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My Essential Albums: 'Bringing It All Back Home' by Bob Dylan

Released: March, 1965

Cover Art for the Album

Bringing It All Back Home was released in March of 1965. Recorded in two days between January 13 and 15, 1965, this was Bob Dylan's warning that he was breaking off from the "Blowin' in the Wind" guy and moving towards the "Like a Rolling Stone" guy. He was already on his way to becoming the "Visions of Johanna" guy as well. The album cover was shot by Danny Kramer who recently published a photography book on Bob Dylan called Bob Dylan: A Year and a Day (I would highly recommend it because of its incredible high quality pictures of his Royal Bobness). To think that Bob Dylan was the same age as me whilst the album was being recorded and released is unreal. I can't believe he could write like this. His voice is bouncy and raw, his instruments are stringy, and he brings the rock and roll vibe to folk, blending them together in a beautiful experiment and creating a brand new sub-genre. A sub-genre of which he is the King. Ladies and gentlemen, His Right Royal Bobness takes the throne.

Bob Dylan is one of the 20th Century's most enigmatic characters and we can see a ton of influences in this album from people like Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. We can see that there is a definite focus on some of the politics of the mid-60s and there is a definite thing about Bob Dylan shaking his old image as a folkie from Greenwich Village (that would follow with the famed anti-friendship song "Positively 4th Street"). There are a ton of classics on this album as well—from the quick tempo of the almost rap-rock song "Subterranean Homesick Blues," to the love song "Love Minus Zero/No Limit," to the high-pitched vocals and rock and roll blues beat of "Outlaw Blues," to the classic "Mr. Tambourine Man," and all the way down to the legendary "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."

This album marks that space where Bob Dylan is between acoustic and electric and serves as "the year" for Dylan's shot into superstardom. His ability to become such a legendary lyricist and singer at such a young age was always revered, but now he's done something different. Just try comparing this album to oh, say, The Times They Are a-Changin'—I mean just the songs "Outlaw Blues" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" are enough to make you think, "Is this the same guy?" He would do it again in 1966 and 1967—and then again 1969—reinventing himself, his music, his life, and his meaning. So much so, the audience who panned him just couldn't keep up. He would make music history.

The man who would be King, Bob Dylan and his seminal album, Bringing It All Back Home.

"Subterranean Homesick Blues"

As a single, this song is the A-Side to "She Belongs to Me" and the cover features Bobby from his days looking like Another Side of Bob Dylan. It's a very beatnik rock and roll poetry song, and started an entirely new era of music. It is a brilliant song and there's so much meaning in it. Again, the meanings aren't really my job or I'd be here all day and all night and I am pretty sure you do not want to know my crazy theories—I would look insane! But what I am here for is to appreciate this grand song that was recorded on January 14, 1965. On that day, history was made.

The opening lyrics are:

"Johnny's in the basement mixing up the medicine
I'm on the pavement thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat, badge out, laid off
Says he's got a bad cough, wants to get it paid off..." 

I'm not going to lie, but singing this song after having a few drinks is not possible. I love the pace of this song so much, the guitar and drums really allows Bob Dylan to fuse that folk-rock notion with those rock and roll vibes given off in this song.

You can't really discuss this song without discussing the music video. It's simple but it's iconic; it is just Bob Dylan standing there looking a bit underwhelmed, showing you flashcards. I always like to think that this is an act of getting you to remember the song because flashcards help you remember things.

"She Belongs to Me"

What you see here is my favourite live version of "She Belongs to Me" from 1965. Bob Dylan really does sound great live and I love the long introduction to this one, with the harmonica and the attention paid to the instruments that he's playing. He really does give a great performance.

"She Belongs to Me" was released as the B-Side to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and serves to be one of the most influential songs on the whole album. Bob Dylan's somewhat "love" song is a guitar heavy syllabic poem with Dylan crooning warnings to other people about a certain lady who seems all too powerful over him. He doesn't necessarily think that is a bad thing though:

"She's got everything she needs, she's an artist
She don't look back
She's got everything she needs, she's an artist
She don't look back
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black." 

The opening lyrics to the song are very syllabic, especially "paint the daytime black." It is a beautiful poem and has incredible words, maybe less than other songs on this album, but that definitely doesn't lessen the value of this song.

These are probably the most iconic lyrics of the song (they also feature at the end):

"Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween give her a trumpet
And for Christmas, buy her a drum." 

The term "salute her when her birthday comes" has now, as far as I've seen, been used on many posts every year that Joan Baez's birthday comes around. I have no idea whether the song is about Joan Baez, Queen of Folk, but it is definite that some Dylan fans on the internet do think so.

I would heavily recommend looking at the footage from 1965 at the top and also watching various videos of this performed live because, every time it is, it's just beautiful. He has never done any harm to it, as it is an eternally beautiful song.

"Maggie's Farm"

"Maggie's Farm" was recorded on January 15, 1965, and released as the A-Side to "On the Road Again." The cover featured a close-up of Dylan's face from the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. The song has been analysed over and over again, and there have been many pieces of theories and full-blown essays written about it. 

Fun Fact: There was a book of 1960s poetry at my university that had the lyrics to "Maggie's Farm" in there. I borrowed it from the library and someone had written their theory of what it meant inside on that page. And someone else, in a different handwriting style, had written their theory underneath it, arguing with the first person. (There was profanity thrown.) There were also many other notes about "Maggie's Farm" throughout the book with people arguing with each other. There must have been at least 10, but they all didn't fit on one page.

So, you can only guess what I did. I didn't write in a library book because that's not very nice, but I did read them and they were interesting. It said something about the fight against communism, how "Maggie's Farm" is supposed to be a communist country, that people don't want to live there anymore because it doesn't function correctly, and Maggie is the dictator. I'm sorry I had to tell you that, but I thought it was funny at the time.

The most famous thing about "Maggie's Farm," apart from the lyrics, are those drums in the background every time he sings:

"I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm no more..."

You get the crash of the drums and then he sings it again. He seems to croon it out in an almost rock and roll style, but it isn't just rock and roll, it's folk-rock and Dylan is its King.

This is my favourite line in the whole song:

"They say sing while you slave and I just get bored..."

Bob Dylan characterises this by singing the last part of the line pretty quickly to make it seems like he's bored. It is a brilliant achievement of voice that he will reflect on, imitate, and even reinvent later on in his career.

Fun Fact #2: Barack Obama said that "Maggie's Farm" is one of his favourite songs to listen to during election season.

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit"

This love song has been said to be dedicated to Sara (Lownds) Dylan—Bob Dylan's former wife—and was recorded on January 14, 1965. It has been performed on many occasions, including the famed Rolling Thunder Revue, and it appears on the bootleg album for the show. Bob Dylan himself gives a great performance of this on the album and it is such a sweet song. It starts with a short introduction of a guitar and then:

"My love, she speaks like silence
Without ideals or violence
She doesn't have to say she's faithful
Yet she's true like ice, like fire." 

I love the way he sings this because it's raw and unforgiving in the vocals. He's so clear and his voice sounds incredible; it is a very nice song to listen to because we're really getting to hear him sing.

Let's have a look at my favourite line:

"The cloak and dagger dangles
Madams light the candles
In ceremonies of the horsemen
Even the pawn must hold a grudge..." 

This is a brilliant set of lines because when he sings "cloak and dagger" he makes it low a little and then brings it back up. The way he sings "even the pawn must hold a grudge" is lovely. It's clear and again, it's raw. He is so smooth with his vocals. It's beautiful.

This song has been performed on stage by Bob Dylan many, many times, but—as I have said previously—the best performance is quite possibly at the Rolling Thunder Revue, which is available on the bootleg.

"Outlaw Blues"

"Outlaw Blues" was recorded on January 14, 1965, and is basically Bob Dylan perfecting the electric blues sub-genre with his incredible style and soul. The lyrics are amazing, somewhat in a repetitive rhythm to make them catch on and, they are ultimately some of the best lyrics Dylan penned on this album (in my opinion). As you've guessed, this is my favourite song on the record—so let's get stuck in.

Bob Dylan begins by introducing the electric guitar, and then the drums. Finally, his voice:

"Ain't it hard to stumble and land in some funny lagoon
Ain't it hard to stumble and land in some muddy lagoon
Especially when it's nine below zero and three o'clock in the afternoon!" 

This song is filled with strange situations and the way the song is sung is completely and utterly incredible. Especially that last line of the set, when he gets really loud and a little bit higher, just like the last words of the first two lines. He really is giving it his all when it comes to this bluesy number.

My favourite lines are:

"Well, I might look like Robert Ford but I feel just like a Jesse James!"

This one line really does make the song. It mentions the "outlaw" of the "Outlaw Blues" and Bob Dylan really packs in the power behind it. He has this real enthusiasm behind the way he shouts "Jesse James" and the way that guitar supports his voice. It stops for a split second and restarts. It is very bluesy indeed.

"On the Road Again"

"On the Road Again" was released on the same record as "Maggie's Farm" and has a lot of resemblances to it. This song is my second favourite song on the album because of its vocal and lyrical brilliance. There are, again, so many stranger situations and strange happenings that really make the song what it is. The way the song starts is beautiful, the electricity of this song is brilliant for the bluesy, but odd atmosphere. There is some serious rock and roll going on in this song.

The opening lyrics are brilliant:

"Well, I woke up in the morning there's frogs inside my socks
Your mama, she's a-hidin' inside the icebox
Your daddy walks in wearin' a Napoleon Bonaparte mask
Then you ask why I don't live here: honey, do you have to ask?"

I really think the opening lines are very powerful, especially given the fact they reference an incredibly strange state of affairs. Bob Dylan gives his blues vocals and his best shot to this song and he really does do it all. He gives the song the power it requires. I love the way he sings "Honey, do you have to ask?"—he sings it with sarcasm and comedy. It's brilliant and oh so perfect for the atmosphere of the song.

This is my favourite line from the song:

"Then you ask why I don't live here. Honey, I gotta think you're really weird!"

The way he sings the last part of that line is hilarious, he really does sound like he's talking to someone who doesn't know something obvious. It is the way he uses his voice to characterise that which is important. It's quite possibly one of the most important things about the song after the lyrics. The way Bob Dylan uses that power in his voice to back up the character he writes down and how he should sing something, using intonation to convey meaning.

"Bob Dylan's 115th Dream"

It's that time of day. You knew we were all waiting for the moment when I'd cover the famed, funny, and even enigmatic Moby Dick-inspired story song of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." Recorded between the 13th and 14th of January 1965, Bob Dylan makes a parody of his own song "Bob Dylan's Dream" from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan to give us this crazy and rockin' number.

This song has an incredible opening, as Bob Dylan sings the first line and then—because the backing band doesn't come in—he just bursts out laughing. He starts again and:

"I was riding on the mayflower when I thought I spied some land
I yelled down to captain arab, I'll have ya understand,
Who came running to the deck and said boys forget the whale
We're goin' over yonder. cut the engines. change the sails.
Haul on that bowline we sang that melody,
Like all tough sailors do when they're far away at sea."

The opening lines may be the opening to a narrative (as we all know the story of the guy who broke out of jail and, like the theme of the album, some strange events unfold) but it is also us realising the extents of Bob Dylan's voice. As with "Subterranean Homesick Blues," he can be very vocal and have a lot of great intonation, but he can still be clear about what he's trying to say. His voice doesn't lose that power. I love the way he sings "haul on that bowline, we sang that melody"—it's soulful and adds a blues touch to everything.

Let me share with you my favourite part of the whole song: 

"Well about this time I was fed up at trying to make a stab
At bringing back any help for my friends and captain arab.
I decided to flip a coin, like either heads or tails,
Would let me know if I should go back to ship or back to jail.
So I hocked my sailor's suit an' I got a coin to flip.
It came up tails, it rhymed with sails, so I made it back to the ship." 

I love this part purely because of the last four lines. He decides to flip a coin, that's a brilliant image to have when you're trying to break your friends out of jail. The last line is the best though: "It came up tails, it rhymed with sails, so I made it back to the ship." He sounds genuinely excited in the way his voice is bouncing around on that last line. It really is the most incredible part of the song because he really pushes his voice to sound like the character in the song would, excited.

I am still upset that Mojo Magazine called this song the 68th best Bob Dylan song because:

  1. It is better than 68th.
  2. If you're not going to call it better than 68, and you're not going to call it the 115th best song, then don't bother calling it anything at all.

"Mr. Tambourine Man"

In 1964, Bob Dylan performed "Mr. Tambourine Man" at the Newport Folk Festival and it was insane. He was so brilliant, I just wanted to hug him so damn tight. He did so well, especially given his age. The song itself was recorded on January 15, 1965. The song has now been covered by so many people, it has even become the title to books and other things. There's even a poster referring to the 1969 cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man" (which I own and it looks freakin' awesome)—a red background with a yellow silhouette-style of Dylan with his iconic 1966 hair. The words "Mr. Tambourine Man" are written in a hippie style atop his head. Let's get on with the song then, as one of the most iconic songs in all of human history, "Mr. Tambourine Man" opens:

"Hey! Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to
Hey! Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you." 

I always love the last line of the chorus because Bob Dylan really shows off his vocal talent, taking the last line lower in preparation for the higher vocals of the verses. The way the song is sung is absolutely beautiful and has become an iconic standing point of folk and folk-rock. It is the epitome of the folk song and the chorus proves why.

Let me share with you my favourite lines from the song now:

"Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow." 

This is a beautifully written verse, and a beautifully sung one, too. It has a brilliance about it when he gets louder at the very beginning and then makes his voice lower in pitch, keeping the volume standard after coming down on the second line. He levels it out perfectly before the last chorus.

The song has been presented on the Bootleg Vol. 1-3 as a piano version that sounds awe-inspiring because you can really hear his voice. It is also presented on many, many other bootlegs as well, as it is an unrealistically iconic song.

Here's a list of some other places where Bob Dylan features the song:

  • Bootleg Volume 1-3
  • Bootleg Volume 4: The Royal Albert Hall Concert
  • Bootleg Volume 5: Live at the Rolling Thunder Revue
  • Bootleg Volume 6: Live at the Philharmonic Hall
  • Bootleg Volume 7: No Direction Home
  • Bootleg Volume 9: The Whitmark Demos
  • Bootleg Volume 12: The Cutting Edge

"Gates of Eden"

Released as the B-Side to "Like a Rolling Stone," the song "Gates of Eden" is an icon of counter-culture and folk music of the 1960s. It has been the pinnacle of Bob Dylan's "protest songs," as well as the start of a new era for music. The powerful chorus is really accentuated by the simple guitar in the background—no drums, just a guitar. It was recorded on January 15, 1965—and on that day, another great piece of music history was made.

"Gates of Eden" opens:

"Of war and peace the truth just twists
Its curfew gull just glides
Upon four-legged forest clouds
The cowboy angel rides
With his candle lit into the sun
Though its glow is waxed in black
All except when 'neath the trees of Eden..." 

The way he sings this opening is so iconic because of the intricate syllabic beat of his vocals. He is almost shouting at the volume over the guitar and it is a brilliant statement. Then he goes lower for the last line, which rounds it off perfectly for the finish to the verse, moving swiftly on to the next one like a spoken word beat poem.

This is my favourite part of the song:

"Leaving men wholly, totally free
To do anything they wish to do but die
And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden." 

It's mainly how low he goes when singing this set because, I believe, of the nature of the lyrics being darker. He wants to portray that with his voice, so he shakes and makes his voice tremble as it goes low and smooth.

This song, to this day, serves to be one of the most important Bob Dylan songs out there. Even Simon Armitage mentions it in his essay in the book Do You, Mr. Jones. His essay, entitled "Rock of Ages," is mainly about "Tangled Up in Blue," but briefly Armitage talks about getting into Dylan and having his friend know all the words to "Gates of Eden." Seeing as there are people today who still strive to learn this song off by heart, well, it should tell you about the importance and power of this song.

"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

In the clip above, you can hear Bob Dylan talking about the writing of "It's Alright Ma" very briefly and, well, it is one of my favourite videos with Bob Dylan in it because of the way he edges around the actual question. The poor interviewer looks intimidated by Bob Dylan, but His Right Royal Bobness is talking about the essence of writing these songs, using "It's Alright Ma" as the example. Seriously, the way he speaks of the opening lyrics is beautiful. I cherish that and will continue to forever.

This song was recorded on January 15, 1965. It is the penultimate song on the album, and is yet another counter-culture anthem—one even my own Dad likes (and my Dad isn't a huge Bob Dylan fan). This song is an icon of power, and the way Bob Dylan sings it is all more important. I feel it is overlooked because of the lyrics being so incredible and awe-inspiring.

The way Bob Dylan sings this song is low, syllabic, and repetitive like a pendulum. It is supposed to sound a bit "deadpan" because of the subject matter, as it adds to the characterisation of the record as being something filled with references to false hope and anti-climaxes.

Check out the opening lyrics:

"Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying..." 

The whole thing about the beat is that Bob Dylan does it himself; like the Beatnik performance poetry thing I said in "Gates of Eden," this song is definitely influenced by that style. Everything about this song sounds like spoken word poetry, and it is just incredible how Bob Dylan transforms that and merges it with folk music to make this iconic song.

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"

Recorded on January 15, 1965, Bob Dylan's last song on the album Bringing It All Back Home is the classic "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." The way the harmonica starts, this song is a classic feature of Bob Dylan songs throughout the years. It begins with a powerful harmonica and strong guitar—and then the lyrics kick in and they are just as powerful with Bob Dylan characterising it as if he's telling someone off:

"You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast"

This part is loud, it's strong and Bob Dylan's voice is fairly higher than it is in the rest of the song. Bob Dylan really brings his voice and the way his voice can change to suit the atmosphere to the song here. It is a brilliant thing to be able to do successfully and not a lot of people can. It is an achievement of folk music and Bob Dylan has it completely covered.

Let's have a look at my favourite lines:

"Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, baby blue." 

They happen to be the last lines of the song as well. The way Bob Dylan really sings out that first one quite high before going low to finish the song is so powerful, it hits your very soul. This is the kind of song that just moves you.

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was covered by Joan Baez on her Dylan album and, well, it's okay, but she doesn't bring the characterisation that Bob Dylan brings to the song. Van Morrison also did the song and it, too, isn't Dylan, but it's alright. The Byrds also covered this song and, well, though I'm biased to like Dylan, this one is pretty good to be honest.

Conclusion

Bringing It All Back Home is probably one of the most essential albums in rock history. It is the pinnacle of the fusion between folk, electric rock, and blues. Bob Dylan really does try to create his own sub-genre and it works so well, he used it on Highway 61 Revisited as well. I love the way he experiments with electric blues on this album. It sounds so great. I think the best song on this album is "Outlaw Blues" because it pushes his vocals, and "On the Road Again" is a close second. Again, his vocals are so powerful. I hope you enjoy this album as much as I do.

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