Bob's Big Box

Bob's Big Box
As a music lover who just turned 40, I thought it was about time I explored the back catalogue of Bob Dylan, an artist I'd largely ignored previously. Right then...

Monday, 2 March 2015

4. Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)

I really liked this one.  From the opening track it's clear that the lightheartedness and sense of humour missing from The Times They Are A-Changin' are back.  All I Really Want To Do has yodelling, unsuppressed laughter and even a cough is left in.  I suspect that this song was cut towards the end of the 6-hour plonk-fuelled single recording session on the 9th of June 1964, as it's the most (enjoyably) sloppy, but cheek and wit are also present throughout such tunes as Motorpsycho Nitemare and the talking blues of I Shall Be Free, No. 10 ("I'm a poet, I know It. Hope I don't blow it!").  But even away from the deliberately absurd songs, such as break-up number Black Crow Blues (where Bob pounds a piano for a change) it seems as though he's made a conscious decision to throw off the shackles of being the 'voice of a generation' and leave the overt, what he called "finger pointing songs" behind.  That's not to say there's no politics here - they're just dressed in less specific, more poetic language.

It's at this point where I must admit that before I heard this album I was somewhat familiar with several of the songs, mainly because perversely, I already owned The Byrds Play Bob Dylan without knowing the originals.  Chimes of Freedom is an undoubted highlight.  Not only is the imagery pouring out of him over these astonishing seven minutes (my favourite line is "Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales"), but the melody is incredibly uplifting, making it his most hopeful-sounding song yet.

Another stonker, also memorably covered by The Byrds is My Back Pages, where again he seems to be rejecting the "Lies that life is black and white" and entering a new phase.  I can hear anger, but like Chimes of Freedom it's passionate, vivid and an absolute TUNE.  Here he is in 1992 busting it out with a few mates.

This new, more personal stage includes plenty of relationship songs, such as the beautiful To Ramona, a probably futile attempt to comfort and advise a lover, and Spanish Harlem Incident, whose lyrics I found as captivating as Bob's spellbinding gypsy gal.  I hated the mean, overlong Ballad In Plain D, an eight-minute bitchfest which I wasn't surprised to learn he later wished he'd left off the album.  He becomes the dumpee in I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met), and reverts to dumper in closer It Ain't Me Babe, another of my favourites here, of which I'd only heard the Johnny and June version before.  It's clear that the "it's not you, it's me" message could easily apply to the folkie fans of his protest records.  He's moving on alright.

This is almost certainly (almost!) my favourite Dylan album so far, due to the killer combo of the colourful, often bewildering lyrics and some properly belting tunes.  I realise it marks an important transition, and I'm pretty excited, because the next album out of the box is one I already know, since I found a vinyl copy at a car boot sale last summer.  Things are about to get really interesting.

What do you think of this album?  What does it mean to you?  Tell me in the comments below.

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