Another Side Of Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Columbia Records, 1964

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By the middle of 1964, Bob Dylan was a hot commodity for Columbia Records. Now the bonafide celebrity in the folk music movement, the desire for the label to continuing to strike while the iron was hot was understandable (although in today's day and age, the concept of releasing two studio albums in the course of one year is laughable).

But while Columbia was pushing Dylan to get back into the studio to follow up his album The Times They Are A-Changin', Dylan was seeming to tire of being seen as a protest singer – and, ironically, would prove the title of his previous album to be surprisingly accurate.

The result of an all-day recording session, Another Side Of Bob Dylan no longer features the angry young man railing out at society. Instead, this features a young man who seems to have been beaten down by life at times, saddened and wisened by events both in his life and in the world around him, and just tired of it all. The end result is a different album in tone than any of his previous works, even if it still is just Dylan accompanying himself, and while it is isn't quite as good as his previous efforts, it still demands one's attention.

Coming off the loss of the first true love of his life (thanks in no small part to Dylan's affair with Joan Baez) and the subsequent fight he had with said love and her sister, “Ballad In Plain D” is the most pronounced track on this disc. It is also the hardest one to get through – and not because it's eight minutes long. It is because, woven into the lyrical poetry he became known for, Dylan literally pours his heart out about the course of events that occurred at the breakup. It's surprisingly difficult to listen to this track, knowing what the subject matter is about – and, naturally, it's hard for an outsider to take sides for any of the parties involved. This one is just not comfortable for me to listen to. It's akin to listening to someone at the end of the bar commiserating about a lost love, even though there is plenty of blame to go around.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now that we have the 800-pound elephant out of the room, we can focus on what Dylan did right on Another Side Of Bob Dylan. The fact is, he had to have been doing something well for groups like The Byrds and The Turtles to have covered a number of these songs. Tracks like “It Ain't Me Babe,” “All I Really Want To Do,” “Chimes Of Freedom,” and “My Back Pages” do feature Dylan as the social commentator, although there still seem to be tinges of bitterness and loss involved even in these songs.

Yet there are times when Dylan sounds absolutely tired on this disc. Part of that could be that the sessions for this disc allegedly dragged on until 1:30 in the morning, part of it could be that Dylan was mentally exhausted from all of the demands that stardom had placed upon him. Songs like “Spanish Harlem Incident” and “To Ramona” don't seem to have the level of energy in the performance or delivery that people had come to expect from Dylan. And while it's interesting to hear him break away from the guitar and move to piano on “Black Crow Blues,” this, too, occasionally feels like it's just steadily clopping along.

The weirdest track of them all is “Motorpsycho Nightmare,” one of Dylan's pseudo-blues “stream of consciousness” songs that he would work to perfection just one album later. Honestly, I don't quite know what to make of this one. Is this semi-autobiographical? Is it just the result of a little too much wine and an overactive imagination? Whatever the case, this track just seems to ramble too much and not concrete enough to be a solid effort. Ironically, Dylan would take this same model one album later on “Bob Dylan's 115th Dream,” and it would just work. Maybe it's because the later version is quirky and fun, while the first pass (as it were) seems a little too serious.

If there really was “another” side of Bob Dylan, he wasn't quite showing it yet – and wouldn't until his next album, when he integrated electronic instruments into his sound. All Another Side Of Bob Dylan shows is a folksinger who wanted to show he was more than just a protest singer. Does it work? Yes – but not quite as well as Dylan probably hoped it would, and it's impossible to list just one reason why this is the case. Still, it's an interesting chunk of Dylan's early history, and well worth checking out.

Rating: B

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