Bringing It All Back Home
The alarm bell rang two seconds into Bob Dylan’s 1965 masterpiece, Bringing It All Back Home. Sure, the opening acoustic chord was nervy, even angular. But it was that high electric lick that sliced beneath the start of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” that signaled Dylan’s true unrest—not to mention a sea of change in his so-called folk music. For four albums, Dylan had been almost entirely alone, his heavy-handed acoustic strums and occasional piano supporting his famously nasal tone and whining harmonica. But if his champions had been disappointed by the singer’s turn from politics to the personal on 1964’s Another Side of Bob Dylan, then Bringing It All Back Home—with those Edisonized licks, walloping drums, and charging band—must have indeed felt like Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. Still, the album’s electrified first half is one of rock ’n’ roll’s great gambits, condensing tales of urban excitement, bohemian beauty, socialist resistance, racial protest, and even an alternate history of the United States into little more than 20 minutes. “Outlaw Blues” is an escapist outburst, pounding ahead like a No Wave premonition, while “She Belongs to Me” reigns as one of folk-rock’s first true gems. And for anyone who demanded that Dylan forever remain in Freewheelin’ mode, there was “Maggie’s Farm,” an assault on capitalist cruelty that doubled as an unfond farewell to anyone holding you against your will—like, say, folkies of a certain vintage. The band stepped away for the four songs of the second half, but it somehow felt no less electric. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is an anthem of generational liberation, aimed at those “ready for to fade/into my own parade.” And Dylan’s consecutive and consummate epics, “Gates of Eden” and “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” are poetic fever dreams, the swirling imagery of the former giving way to the heady and ceaseless aphorisms (“He not busy being born is busy dying”) of the latter. Dylan—and for that matter, much of rock ’n’ roll, punk included—would rarely sound so aggressive. And as soft landings go, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” arrives as a slap in the face, a love-me-or-leave-me edict for anyone who doubted Dylan’s new direction. There’s a common conception that Dylan left political songwriting behind on Another Side of Bob Dylan, a move affirmed by Bringing It All Back Home. But even apart from radical screeds like “Maggie’s Farm” or the stunning and playful “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” these 11 songs are acts of radical freedom—of taking convention not as a direction but as a challenge. In many ways, Bringing It All Back Home is Dylan’s most political work, putting the ideas of his past to use in his own work.