Now, I'm liberal, but to a degree I want ev'rybody to be free But if you think that I'll let Barry Goldwater Move in next door and marry my daughter You must think I'm crazy! I wouldn't let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.
Okay, okay so it isn’t quite up there with some of his more timeshaking ones but ‘I Shall Be Free No. 10’ never fails to make me smirk. As I spend more time with it I am starting to realise/remember just how many zingers there are on Another Side of Bob Dylan; that’s a pleasant surprise.
I am cheating again. My vinyl copy of this one is about 5 days old, in fact it has yet to ascend to its rightful place on my shelves* because it has just lived on, or next to my turntable since arriving. Which is only a part of the story, because as well as imbibing every second of Another Side Of Bob Dylan in utero/ex utero childus, I owned a tape of this for years as a student. Yet, it was the only LP of Dylan’s that I never bothered to get on wax. In my memory it was somewhat monochrome, lacking in tunes and badly eclipsed by its’ illustrious older and younger siblings**.
I never really liked the title which, as well as being a lyrical genius for his whole generation, is something else I share with Dylan. Titled to distance and define itself against his previous LP, Another Side Of Bob Dylan was designed to show his story-slingin’, relationshippin’ side. A fair amount of the album was written whilst he was shacked up in Greece with Nico^, then recorded on a single day entirely solo under the auspices of the almighty Tom Wilson.
Gone are the grandly transcendent political mediations and in are romantic tales of yearning and recrimination, a couple of sillies and, umm, a grandly transcendent political meditation.
I have a real weakness for the grandly transcendent political meditation (GTPM) that is ‘Chimes Of Freedom’, I always have. The stirring tale of sheltering from a storm^^ and GTPM-ing in grand style about the downtrodden, forgotten and underdoggone, has always touched a nerve for me. It has a hymnal quality and a slight vulnerability and triumph in the chorus that I find touching. He’s good at this sort of thing, that Bob fellow.
Undercutting the majestic ‘Chimes …’ with the jokey ‘I Shall Be Free No. 10’ is great, I like Daft Dylan^* and there’s something wonderfully infuriatingly half-arsed about it that I can totally relate to, it’s doggerel and that’s fine by me; Dog Dylan?
It isn’t a patch on the other funny here ‘Motorpsycho Nitemare’ – blending farmers, their daughters, Psycho and Fidel Castro relentlessly, it still genuinely amuses – ‘I fell down to my bended knees / Saying, “I dig farmers don’t shoot me, please!”, being a much quoted line when I was growing up. The guitar playing is pleasingly rudimentary too, I dig that – but not quite as much as I dig farmers. Best of all this is a staging post on the road to ‘Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream’ and things don’t get much better than that.
‘All I Really want To Do’ is a fun one with some real zinging lines, you have to love his voice to get through to the end of this one. I absolutely love it, yowling and all. The gorgeous plea of ‘Spanish Harlem Incident’, several bum notes and all, always intrigues me; I must have listened to it half a zillion times and I’d struggle to tell you anything about it.
I have a real soft spot for the pure, slightly unhinged boogie-woogie stomping ‘Black Crow Blues’, the man is having a lot of fun here not pontificating but doing plenty of perspirating. You gotta love the enthusiastic piano too.
Another Side Of Bob Dylan does bear one of Dylan’s worst songs too, ‘Ballad In Plain D’ a pretty nasty bit of score settling between him and the Rotolo family – I respectfully refer you to Suze Rotolo’s excellent autobiography on that count. Regardless, by some distance the longest track on the LP it rarely rises above a dirge, it isn’t just my feminist sympathies that taint this one, it just isn’t much good.
I still really enjoy the I’m-not-worthy pose of ‘It Ain’t Me babe’ immensely, because if there’s one thing we know about the young Bobby D, it is that he really doesn’t believe that. The tune’s a real cracker too. My mum may excommunicate me from the 1537 fold but I have no affection for the gentle, waltzing ‘To Ramona’ and ‘I Don’t Believe You’ is only a minor stop on the trail, albeit an invigorating snarky one with some good harmonica and a sneer.
Which leaves us with Dylan’s poetic renunciation of his messiah-hood and plea to be allowed to paddle his own canoe without dragging behind him the weight of a million tear-stained eyes, ‘My Back Pages’. I have loved the chorus/refrain ‘But I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now’ since I was a child. It’s a right wordy bastard but I know it well enough to sing it all the way through. Forget all the Judas in Manchester nonsense, this acoustic track is where Dylan gave real notice of his impending lurch towards electricity.
Don’t just take my word for it that ‘My Back Pages’ is great, this is the only Dylan song worthy of that greatest of all accolades, a Ramones cover; it is great too. True story.
Five days has been enough for me to reappraise Another Side Of Bob Dylan and I like it much more than I remembered I did. For me it is the weakest of his first five*^ but when the standard is that stellar there’s no shame there. It is a transitional album, you can hear Dylan repositioning himself for the great leap forward that was to come, getting ready to slough off those who would hold him back.
And yes, it could do with a bit more colour and variation musically here and there but no matter Bob noticed that ‘Goldwater‘ and ‘daughter’ rhymed. All in all, it isn’t bad for a day’s work.
*in the ‘B’ section, obvs.
**mind you, for some reason until today I was labouring under the delusion that it came before The Times They Are a-Changin’, rather than being released 7 months after it. 7 whole months?! How lazy were musicians n those days? Bums, the lot of them.
^Ugh! How awful, you wouldn’t wish a troubadour-voice-of-a-generations’s life on your own worst enemy would you?
^^could be a song title in that, future Dylan.
^*as much as I like Punk Bob
*^youthful enthusiasm just puts Bob Dylan over the line in front of it. Just.