IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify/PHOTO CREDIT: Daniel Kramer
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home
TOMORROW is also the anniversary...
IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan in 1965/PHOTO CREDIT: Everett Collection/REX
of The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me, but I have featured that before. It is a great record to buy and listen to on vinyl; sit back and let everything wash over you. It is an immediate and incredible album that, fifty-six years after its release, still sounds amazing. Another great record that celebrates an anniversary tomorrow is Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home – it turns fifty-four. It is one of those records that, in the great bulk of genius Bob Dylan albums, is not given the same attention and celebration as Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited. Dylan’s early career sounds are noted for their acoustic sounds but, by 1965, Dylan was incorporating more electronic elements into his work – to the chagrin of some people in the Folk community who felt he was betraying its roots. Bringing It All Back Home is divided between electronic and acoustic sides and, on the first side, Dylan is backed by an electronic band. This caused consternation among those who felt Folk was acoustic and Dylan was making a huge mistake. I am not sure what the thinking was but maybe the thought of Dylan becoming more Rock was a sell-out; a sense he was abandoning Folk and trying to fit in with the mainstream. It is hard to think that his electric ambitions would cause outrage in the 1960s but, in many ways, Dylan opened up Folk and showed there was potential to cross-pollination and broaden its scope.
Listen to a lot of the Folk albums that followed – and how Folk sounds today – and one can hear Dylan’s influence. Dylan, by the middle of the 1960s, was moving away from his role as the protest singer – another move that irked and led some to believe he was betraying his roots – and writing more from an abstract perspective. Look at songs (on Bringing It Back Home) such as It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) and one can definitely detect a stylistic shift. His delivery, on some numbers, is more fast-paced and his lyrics more personal and, in places, surreal – he would create these bigger, more surreal songs by the time Highway 61 Revisited arrived later in 1965. During 1964, Dylan was based in Woodstock and, as peer Joan Baez recalled, he was sat at the typewriter with a red wine near; getting down his thoughts and, in the middle of the night, would sometimes be heard staggering towards the typewriter to get something urgent down. It was clearly a fertile time for Dylan and the peace and scenery of Woodstock definitely inspired him. Still only twenty-three, Dylan was still concerned with world affairs and political ills but was looking in avenue avenues; broadening his songbook and integrating different sounds into the palette. There was this definite shift from the personal and political to the more surreal and fantastical.
IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan in 1965/PHOTO CREDIT: Harry Thompson/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dylan was writing more in a stream-of-consciousness mood and he even influenced The Beatles – he met them in August 1964 and inspired a more introspective writing style; they, in turn, inspired a more electronic sound in Dylan. Look at the work Bob Dylan and The Beatles were putting out between 1965 and, say, 1968 and there is this sort of rivalry. It is hard to say who edges the battle but Dylan brought out Blonde on Blonde in 1966 whilst The Beatles would deliver Revolver that year and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the following year – if Dylan was edging it in 1964 and 1965, The Beatles overtook him by the latter-half of the 1960s. There was a bit of experimentation before Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home’s producer, Tom Wilson, decided on a set sound. They tried versions of Rock and Folk music but, having few guides and other artists doing the same thing, it was not overly-successful. Dylan and Wilson eventually recruited an electric band – including Al Gorgoni and Bruce Langhorne – and set to working on the album. The songs were captured quite quickly and, boasting a loose, live-sounding flair, these epic songs soon formed. It is amazing to think how quickly the master takes came together and how few takes were needed. Whereas some of Dylan’s earlier albums were a little limited when it came to sound and lyrics, Bringing It All Back Home was a much more eclectic and broad record.
Subterranean Homesick Blues has that intense and passionate delivery and talked about anti-establishment politics – Dylan was still reflecting political aspects but not in the same way as he did at the start of the 1960s. Bohemian lovers and breaking away from the protest Folk movement were all covered. Dylan’s incredible wordplay and indelible poetry infused every track and here was a man, still fresh-faced and making his way, who was producing these incredibly accomplished and nuanced songs. The 1960s was not short of genius writers but, when you listen to the words on Bringing It All Back Home, they sink in and take you somewhere extraordinary. The richness and maturity of the songs; the way Dylan pushed against rigid Folk values and structures. He worked with a variety of musicians and was moving away from mere protest songs. This was seen as somewhat revolutionary in 1965 but, today, it means Folk as a genre is much bolder and unafraid to adventure. A lot of the puritans were unaccepting of Dylan’s new phase but there were many new followers who latched onto his music. The wonderful It’s Alight, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) opened doors and minds for Folk singers and Pop bands alike. Looking at the futility of politics through a series of incredibly vivid and entrancing verses, Alight, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) is considered one of his finest-ever songs.
Dylan would delve deeper into love and tangles relationships later in his career but even at such a young age, Dylan has a fond understanding regarding the human heart and the complexities of love. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, as the title suggests, looks at the end of a long relationship and the sadness that has emanated from a once-happy bond. The eleven tracks from Bringing It All Back Home were recorded during a few days in January 1965 and it is amazing to discover how fast the whole process was. What we get is this live-sounding record that is raw and honest but filled with complex lyrics and gorgeous performances. The record is regarded as one of the best ever. Combining aspects of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones alongside Chuck Berry, it was a new form of Rock & Roll expression. Its influence is hard to calculate but it definite made a big impression on bands such as The Beatles who, themselves, inspired greatly a great deal of other bands – including The Beach Boys among many others. The reviews, both at the time and since 1965, have been near-spotless: I cannot think of anyone who had anything but pure admiration Bringing It All Back Home (although, there are always some who turn their nose up at anything!). AllMusic, from this 2016, review, show how Bob Dylan moved from 1964 and 1965 and the effect his fifth studio album had:
“With Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan had begun pushing past folk, and with Bringing It All Back Home, he exploded the boundaries, producing an album of boundless imagination and skill. And it's not just that he went electric, either, rocking hard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues," "Maggie's Farm," and "Outlaw Blues"; it's that he's exploding with imagination throughout the record. After all, the music on its second side -- the nominal folk songs -- derive from the same vantage point as the rockers, leaving traditional folk concerns behind and delving deep into the personal. And this isn't just introspection, either, since the surreal paranoia on "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" and the whimsical poetry of "Mr. Tambourine Man" are individual, yet not personal...
And that's just the tip of the iceberg, really, as he writes uncommonly beautiful love songs ("She Belongs to Me," "Love Minus Zero/No Limit") that sit alongside uncommonly funny fantasias ("On the Road Again," "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream"). This is the point where Dylan eclipses any conventional sense of folk and rewrites the rules of rock, making it safe for personal expression and poetry, not only making words mean as much as the music, but making the music an extension of the words. A truly remarkable album”.
This 2016 article from Rolling Stone looked at the impact and genius of Brining It All Back Home and how Bob Dylan helped transform music and
“He conjured performances that would completely reimagine how pop music communicated – not just what it could say, but how it could say it. “Some people say that I am a poet,” he wrote coyly in the prose-poem notes on the back cover. Now, he was ready to test the limits of what that meant, rewiring himself for a singularly revolutionary moment. The fallout-shelter sign in the cover shot was on point: Bringing It All Back Home was the cultural equivalent of a nuclear bomb.
“The thing about Bringing It All Back Home was his words,” says David Crosby. “That’s what Bob stunned the world with. Up until then we had ‘oooh, baby’ and ‘I love you, baby.’ Bob changed the map. He gave us really, really good words”.
It is a seismic album that, in 1965, was battling some truly mighty artists! Who knows how inspiring Dylan would have been if he had stayed with protest politics and traditional Folk – would he have ever changed course?! There was a reaction against him going electric but, as we have seen in the ensuing decades, that decision was right. Bob Dylan knew what he was doing and has a plan in mind:
“As Dylan put it in his memoir, Chronicles, “What I did to break away, was to take simple folk changes and put new imagery and attitude to them, use catchphrases and metaphor combined with a new set of ordinances that evolved into something different that had not been heard before.”
Dylan also got final takes of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It’s Alright, Ma” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” one of the finest kiss-off songs ever recorded and a contender for Dylan’s prettiest song. “Baby Blue” reads as a barbed fare-thee-well to a lover, but also to Dylan’s old core audience. It was an acoustic song, just guitar and harmonica, excepting the beautiful forward-tugging countermelody played on electric bass by Bill Lee. But its heart was rooted in the rock & roll. “I had carried that song around in my head for a long time,” Dylan said. “When I was writing it, I remembered a Gene Vincent song. Of course, I was singing about a different Baby Blue.” Another instant classic, it would be covered by the Grateful Dead, Van Morrison, Bryan Ferry and many others”.
It is amazing to think that, fifty-four years after its release, Bringing It All Back Home can be heard in the work of modern artists. Maybe nobody has hit the heights Dylan did but mixing Rock and Blues tones within Folk is almost commonplace; stretching beyond the political and bringing more personal aspects into music. Folk would not suffer a huge blown when Dylan changed his sound but, rather than betray the genre, he offered other songwriters a possibility that was not known; a new direction and horizon. If you have not discovered Bringing It All Back Home then trying grabbing it on vinyl and letting its magic do the work. Bob Dylan would go on to create bigger and more celebrated works but Bringing It All Back Home is one of his most important records. Take the time to celebrate an incredible work that, in my view, grows in importance and stature by the year. In a year when The Beatles released Rubber Soul (after Bringing It All Back Home) and The Who gave us My Generation, Bringing It All Back Home seems more revolutionary and revelatory than both. It is a remarkable album and I hope it continues to find willing ears for many decades to come. I am going to play the album soon and reacquaint myself with the staggering and evocative songs that are almost breath-taking in their scope and quality. It is no shock Dylan could create such an album but I do not even think he himself could predict how important and influential...
IN THIS PHOTO: Bob Dylan captured by Daniel Kramer in 1965
BRINGING It All Back Home would become.