It was his fifth album release in four years, coming just seven months after Another Side - a normal work rate for the first half of the 1960s, but almost unimaginable today. Just as astonishing is that it was recorded over only three days; astonishing that is until we remind ourselves of the time taken to record Another Side.
Despite the cover photo where Bob is looking every inch the rock star, surrounded by carefully arranged props (including a hot chick), I'd imagine that the opening track still startled a few hippies out of their sandals when they heard it, as I dare say the last thing his watchers were expecting was a song they could DANCE to. The terrific Subterranean Homesick Blues with it's nicked Chuck Berry riff and tornado of counterculture references fills my head with reels of pimps, bent cops, junkies, hookers and pushers, before reminding me that although the school/job/square life might offer a better alternative, both have their indignities and comforts so you might as well do what you want - which is just what Dylan was now beginning to do.
Side 1 is Bob and his band; a fully electrified - and electrifying - set of songs which showed that rock 'n' roll could be about more than boy meets girl/girl dumps boy (although there's some of that too). The musicians provide loose, energetic accompaniment on rollicking blues-rockers Outlaw Blues and On The Road Again. On the wonderfully sneery one take wonder Maggie's Farm it's made pretty clear that he is now lost to the the folk set that he saw as tying him down.
Tender moments come with the gorgeous Love Minus Zero/No Limit and She Belongs To Me. Both seem to venerate some bewitching woman, but the latter is not blind adoration as her frailties are also described. One great line from this is "She's a hypnotic collector, you are a walking antique".
One of my favourite moments on the album is the false start (staged?) at the beginning of Bob Dylan's 115th Dream, where his girly chuckling sets the tone for the surreal rambling adventure that drops various historical and literary references into one of his long, mischievous tales. It's also a right toe-tapper.
Although much of the album can be heard as a kiss-off to his former self, with Side 2 he seems to be hedging his bets somewhat, as apart from some accompaniment from a guitarist providing some lovely counter melodies, plus a bit of bass in ..Baby Blue, it's an all-acoustic solo affair. Three of the songs on this half were transformed into powered janglers by The Byrds, but here the electricity is in Dylan's vocal performance, from the gentle trickle of Mr. Tambourine Man to the sour, metallic charge of Gates of Eden. I'm not about to attempt to analyse the lyrics of the more abstract songs - I'm certainly not that way inclined and I think to try would be to miss the point of this blog. I relish the sounds made by words such as "The lamppost stands with folded arms, Its iron claws attached, To curbs ’neath holes where babies wail, Though it shadows metal badge", and appreciate their curious juxtapositions without wanting them tediously 'decoded', although I understand how others could (hello Dylanologists!).
The language, as well as beguiling, adds a particular texture to the songs, which on the acoustic numbers demands my attention more forcefully. It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) is one of Bob's most quotable songs so far, and despite the disillusioned, unsettling lyrics, one I find oddly reassuring, even optimistic. Mind you, when it's going round in my head (as it has been a lot lately) it more often than not morphs into Wake Up Little Susie.
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue is another pleasing kiss-off album closer. As he sings about "reindeer armies" and "the empty-handed painter" I'm as bewitched and bewildered as ever, but when he gets to "The carpet, too, is moving under you" I get the feeling that the rug is about to pulled out from under out feet entirely with the next record.
What is this album to you? Whether you've heard it 3 or 300 times, do leave your thoughts in the comments below. Hopefully I'll be back in a couple of weeks with Highway 61 Revisited - I say hopefully as my laptop is about to fall apart and I'm trying to sort out a new one. Fingers crossed!