It’s fitting that Another Side of Bob Dylan was released immediately after the scathing political anthems of The Times They Are A-Changin’. In danger of being completely typecast as that radical, protest songwriter, Dylan truly gave listeners another side to his musical persona by expanding his musical prowess (one more step closer to the electric circus that would follow) and returning to some of the humor and playfulness found on Bob Dylan.
Throughout Dylan’s career he has tried desperately to move away from being labeled by his critics and fans. It’s part of the reason his canon is so varied and his path so curious. If The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’ were the albums that established Dylan as a voice not to be reckoned with, Another Side of Bob Dylan was a cue that listeners had only heard a taste of what was yet to come.
The record opens with “All I Really Want To Do,” a lighthearted guitar/harmonica number that completely sheds the rebel folk singer skin of the album’s predecessor. When Dylan croons and yodels his way through the lyrics, “No, and I ain’t lookin’ to fight with you, / Frighten you or uptighten you, / Drag you down or drain you down, / Chain you down or bring you down. / All I really want to do / Is, baby, be friends with you,” he could very well be referring to the women in his life but more likely it’s a plea to his listeners to shatter their messiah like view of him.
“Black Crow Blues” is in many ways a throwaway track if it were not for Dylan’s newfound penchant for the piano. Playing a saloon style honky-tonk, with a hint of train howling harmonica licks, Dylan returns to the straight blues of his musical upbringing but does it in a manner completely his own.
With “Chimes of Freedom” and “My Back Pages,” Dylan returns to the protest anthems of Times but does so (as seen in “Pages”) with a fair amount of resentment for the political folk movement that he helped jumpstart.
“Chimes” is a wonderfully weaved, albeit fairly general, testament to the underdogs of war and social unrest. An ode to “the gentle and the kind,” “the guardians and protectors of the mind,” “the mateless mother and mistitled prostitute” and “the lonesome-hearted lovers,” its no wonder the song remains one of Dylan’s most trumpeted live songs not to mention most covered from artists as diverse as Bruce Springsteen to the Senegalese Afro-Pop star Youssou N’Dour.
A song like “My Back Pages” must have come as a bit of shock to the loyal followers of Dylan’s former political outlook. The song, while heralding his days in the rebel limelight, expresses a fair amount of doubt towards his prior beliefs and facade. “Ah, but I was so much older then, / I’m younger than that now” is one of the most poetic realizations of his place in the world that Dylan has ever written. It’s that rare moment of self-aware maturation.
By recording an album like The Times They Are A-Changin’ at the tender age of 22, Dylan was ambitious and helped to motivate an entire generation of young minds but he realizes with “My Back Pages” that his political angst was without merit (“Using ideas as my maps”) and that despite his supposed romantic enlightenment he was a bit naïve. In many ways the song debunks his self-built myth of being THE rebel voice of his generation and is a subtle precursor to his electric transition that would ultimately estrange many of his followers–focusing less on guitar/mic formula, more on the music. The song remains the most important and poetic on the record, and is one of his many career-defining moments.
The remaining songs on the LP juggle between the somber and the humorous. “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is a bizarre follow-up of sorts to Freewheelin’s closer, “I Shall Be Free.” Like its sister song, “No. 10” is a hodgepodge of nonsensical lyrics with Dylan name dropping everyone from Cassius Clay, who will get “knocked clean right out of his spleen” if he doesn’t run, to Barry Goldwater. The song starts off as a testament to just how normal Dylan really is (“It ain’t no use a-talking to me / It’s just the same as talking to you.”) but quickly unravels into one of the weirdest songs in Dylan’s catalogue.
“Motorpsycho Nitemare” is the first of many story-songs, a comical romp of seduction from a raging farmer’s daughter and the car breakdown from hell. At 8:17 “Ballad In Plain D” is one of his longest compositions and continues the remorseful love entanglement between Dylan, Suze Rotolo and her “parasite sister.” This is clearly Dylan at his most callous, albeit somewhat remorseful. He repents:
“Beneath a bare light bulb the plaster did pound
Her sister and I in a screaming battleground.
And she in between, the victim of sound,
Soon shattered as a child ‘neath her shadows.”
During this epoch in his career Another Side of Bob Dylan may be the unjustly ignored of this string of releases. The record’s sole memorable single is its closer, “It Ain’t Me Babe,” a painfully sad tale of rejection, which would ultimately become a heartbreaker’s weapon of choice for gently telling someone, no. The remaining tracks make up one of Dylan’s most complex albums to date one that showed great strides in his artistic evolution. Setting down the guitar in lieu of a piano was just a hint of the more radical changes (and fan alienation) to come, and his refusal to play into the title as “voice of his generation,” showed ambitions far beyond most musicians in his heyday.
Essential songs: “Chimes of Freedom,” “My Back Pages,” “Motorpsycho Nitemare,” “Ballad in Plain D.”