly a major song, and should have been included on the acoustic side. "If You Gotta Go" would have fit in well on the electric side. "I'll Keep It With Mine" for me is not only of Dylan's best outtakes, but one of his best songs from the 1960s, and, like "Farewell Angelina", should have been included on this album. Instead, he gave it to Nico to record of Velvet Underground fame.
"Sub. Homesick Blues" is a whole litany of catch phases. Indeed, one of the radical leftist organizations took their name from the song, calling themselves The Weathermen. The song is notable for its lyrical amalgamation of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, with some allusions to "Notes from the Underground" from Fyodor Dostoevsky. While not a member of the original Beats, and lyrically entirely Dylan's own work, the Beat Movement looms heavy on Sub. Homesick Blues, and indeed all of this album in particular. The song is notable for having no chorus (a rare thing for songs in those days) and one of the very first (if not the first) music video ever shot. Ginsberg is in the video (three videos were actually shot by D. A. Pennebaker, who directed "Dont Look Back"), and Subterranean may be in reference to Keroac's novel from 1958, The Subterraneans.
"She Belongs to You" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" are love songs the way only Dylan could write them. "Love Minus Zero" is one of the few noted instances where Dylan said he wrote the title long before the actual lyrics.
"Maggie's Farm" is a tell-off to the protest music movement, with Dylan getting bored with the whole thing (or least, that's how it is commonly interpreted). Taking the song on, away from that context, it stands as a young person moving away from tradition and authority to make his or her own way in this world, and to hell with working for slavemasters. This is the song that famously began the electric/folk controversery that enveloped Dylan's entire career at this point. He opened the Newport Festivel with this song (this recording now available on BOOTLEG SERIES VII), featuring Mike Bloomfield on electric guitar, and tore the song up, playing a much faster version than on the album. Being the Folk Festivel, this was very controversial, with Peter Seger famously trying to chop the sound system cables with an ax during his set.
"Outlaw Blues" and "On the Road" are rather comic vignettes, especially the latter. While entertaining, they are the most minor.
"Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" is Dylan's humour on full display. While rather easy to overlook given the serious nature of some of Dylan's other songs on this album, this song is a lyrically sharp, hilarious recount of sailors discovering America, replete with literary, cultural, and historical references and a sharp acerbic wit. In fact, when they were recording the song, the first take broke down due to producer Tom Wilson cracking up. Dylan got such a kick out of it he left this first aborted take (about thirty seconds, including the laugh) that he left it on the record.
Then we get to the acoustic side. While it would be easy to be disappointed that Dylan didn't record a full fledge rock album, rather than half-acoustic half electric, it simply isn't possible given the incredible song writing. These four songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Gates of Eden," "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," are staples in the Dylan songbook. While "Gates of Eden" is not as renowned as the other three, it still stands proudly as among some of Dylan's most searing, abstract work.
"Mr. Tambourine Man", first cut with Ramblin' Jack Eliot for ANOTHER SIDE but left off that album (now available on BOOTLEG 7), was rerecorded for this, resulting in one of Dylan's most famous (justifiably so) songs of his entire career. The wordplay is intricate and startling. The song is also famous for The Byrds' rendition of it. (Oddly enough, only Roger McGuinn is on the actual Byrds recording - the rest were session players). Urban legend states that one night in a bar in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Kieth Richards, Mick Jagger, and Dylan got in a fight, because Dylan said he could have written "Satisfaction", but the Stones could never have written "Mr. Tambourine Man". I agree.
"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding" is the culmination of his protest writing. In this song, Dylan moves from the topical song-writing to more abstract, universal imagery and protesting, and with absolutely stunning results. This, for my money, is the ultimate protest song, and will be just as valid now as it was when it was written decades ago. What makes the songs Sub. Homesick Blues and "It's Alright Maw" so successful are, unlike his earlier protest songs, Dylan has a lot of social commentary on the tracks, but says it in such a surreal way as to not date the songs, and make them much more universal and broader in scope.
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" signals the end of a relationship, and it is a song of devastating power and beauty. For those who held out hope Dylan would come back into the fold, this song made it perfectly clear what direction Dylan was to pursue.
Ultimately, this is one of Dylan's best albums. As it is the first installment in what is commonly referred to as his electric trilogy from the mid 1960s, it has every right to be considered legendary. One of the most essential records of the 1960s, and easily one of Dylan's best. Buy it with no regrets.
*The following outtakes were recorded: "California" (early version of "Outlaw Blues), "Farewell Angelina," "If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Gotta Stay All Night)", "You Don't Have to Do That (titled "Bending Down on My Stomick Lookin' West")", "Sitting on a Barb-Wire fence," and "I'll Keep It With Mine". On the BOOTLEG SERIES 1-3 all of these were released, with the exception of California and You Don't Have to Do That, and the version of Sitting is drawn from the HW61 sessions.
Bonus Content to Review: A long lost 60s review from a very opinated folk singer, April 30, 2001
[This is a reaction of a very traditional folk musician to Dylan's first electric album, which was somehow mislaid for years. I'm an anthropologist: THESE ARE NOT MY OPINIONS!]
Can you imagine my shock when, getting Dylan's newest lp, I slipped it onto the turntable and set down to prepare myself. Dylan's lp from last year, THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN', was a rather intense album, full of protest and venom, and so I was preparing this album to be just as radical as that was. And do you know what I heard???
Terrible, I know. Dylan, who might have been the next Woody Guthrie, has turned his back on the people that made him big. His skill's phenomenal, and while the first album, BOB DYLAN, is a nice little folk record, it's the latter efforts that are consistently stunning. THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN has so many anthems it makes your head twirl, and THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN' is an album full of protest at this world. That's what Dylan does best - protest songs. He squanders his talents when he invests them in this pop drivel. ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN, although tremendous in its own way, should have been taken as a warning. Here we find Dylan moving away from the protest songs that our generation so needs. While, as folk music, it does have its qualities, Dylan is abandoning his strengths when people need him the most. Yet, sadly, nothing else equals in talent or conviction of writing. That illustrates what a shame Dylan has become. But while ANOTHER SIDE does have the already cited faults, it stands as a worthy addition to Dylan's catalogue.
Now we have this ramble-shack of an album. After finally making it through the first three songs, I had to take a break because of the whole shock. Yes, I must confess, for this review I did listen to the entire album. The first side's that damned electric rock. Dylan's become the epitome of the crossover. He's a traitor. The two worst compositions are the opening track and a song called "Maggie's Farm". "Subterranean Homesick Blues" starts this album off, and as soon as you hear that you know this album has serious problems. Its fast-spoken lyrics that go by in a blur, leaving you in a daze. This type of material (fast beat, fast lyric recitation) will never become a significant part of this culture, or if it does it shows the deterioration that we have allowed instead of standing up to the problems, just like Dylan himself urged us just two albums ago. The rest of Side 1 is just more of this drivel, but the most troubling is "Maggie's Farm". Here, he essentially argues for the demolition of the music that he once stood for. He essentially states he won't sing folk. Instead, he'll become a turncoat. This is a grievous blow to our side, for, regardless of what this album may indicate, he does have tremendous talent. For those of you who liked his absurd sense of humour, evidenced on FREEWHEELIN' and ANOTHER SIDE, there is one track called BOB DYLAN'S 115 DREAM, which is funny, but beware because it still has that electric guitar.
Side 2, opening with "Mr. Tambourine Man", just keeps the pace of this abysmal album. Side 2 is acoustic music, but don't get your hopes up. This is not the Dylan that we hoped. This is Dylan doing what the "high culture" deems as poetry. He basically uses random imagery strung together for senseless effects. "Mr. Tambourine Man", although bad, cannot equal the absurdity of the following Dylan composition called "Gates of Eden". To quote some portions of the song (please don't cringe to bad), I will show you what I mean.
"The motorcycle black madonna -- Two-wheeled gypsy queen -- And her silver-studded phantom cause -- The gray flannel dwarf to scream -- As he weeps to wicked birds of prey -- Who pick up on his bread crumb sins -- And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden".
Remember, these terrible lyrics are coming from the same man who wrote this:
"Come gather 'round people -- Wherever you roam -- And admit that the waters -- Around you have grown -- And accept it that soon -- You'll be drenched to the bone. -- If your time to Is worth savin' -- Then you better start swimmin' -- Or you'll sink like a stone -- For the times they are a-changin'."
As you can tell, the later is obviously superiour. We have clear cut meaning, well within the confines of traditional folk. "It's Alright Ma, (I'm Only Bleeding)" shows promise of us getting the old Dylan back, but then these hopes are crushed with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". Some may interpret that it just means he got this out of his system, but I fear that is not the case.
We should have realised what was happening when ANOTHER SIDE OF BOB DYLAN was released. Dylan deliberately abused his talent, and while ANOTHER SIDE in and of itself is not as troubling, it has planted the seed. I urge you all to not buy this lp. Tell your friends to stay as far away from it as possible. If there is enough of a public reaction, Dylan will come to his senses and become the good little folky he's supposed to be. He has so much talent he must not abuse it like he has done on this. Its just a misstep (a terrible one, granted), and the results are this mess of an album. With enough of a public reaction, his next album will be a gentle folk album. He daren't cross us again so defiantly. You know what to do. If he doesn't straighten up this lp will be the end of his career. Let's pray and hope he comes back into the fold.