Bringing It All Back Home

Recorded: January 13-15, 1965

Released: March 22, 1965

Dylan goes electric!  This was his first studio album to feature electric backing. As I mentioned in my review of his 1964 Philharmonic show, it’s hard for me to access the outrage this caused among his following. (Also, given that the infamous Newport Folk Festival performance was four months later, how could people have been shocked that, y’know, he played the songs there the way they’d been played on the album?)

I’m now getting to the point in Dylan’s career where whole books have been written about his songs, albums, and concerts… and I’ve read some of them myself. So I am trying not to make this a “review”, because I can’t imagine I’ve got anything new to say. Instead, I’ll try to come at the album from the perspective of what it might have been like to experience it when it was released.

So, when I try to listen to this album with fresh ears, what strikes me is that with his songs, he’s found what he was reaching for on “Another Side…”, but his arrangements are maybe not quite there yet. There isn’t a consistent instrumentation for all the songs on the album (which I think he achieves with the next two studio albums). It’s a bit of a simplification to say Side 1 (of the LP, baby!) is electric, and Side 2 is acoustic, since  “She Belongs To Me” and “Love Minus Zero (No Limit)” on Side 1 feel mostly acoustic (and indeed, he often did these acoustic in concerts… for what it’s worth, these feel like the most “folk rock” songs Dylan ever recorded… which for me just mean closest to a Byrds-like sound), while ‘Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” on Side 2 both have a little electric accompaniment. 

And the electric songs don’t seem like rock’n’roll or rock, either, more like “electrified blues”. Now, I don’t think there’s any reason Dylan had to be trying for “rock’n’roll”; the point is, I don’t think he achieved a fully realized sound here.

OK, but (there’s always a but): the songs are pretty much great. Except for “Outlaw Blues” and “On The Road Again”, the rest of the songs range from great to Hall of Fame. (What do I mean by “Hall of Fame”? They’re all songs that appear on at least some ‘Dylan’s N Greatest Songs’ lists.), they include two top 10 songs — “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (true story: in high school we had to do some sort of reading in English class, and I chose “It’s Alright Ma”… I assume everyone in class was pretty much befuddled) — and several others that I like nearly as much. And “Subterranean Homesick Blues” may be the coolest song Dylan ever did, and the video was revolutionary.

Two special notes. I have loved “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” since the first time I heard it, and still love it today. When I’m done listening to its wild mashup of American history, literature, and contemporary observation, I want to go back to the beginning and listen again… false start and all. 

The man says, “Get out of here / I’ll tear you limb from limb” / I said, “You know they refused Jesus, too” / He said, “You’re not Him

But the funniest thing was / When I was leavin’ the bay / I saw three ships a-sailin’ / They were all heading my way / I asked the captain what his name was / And how come he didn’t drive a truck / He said his name was Columbus / I just said, “Good luck

I guess most people love Maggie’s Farm. There are a couple live versions I really like, but studio version never has done that much for me.

Outtakes! “If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Gotta Stay All Night)” — as the Wikipedia article says, the “title provides much of the subtext”.. but quite enjoyable. “I’ll Keep It With Mine” — a lovely song.

And then we have “Farewell Angelina”, another song I simply love. I think it’s one of Dylan’s most beautiful songs and vocal performances. While in something like “Gates of Eden”, the images just wash over me, and I have a hard time attributing much meaning, here I feel like there is some simple and profound meaning that I can almost (but not quite) grasp. (Maybe I just like my imagistic Dylan more restrained: “Farewell Angelina” > “Gates of Eden”; “Lay Down Your Weary Tunes” > “Chimes of Freedom”)

Farewell Angelina, The night is on fire / And I must go…

Farewell Angelina, The sky’s changing colors / And I must leave…

Farewell Angelina, The sky is folding / I’ll see you after a while…

Farewell Angelina, The sky it is trembling / And I must leave fast…

Farewell Angelina, The sky’s flooding over / And I must be gone…

Farewell Angelina, The sky’s flooding over / And I must go where it’s dry…

Call me any name you like / I will never deny it…

But Farewell Angelina, The sky is erupting / And I must go where it is quiet.

Yeah… and he left it off the album.

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