Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie: Dylan Brings Controversy Back Home
Rock ‘n’ Roll Movie: Dylan Brings Controversy Back Home
This is the fourth in a series of rock and roll items I’m writing for this site. I’m into rock and roll and I love the blues, so this column is a way for me to feature a different album I like from those genres each month.
In 1965, Bob Dylan successfully revived folk music with his first 4 albums, but then he committed the greatest sin of a folk singer: he picked up an electric guitar. I bring everything back home was Dylans first real foray into electric roots rock and there was a significant backlash with a wave of boos from concert halls and negative press from his folk music following what would grow significantly with the all-electric View of Highway 61. Personally, I don’t see it as much of a departure from Dylan’s work. Sure, the instrumentation has changed and taken on more of a rock ‘n’ roll feel, but the heart of Dylan’s lyrics is still evident and elevated to new heights.
Like most people who are familiar with rock music, I had heard of Bob Dylan over the years and even knew some of the songs he had written long before I actually listened to his work. Like most people, the first full album I heard from Dylan was Infamous Freewheeling Bob Dylan album from 1963. I love this album, but the album that cemented Bob Dylan as one of my favorite musicians of all time was I bring everything back home.
A unique mix of electric and folk songs, all of which have a different feel and mood, making this album one of those that I can play over and over and get the perfect blend of rock, folk, blues and country. The album opens with a shock to the folk community: a rock song. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” is southern blues at its finest. Dylan’s enigmatic yet whimsical rapid-fire lyrics are what really make the song great. They weave their way through the song with a sense of social commentary so quickly that you have to really listen to understand it all. That rock feel continues in classic songs like “Maggie’s Farm” and “Outlaw Blues.” Both have the same bluesy punch with ‘Maggie’s Farm’, taking the slower route with socially charged lyrics that speak to the ethical treatment of workers, if you choose to interpret it that way. “Outlaw Blues” is one of my favorite Dylan songs of all time. With a riff reminiscent of Hound Dog Taylor’s “Give Me Back My Whig,” it creates the perfect upbeat blues sound that you just don’t hear anymore. Combined with Dylan’s honest and slightly whimsical lyrics, it makes for a truly memorable song. You just can’t be more honest than when Dylan sings, “Don’t ask me anything about anything.”
I can just tell you the truth.”
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about this album is the playfulness in the music, as overall it’s a pretty light-hearted album that’s a lot of fun to listen to. “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” is perhaps the funniest, with its strange, surreal dream of a story set to a danceable roots rock beat. It’s a random collection of images that may be off-putting to some, but the song’s absurdity is what makes it charming and makes for a very honest social commentary or just a fun dream song, depending on how you want to look at it.
The album also has a folk side with “Mr. Tambourine Man” being one of Dylan’s folk classics that could easily have been taken from any of his previous albums. My favorite song though (if I had to pick just one) is “Gates of Eden.” A simple folk song with highly symbolic lyrics, it has a unique feel that is rustic and authentic, but also sad and full of wisdom. It’s a stark contrast to the fun rock songs on the album and a different feel to any of Dylan’s other folky work with hints of “Masters of War” without the anger, mysticism and songs like “All Along the Watchtower” that would come 2 years later.
I wasn’t around in 1965 when this album was first released, so I can’t explain why there was such a backlash against it initially. Now, Bob Dylan’s career spans multiple genres, and I knew that when I first started listening to his music, so I wasn’t shocked when I heard rock songs or influences on any of his albums. Personally, I love it when an artist or band evolves throughout their career. It shows their changing influences and creates snapshots of certain moments in their songs. I don’t see as dramatic a departure from Dylan’s previous writing in these songs as some have suggested. They definitely show evolution and progress as he pushes new ground with surrealism, social commentary and imagery in his songwriting, but still sounds like Bob Dylan with the same honesty and authenticity that comes through in his folk songs. These country blues flavors seem like a logical progression for Dylan and definitely do his songs justice. I’m not saying these songs wouldn’t be just as good played solo on an acoustic guitar, but they certainly wouldn’t have the same carefree feel. The album as a whole still has a very spontaneous and raw feel despite the many instruments and recorded songs, just like Dylan’s folk music.
If you’re just a fan of Bob Dylan’s folk music, then you might not enjoy this album, but I’d give it a listen before deciding for sure. It is definitely one of the classic albums of the 1960s and serves not only as a good bridge between Dylan’s early folk and blues, rock and roll and future country, but also as a fun album to listen to.
It may have been a controversial move for him to take a warm-up band, pick up an electric guitar and play rock and roll, but the result, I bring everything back homeis a must have album for any Bob Dylan fan or rock and roll enthusiast.
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