For the first half of the 1960s, Bob Dylan had established himself as a folky troubadour, playing acoustic ballads that ranged from traditional folk tunes to protest songs, occasionally throwing in a love song or two for good measure. But when he released Bringing It All Back Home in 1965, nobody was expecting the fiery blues-rock heard on the first half of the record.
The first track, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” was the first single, and unlike anything Dylan had ever recorded prior. Loud, rockin’ and, by the standards of the time, extraordinarily punk, “Blues” became one of Dylan’s biggest hits, cracking the American Top 40. In the song, Dylan charges through four verses with a brash and paranoid delivery, the last two verses consisting primarily of advice like “don’t follow leaders, watch your parking meters” and “don’t try No Doz, try to keep a clean nose.” What also made “Blues” stand out was the accompanying promotional video Dylan filmed for the song, depicting him dropping oversized cards with the song’s lyrics written on them and Allen Ginsberg looming in the background. It would be 16 more years until the rest of the world would follow, creating the need for MTV.
The next six songs on the album followed a similar style, each one the product of a five-person band. “She Belongs To Me” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” were lighthearted love songs, nowhere near the fury of “Blues” or “Maggie’s Farm,” which followed the narration of a servant on Maggie’s farm and the despicable characters that abused and mistreated the narrator.
Another standout, and certainly the most whimsical track on the album, is “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,” a sea-faring misadventure in which Dylan tries to find a way to get “Captain Arab” out of jail and meets a plethora of absurd grotesques and falls upon a series of unfortunate events, which proves to be downright hilarious:
“I shook his hand and said goodbye
Ran out to the street
When a bowling ball came down the road
And knocked me off my feet
A pay phone was ringing
It just about blew my mind
When I picked it up and said hello
This foot came through the line”
After “Dream,” the album changes course, returning to the rustic folk that Dylan was known for at the time. The track immediately following, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” one of Dylan’s best known songs, which became a hit for The Byrds only months later.
The two last songs on the record are, perhaps, the true standouts. The eight-minute “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” sees Dylan going off for five verses about concerns of his at the time. Throughout the course of the lengthy protest, Dylan goes on a tirade against capitalism (“As human Gods aim for their mark/made everything from toy guns that spark/to flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark“) and his general disillusionment with modern life (“A question in your nerves is lit/Yet you know there’s no answer fit to satisfy /Insure you not to quit“). “Ma” became one of Dylan’s most influential songs, inspiring other songwriters to sing their endless sorrows, one of the most recent being Bright Eyes’ “Let’s Not Shit Ourselves.”
The last song on Home, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is arguably the best and one of Dylan’s most oft-covered songs. Everyone from Them to Hole has tried their hand at this tune, though Dylan’s is the most stripped-down version out there. The song is cryptic and lyrically dense, yet heartbreaking all the same. Dylan’s delivery is one of his most emotional, though nobody knows for sure what the song is about. Many believe the title character is based on David Blue, who supposedly also was the source of inspiration for Joni Mitchell’s Blue. In spite of all the speculation and uncertainty revolving around the song, it’s a gorgeous, classic composition and among the best album closers ever.
Bringing it All Back Home was a strongly transitional album for Dylan, as his next recording, Highway 61 Revisited was his first entirely electric album. But Home is a decidedly simpler affair, showing a rowdy side to the songwriter who was previously known for his angry, yet subdued political folk songs.
Similar albums/ Albums Influenced:
The Beatles – Rubber Soul
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.