In my memory, Another Side of Bob Dylan appeared at the end of August in 1964, not at the beginning as various books and web sites proclaim. Another Side would prove to be a pivotal album, one that signaled various beginnings and ends at the same time, though at the time no one knew that. It was the first time Dylan released two albums of new original material in the same year, something he would repeat the following year. And while there would eventually be other years that saw the release of two albums, the material either wasn’t new or wasn’t entirely original. It would be his last solo album of original songs (to this date) and his last solo album for 28 years until Good As I Been To You in 1992. And it was the first time he played piano on a record.
Another Side stood in sharp contrast to its predecessor, The Times, They Are A-Changin’. It was totally devoid of topical songs. About the closest it came to mentioning any kind of current even were joking references to Fidel Castro, Cuba and Barry Goldwater. There were no anthemic calls to action, and the freedom Dylan now sang about was personal freedom. While Dylan may have signaled this change was coming with the final song on Times, “Restless Farewell,” back then we didn’t really know it was coming. There weren’t big pre-release reviews or interviews. Albums just came out and you knew by radio play, if you hung out in record stores, and maybe there was an ad in Billboard or Cashbox the week of release and an ad in Sing Out! magazine afterwards.
The songs on the album were deeply personal as well, and it would be too easy to say they were love songs because they were more out of love songs or perhaps in and out of love songs, and three of these songs, “To Ramona,” “I Don’t Believe You” and “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” Dylan would continue to perform fairly regularly for the next 40 years.
But back then, as a 13-year-old kid who’d been listening to Bob Dylan for exactly one year, there were certain things that tied it in a sense to Freewheelin’, the talking songs, the humor, the way Dylan cracked up a couple of times in the middle of songs. Yet at the same time, despite the looseness of the album which was recorded in one night, it was clear this was a major change, a departure and in the writing he seemed to be searching for something, he hadn’t quite found yet or maybe he found it in “Chimes of Freedom.” And on top of that quite a few of the songs, especially “I Don’t Believe You” sounded suspiciously like rock and roll.
Fifty years on, my favorite song remains the same, “Spanish Harlem Incident.” It might be the vocal, but it might also be that cool little guitar lick between the verses. In a lot of ways Another Side is also my favorite Dylan guitar album. He’s not just strumming, he always has a bass pattern and at time other cool patterns going on.
While many of the songs on this album let by “It Ain’t Me Babe” have undergone innumerable arrangements that have often changed the feel and depending on Dylan’s vocal at any given time at the very least expanded the meaning, the feel on Another Side is one of sadness.
It seems ridiculous now, but Another Side was controversial upon release mainly for not being controversial. The editor of Sing Out! magazine, Irwin Silber wrote an “Open Letter to Bob Dylan” for moving away from politics and suggesting he should try riding the subway more often. It was sort of a big deal at the time. In October, an article on and interview with Dylan, “The Crackin’, Shakin’, Breakin’ Sounds’ ” by Nat Hentoff, who attended and described the session for Another Side appeared in the New Yorker in which Dylan said he didn’t want to write any more “finger-pointing songs.”
So after 50 years, while you never see Another Side at the top or even close to the top on anyone’s Best of Dylan list, and while it in many ways is a transitional album, in fact an arrow on a door post, it really is one of his more important records and one that’s as real as it gets.