Record Of The Week # 86

Bob Dylan – Another Side Of Bob Dylan

If I was bragging I’d tell you I bought my first Dylan album in 1974 – Before The Flood. I say this because we all know that any affection for Bob carries kudos for the follower. It suggests that you are serious about your popular music – its history, construction and icons. However, I haven’t dwelt on his catalogue until the last few years. Of course I knew a lot about Dylan through the 70s onwards. I’d collected a couple of the 60s albums but I’d only played them once in a while. If pressed I’d say that Blood On The Tracks was the meisterwerk. Now I’m starting to truly listen to his catalogue and trying to reconcile all I hear with his own personal development. The earlier stuff is exceptional.

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Another Side Of Bob Dylan was his fourth release and came out in 1964. By all accounts the ‘voice of a generation’, with his protest songs, disappointed the masses by abandoning his rôle as their spokesman. There’s still considerable profundity in most of the songs but none that you can trace back to the upheaval of 60s America. The upheaval came in the form of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war, Kennedy’s assassination and the growing non conformity of a generation that regularly protested and abandoned the uniform of dress codes and short hair. Peace and love were just around the corner.

“All I Really Want To Do” is a beautiful tune and the words are still apposite for a boy pursuing a girl. He wants nothing serious or complicated but just wants to be friends. I think he’s underestimated as a leading composer of popular music in the 20th Century. A strength here is that his voice is crystal clear and his phrasing is unique but not yet raddled with age and cigarettes.

The record is still in his folk pre-electric phase. The whole album was recorded in one day and the instrumentation is harmonica, piano or guitar by Dylan. There would be literal tears a couple of years later when electricity crept into his repertoire. Many of the devoted folk music fans thought he’d sold out.

I’m attending an eight week night school at York University where we dissect some Dylan songs for their poetical content (after all he did get a Nobel prize for them). “Chimes Of Freedom” is one such. Over five verses his brilliant use of English conjures up faces, landscapes, traumas and emotions:

“Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An’ the poet and the painter far behind his rightful time
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing”

This seven minutes never drags. You savour each line to enjoy the brilliant pairing of words in often powerful or explosive couplets. If you’re not doing that then you are trying to extract a meaning. His acoustic guitar plays the tune with occasional mouth organ.

Another thing to boggle your mind is that this Rimbaud inspired lyric is written by a man barely 23 years old. He was a reader of classic literature but not a scholar or graduate. “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is a satirical talking blues. The “No. 10” is probably an acknowledgement that this tune and style wasn’t original. He covers contemporary topics with mentions of Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali), Barry Goldwater, Russians and Cuba.

Despite the same instrumentation he’s shifting throughout to different types of melody and lyrical themes. He was a boy who’d absorbed folk music by learning and playing it. He came from the Mid West to NYC to play the clubs and learn from the major folk artists of the day. In fact he didn’t initially record his own songs. Eventually when he started to record you could hear traces of many early musical influences such as English, Irish, Scottish, South American and African American in the sounds he made.

“Motorpsycho Nitemare” is a rambling story. He’s on the road and needs a ”place to stay”. He knocks on a door. After hostility and suspicion a farmer gives him a bed. The generational divide is apparent as this free spirit collides with the middle-aged establishment. Complications arise when Rita, the farmer’s daughter, steps into view looking “like she stepped out of La Dolca Vita”. I think you can guess the plot and it’s complications from here. The album finishes with “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. A song subsequently widely covered. The folk pop song grabs you immediately with its hooks. Its simple melody unfolds as Dylan plays chords on his guitar. Of all the songs this allows the mesmerising quality of his voice to captivate you.

I can tell you from our night school class there’s enough in each of the 11 songs to make it into a potential classic. I‘ve talked about a few here but each one is important.

Needless to say his trajectory was skywards at this stage of his career. It’s easy to see why each album on this path is coveted and still as important today as when they were released.

2 thoughts on “Record Of The Week # 86

  1. I’m, as a younger generation might say, “jels”. What a fascinating course. I’d love to do something like that. You are going into some essential detail so please keep your readers up to date with further posts. I’d be interested to know which biographies of Bob your tutor recommends.

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    1. I’ll dig out the books they’ve recommended. I have to say after 4 weeks I think people put a lot more thought into Bob’s lyrics than he did! The class is packed with literature students and I’m now amazed I got English Literature A Level judging by how stupid I appear in this august company.

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