Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bringing It All Back Home

There are 30 albums more Top Album-ish than this one? I don’t think so!!! Nope. Sorry, folks, but even at # 31, I must insist that Bob Dylan's BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME (1965) is woefully underrated. This is a landmark album. It's also an album that withstands the test of time, mainly because, even 40+ years later, NO ONE has figured out how to write songs like this! English grammar would dictate that I say "no one else has figured out how to write songs like this," as to exclude Bob Dylan from the "no one." Unfortunately, as he will freely admit, even Bob Dylan doesn't write songs like this anymore!

From Wikipedia: "One of Dylan's most celebrated albums, Bringing It All Back Home was soon hailed as one of the greatest albums in rock history. In 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide, critic Dave Marsh wrote a glowing appraisal: 'By fusing the Chuck Berry beat of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles with the leftist, folk tradition of the folk revival, Dylan really had brought it back home, creating a new kind of rock & roll [...] that made every type of artistic tradition available to rock.' Clinton Heylin later wrote that Bringing It All Back Home was possibly 'the most influential album of its era. Almost everything to come in contemporary popular song can be found therein.'"

Now we're talkin' (although I find it interesting that it can't just be "the Chuck Berry beat". But, at least he listed the Stones ahead of the Beatles!!!).

Subterranean Homesick Blues - 2:21
She Belongs to Me - 2:47
Maggie's Farm - 3:54
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - 2:51
Outlaw Blues - 3:05
On the Road Again - 2:35
Bob Dylan's 115th Dream - 6:30
Mr. Tambourine Man - 5:30
Gates of Eden - 5:40
It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) - 7:29
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - 4:12

Side One: Dylan goes electric! “Johnny's in the basement/Mixing up the medicine/I'm on the pavement/Thinking about the government”, and it’s off from there. Pure stream-of-consciousness lyrics set to upbeat rock music, I’d classify “Subterranean Homesick Blues” as groundbreaking. “Maggie comes fleet foot/Face full of black soot”…is this the same “Maggie” referenced a couple of songs later in “Maggie’s Farm”? I have no idea, but if so, does this qualify as a concept album? Gosh, I hope so, 'cause that's such an impressive term. But, I digress.

“She Belongs To Me” provides a brief respite as a quiet love song. But, even in this setting, Dylan can certainly turn a phrase: “You will start out standing/Proud to steal her anything she sees/But you will wind up peeking through her keyhole/Down upon your knees”.

“Maggie’s Farm” is vivid imagery set to squealing electric guitar. (“Well, he puts his cigar/Out in your face just for kicks/His bedroom window/It is made out of bricks/The National Guard stands around his door/Ah, I ain't gonna work for Maggie's pa no more.”) This is a true classic.

“Love Minus Zero/No Limit” is deceptively simple on the surface, but still quite a good, catchy tune (“Some speak of the future/My love she speaks softly/She knows there's no success like failure/And that failure's no success at all”).

“Outlaw Blues” is a favorite of mine, with it’s boogie rhythm, and classic Dylan attitude in the lyrics, such as “Well, I wish I was on some/Australian mountain range/Oh, I wish I was on some/Australian mountain range/I got no reason to be there, but I/Imagine it would be some kind of change.”

“On The Road Again” is another boogie number, with crazy imagery (“Well, I go to pet your monkey/I get a face full of claws/I ask who's in the fireplace/And you tell me Santa Claus/The milkman comes in/He's wearing a derby hat/Then you ask why I don't live here/Honey, how come you have to ask me that?”)

But, the surrealism reaches its absolute pinnacle with “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”. It begins with “I was riding on the Mayflower/When I thought I spied some land/I yelled for Captain Arab/I have yuh understand/Who came running to the deck/Said, ‘Boys, forget the whale/Look on over yonder/Cut the engines/Change the sail…’” and goes from there. “Just then this cop comes down the street/Crazy as a loon/He throws us all in jail/For carryin' harpoons” Heck, there’s even a Beatles reference: “I ran right outside/And I hopped inside a cab/I went out the other door/This Englishman said, ‘Fab’.” The truly dream-like imagery continues, “A pay phone was ringing/It just about blew my mind/When I picked it up and said hello/This foot came through the line”! Of course, the end is fitting, “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.’” Lyrically, this is so far ahead of almost everything else I’ve ever heard that it’s damned near impossible to believe. But, it’s, at best, only the 2nd greatest lyrical achievement on this album!!!

Side Two is back to acoustic Dylan. Whether this was to show the world that he was still the master, or to hedge his bets, or just because he liked these particular songs better this way, who knows? In any event, the four songs on this side are nothing short of masterpieces.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” probably encapsulates the ’60s psychedelic-drug-counter-culture more effectively than any song that came before or after. Yet, musically, it is a straight-forward, acoustic song. There’s none of that crazy sound effect shit designed to distract from substandard lyrics. This is top-notch stuff: “Take me on a trip/Upon your magic swirlin' ship/My senses have been stripped/My hands can't feel to grip/My toes too numb to step/Wait only for my boot heels/To be wanderin'.”

“Gates of Eden” is a harrowing tune. “With a time-rusted compass blade/Aladdin and his lamp/Sits with Utopian hermit monks/Side saddle on the Golden Calf/And on their promises of paradise/You will not hear a laugh/All except inside the Gates of Eden”…this guy Dylan is clearly on another level.

“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, as I’ve stated previously, is the single finest piece of poetry EVER set to music, in my ever-so-fucking-humble opinion. Take a moment to read these lyrics in their entirety here. The rapid-fire guitar and vocal delivery are awe-inspiring. Listen to this one through headphones while lying flat on your back at 4 AM, and just let it cascade across your consciousness. It’s a true ass-kicker.

The album ends with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, quite possibly the single greatest relationship-ending song in history. “Yonder stands your orphan with his gun/Crying like a fire in the sun/Look out the saints are comin' through/And it's all over now, Baby Blue”. Just for the record, I find the imagery of “The empty-handed painter from your streets/Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets” to be more than a bit disturbing! Incidentally, this song was later remade by Them (featuring Van Morrison). It’s a fantastic version, probably my 2nd favorite cover version of a Dylan song ever, behind the Hendrix version of “All Along The Watchtower”.

BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME was released on March 22, 1965, after having been recorded in January of that year. As a point of reference, The Beatles did not record RUBBER SOUL until Oct/Nov 1965. It was released in December 1965. But, I'm not even that interested in who influenced whom. It's just a distraction.

Bottom line: The fact remains that I find this album almost infinitely more listenable than Sgt. Pepper's. I suppose it's just my opinion. And, if you disagree, that's cool. After all, “It's life and life only.”


Blogger Keith Kennedy said...

You review Bob better than you do Neil.

Good call on this album. High art all the way around. And I love the first take they left on his Dream song - it showed the humor that is always associated with working with a genius.

I've got row 1 seats for a Bob Dylan/Merle Haggard concert in two weeks. He's currently singing It's Alright Ma on this tour.

I'll let you know how it goes.......

7:45 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

The 1st time I heard the false start on 115th Dream, I didn't get it. I asked my friend why everyone was laughing. He patiently explained that the band had missed its cue to join in. That was one of those "DUH!" moments that still embarasses me to think about now, 20 years later!

Front row for 2 musical legends! That's cool. As with most of country music, I know very little about Merle Haggard. Of course, I just recently got into some of Johnny Cash's stuff. Unfortunately, he was already dead...It would probably be nice to check out Merle Haggard's stuff while he's still alive!

"It's Alright, Ma" live! Man, I haven't seen Dylan in concert since the late '80s. I remember a buddy of mine being pissed off about that concert because Bob didn't do the rock star firing up the crowd shit. He still complains about it! I guess he was expecting some David Lee Roth style crap or something. Anyway, I'd definitely be interested in how the show goes.

8:23 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

"...2nd favorite cover version of a Dylan song..."

Yes, but what about G'n'R's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"?

Okay I'm just kidding. I do like their version though...

9:50 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger haahnster said...

DUDE!!! I remember, before the Use Your Illusion albums were released, when MTV 1st started showing a video (remember videos?) of GnR doing "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" live. I think it might've even been filmed at some sort of surprise, impromptu gig at a club in LA (could be hallucinating though). ANYWAY, those were my college days. We thought it was so cool that I can remember SEVERAL instances of being late to class or work because I was waiting to see it again. MTV was playing it at least once an hour, or so it seemed.

The whole Axel vocal affectation thing was just too sweet ("hey, hey, hey, yeah" as only he could 'enunciate' it). However, I also remember being disappointed that a different version appeared on the album. It was overproduced to the max (I'll admit I still like it, though). I was never quite sure of the whole "Cool Hand Luke" soundbite either, although that is certainly one of the coolest bits in movie history. It just seemed a touch over the top for the song. But, who am I kidding, over the top is what GnR was all about.

Not sure where it ranks on my list of Dylan covers, but I KNOW it beats the FUCK out of the multiple shitty versions of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" that Crapton has done.

10:11 AM, April 12, 2006  

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