Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
And he’s back. Bringing It All Back Home is the first is what is usually seen as Dylan’s trilogy of electric albums, which many see as the peak of his career. This is usually seen as the weakest, but I see it as the strongest. I also think it is stronger than the two albums that proceeded it. The performances are sharp. The lyrics are, in turns, wild, romantic, bohemian, apocalyptic…. The album’s first side – the electric side – features a number of classics, both those that are recognized (“Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Maggie’s Farm”) and those that are perennially underrated (“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” “On the Road Again”). There is little to no filler. The same can be said for the acoustic side two, which from the start of “Mr. Tambourine Man” to the end of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is among the most surreal and visionary music ever recorded. Its four songs are mystical journeys. “Gates of Eden” is the least regarded of these, even though it would be a gem in anyone else’s catalog.
Best song: Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream – Dylan’s reimagining of the founding of America conflates Melville’s Moby Dick with conquistador culture and sets the whole thing in contemporary New York. The result is a triumphant mindfuck that leaves me bewildered every time.
Worst song: She Belongs To Me – All of the songs on this album are worthwhile, but two stuck out as subpar, at least for me. This and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Both are plodding without enough surprises to hold interest beyond a few listens. “It’s All Over Now” is more complex though, more layered than this semi-simple love song.
Best outtake: If You Gotta Go, Go Now (Or Else You Gotta Stay All Night) – A playful, teasing song that is, lyrically anyway, as close as Bob gets to Prince. A sly come on with a wry wink to it. An alternate version was released as a sing in mainland Europe in 1967.
Best live rendition: It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) – London, England, 1965 was arguably the definitive performance. This song is an all-encompasing rant. Dylan spits phrases like venom and sears the national character as he does so. More than any other song in his catalog, this probably change the vernacular of spoken English. Sheffield may be impossible to find, but Manchester isn’t. The other option is to watch Dont Look Back and imagine the rest of the song after the camera cuts away.
Rhymes: manhole/candle/sandals/scandals/vandals/handles (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”); pants/France (“Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”); attached/badge (“Gates of Eden”); fire/ choir/ pliers/ higher; seen/guillotine (4-5 from “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”)
Images: “conclusions on the wall” (“Love Minus Zero/No Limit”); “Utopian hermit monks sidesaddle on the Golden calf” (“Gates of Eden”); “flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark;” “bent out of shape from society’s pliers” (“It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”); “drawing crazy patterns on your sheets” (“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”)
Axioms: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (“Subterranean Homesick Blues”); “Everybody wants you to be just like them” (“Maggie’s Farm”); “he not busy being born is busy dying;” “money doesn’t talk; it swears” (3-4 from “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”); “I accept chaos. I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” (liner notes)