Another Side of Bob Dylan

Recorded: June 9, 1964 (one day??!?!!)

Released: August 8, 1964

Yep, it is “another side” of Dylan. When I listen to this, I hear him reaching for something, but not quite getting there. There are some great songs here: “All I Really Want To Do”, “Spanish Harlem Incident”, “Chimes of Freedom”,  and (depending on your taste), “To Ramona”, “My Back Pages”, and “It Ain’t Me Babe”. But for me, most of the songs as recorded here  are somehow unfinished, either as songs per se or as performances. 

For the issue with the performance, read the Wikipedia article and the 1964 New Yorker article; Dylan recorded the album in one session that lasted about five and a half hours “while polishing off a couple bottles of Beaujolais”. Dylan always wanted spontaneity in his recordings, but I think this just didn’t give him enough time and reflection to work through enough takes of the songs to get them right.

To me, this is one of the very few sets of Dylan songs where I prefer cover versions. I think (too lazy to check) that The Byrds recorded all the major songs from this album, and they just feel much more developed. Yes, I realize their style was very different than solo-Bob-Dylan, but I actually don’t feel this way about Mr. Tambourine Man — both the Dylan and Byrds versions are great. The performances here are like sketches that need to be filled in.

For the issue with the songs, clearly he’s moved away from topical songs to personal and imagistic songs, stringing together descriptive phrases intending to paint a picture in the listener’s mind. The two paradigm examples are “Chimes of Freedom” and “My Back Pages”. I think “Chimes” is a great song, but as I’ve already said, I can’t get completely behind the performance. But it helped me to read Paul Williams’ take on this song in his great book: “Performing Artist: The Music of Bob Dylan Vol. One, 160-1973”. This song about Dylan’s experience watching a lightning storm; suddenly the song’s imagery becomes concrete, which helps me appreciate the thoughts and analogies it sparked in Dylan’s mind. Thing is, I see this as kind of a transition between “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” (its advantages are a better melody and more controlled imagery) and the masterpieces that were about to come, most specifically “Mr. Tambourine Man”. 

“All I Want To Do” always makes me smile: so many things he doesn’t want to do… all he really wants to do, baby, is be friends with you. “Spanish Harlem Incident” is a beautiful little song.  I’ve never really warmed up to “I Don’t Believe You”, but really, his signing is pretty great, with the final verse hitting home: 

And if anybody asks me / “Is it easy to forget?” / I’ll say, “It’s easily done, you just pick anyone / And pretend that you never have met”

Do people love “It Ain’t Me, Babe”? I have the impression it’s considered a classic Dylan song, but I’ve always (unfairly, I suppose) considered it to cover similar ground as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”, but it just isn’t as good.

But the good news is there are two humorously absurd songs, “I Shall Be Free No. 10” and “Motorpsycho Nightmare”. I enjoy basically his entire body of humorous songs from his early years (I hit my limit on “The Basement Tapes” — more on that later). My college roommate and I always laughed over the friend who

When my name comes up he pretends to barf / I’ve got a million friends

To wrap up, “Another Side of Bob Dylan” is a transitional album. Both the songs and the performances are reaching for something (great), but don’t quite get there. Maybe the Beajolais didn’t help, either.

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