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Another Side of Bob Dylan at 50

Another Side cover-2In 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.

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  1. Michael Simmons Michael Simmons August 8, 2014

    Excellent piece, Peter — as always. You know Dylan’s music as well as anyone and you consistently capture what it felt like to experience it in real time.

  2. Themigou Themigou August 8, 2014

    My favourite of the acoustic albums, the sound is rich and the voice and songs mature compared.

  3. Jericho Jericho August 8, 2014

    I like this album, but it’s definitely a transitional work. His lyrical experimentation is more hit-or-miss here – some of the imagery in the words to “My Back Pages” don’t work, but “Chimes of Freedom” is brilliant and paves the way to the quantum leap of BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME. It doesn’t help that he knocked these out in a single wine-drenched session – some of his singing is noticeably slurred and the performances feel a little sloppy at times. Also “Ballad in Plain D” is terrible, even Dylan regrets it, and I wish he replaced it with another outtake from the same session, “Mama You Been On My Mind.” Don’t get me wrong, I like the album, a lot of the songs are very good, but I’m focusing more on the negative here to explain why I wouldn’t call it one of his best.

  4. Futzi Wailer Futzi Wailer August 8, 2014

    The album that really gave birth to folk rock. From the Turtles It Ain’t Me Babe, to Cher and the Byrds All I Really Want to Do , the Bryds again and again with My Back Pages and it seems every other song on their first two albums, another Side wa the blueprint for so much of what came after.

  5. double ee double ee August 8, 2014

    Another Side and Another Direction for Bob Dylan

    The album Another Side of Bob Dylan represents an important step in Dylan’s transition from folk to rock and shows the artist moving away from one audience without completely addressing another. Although played with folk instrumentation (acoustic guitar, harmonica, and piano), several of the songs that appeared on the album were, in fact, rock songs. It’s as if Dylan had graduated from the solo acoustic tradition in everything except the solo acoustic musical format

    This is attested to by the numerous rock versions — several of which were hits (some major) — of these and other songs written during this period that were to appear in the years immediately following the album’s release. These include:

    • “Mister Tambourine Man,” the Byrds
    • “All I Really Want to Do,” Cher and the Byrds
    • Spanish Harlem Incident, The Byrds
    • “Chimes of Freedom,” the Byrds and Dino, Desi, and Billy
    • “Lay Down Your Weary Tune,” the Byrds
    • “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the Turtles, Johnny Cash
    • “My Back Pages,” the Byrds
    • “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met),” as performed live
    in concert by Dylan and the Hawks
    • Jack of Diamonds,” a section of the liner notes (“Some Other Kinds of Songs”)
    from Another Side of Bob Dylan set to music by Ben Carruthers and performed by
    Fairport Convention on the group’s first album
    • “California,” sections of which later metamorphosed into the electric “Outlaw
    Blues” on Dylan’s Bringing it All Back Home
    • “If You Gotta Go, Go Now,” Manfred Mann, Dylan (on a single released only
    in Europe), and, in French (“Si Tu Dois Partir”), Fairport Convention.

    The hybrid and somewhat unfocused nature of the album — part folk and part rock — marks it as a product of its time. In the early 1960s, the only viable — and intelligent — creative outlet for many of America’s young musicians was folk music, but after America had experienced the Beatles in 1964 through their appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” concert tours, recordings, and film A Hard Day’s Night, things would never quite be the same again. The Beatles’ influence cannot be underestimated. They simply changed everything — from music to fashion to poetry and performance and, in the process, served as the inspiration and model for a generation.

    For America’s young musicians, the Beatles and the other groups which made up the British Invasion represented a creative impetus and a challenge by reintroducing them to their own vital musical heritage. British groups and performers, borrowing heavily from early American rock ’n’ roll and rhythm and blues music, now set the style for America’s youth, and ruled the airwaves, the charts, and sales figures. Dylan himself had met the Beatles on one of their American tours and had attended performances by groups such as the Animals, Manfred Mann, and the Yardbirds during his own tours of England. For him, these groups were “pointing the direction” the music had to go in.

    America’s formulation of a musical response to the British Invasion, however, would take time as a bridge between folk and rock was worked out. Another Side of Bob Dylan, along with other transitional works such as the demos recorded by the Byrds in World Pacific Studios that later appeared as Pre-Flyte, are part of the process through which this new music was developed. But for Dylan in 1964, the moment was not yet right to challenge his audiences with an electric backing band. (That time, however, was not far off.) The creative sparks set off by the British groups had convinced him that lyrically he had to go beyond the “finger-pointing” songs that much of his reputation and repertoire rested upon and learn to write from within himself and for himself.

    Ultimately, what would result was a form of music that combined the beat and instrumentation of rock with the thoughtful lyrics of folk and that came to be known, for better or worse, as “folk rock.” It was through the manifestation of this union in such recordings as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan, “Mister Tambourine Man” and Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds, “All I Really Want to Do” by Cher, and “It Ain’t Me Babe” by the Turtles that the British challenge was met in 1965.

  6. Bill Routhier Bill Routhier August 9, 2014

    Excellent article, Peter. Spot on throughout – I wasn’t upset at all as a young listener, I was overjoyed with the humor and dug the looseness, and the poetic side was getting better and reaching farther. He was growing, that was the exciting thing. I think if he’d put out a retread of “Times,” no matter how good it was, I’d had a bad feeling about it, that he was going to be stuck in one groove. My favorites were two, Spanish Harlem Incident, that you mentioned, and Black Crow Blues. Black Crow Blues captured existential alienation and just plain old having one of them got the cosmic blues the gears don’t mesh should have spent it in bed bad days better than any song I’d ever heard. Saying, ‘i can’t be a hero today,’ which was kind of startling to hear Bob say, very humanizing and from the lofty heights of “Times” in came down to the ground. Transitional, yes – unimportant, no, as you correctly say. Listenable and fresh as yesterday, absolutely. And Motorpsycho Nightmare is a total classic hoot.

  7. Manor Manor August 12, 2014

    Another in a long line of great pieces by my favorite Dylan writer.
    For me, It Ain’t Me Babe is the best song on the album and Chimes of Freedom is also remarkable. But my favorite performance is Black Crow Blues, that I see Bill Routhier also mentions. It has some of his most engaging piano playing and there’s a quality to the vocal that seems to perfectly match my mood from time to time. As for the album as a whole, I like the quality provided by the one night, wine bibbing session. I wouldn’t want all my Dylan recordings done in this fashion, but I’m happy to have one album in the canon like this.

  8. Peter Stone Brown Peter Stone Brown August 12, 2014

    Thanks everyone. I also am a big fan of “Black Crow Blues” and in many ways I consider it (not “Down The Highway”) as the first original blues song on a Dylan record, and after this there would usually be at least one blues song on every album, and when there wasn’t, there was usually ne in the outtakes.

  9. RMAU RMAU June 4, 2016

    In a previous album, Bob Dylan prophesized—or to some ears, warned—that the times were a changin’. As the unelected leader of a generation building a reputation for following its own muses and seeking to change the world, his words were siren calls to the children of the land of plenty to not listen to the dogmas of the past but to become active in creating a world unlike that which had been before.

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