First one with a band. First one with an electric guitar. The protest era comes to an end and the first reinvention takes place. Then the first song on the album ("Subterranean Homesick Blues") immediately became iconic. And I guess it's kind of a protest song. Maybe that era isn't quite over yet. Maybe it never ends, as long as you keep caring.
I can't imagine how jarring this record must've been at the time. I'm 39. I wasn't alive during the start of Dylan's career. By the time I knew his name, we had a fully formed Dylan who had already cemented a legacy of writing great songs. So I have no idea what it's like to have the folkie-Bob turn into a rock act. I guess I've seen bands I've followed change tone a time or two though. Mumford & Sons plugged in and alienated a lot of people a few years back. Is that as close as we've had to this experience in my generation? Maybe. I still like Mumford & Sons. So maybe I still would've liked Dylan.
I don't think there's a bad song on the album. I don't particularly care for "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." Mostly because I think the choice to say "Captain Arab" instead of "AHAB" is a silly lyric (which I know was intentional) that ultimately falls flat, and in 2019 it sounds a little racist (which I know was UNintentional). But it's still not a bad SONG. And I like the sound of the album. The electric side (side A) might be the first example we really have of "Americana" as a style of music. And side B is classic Dylan tone, just stepped up a little. I like the bravery of starting with the electric and then rewarding the long-time fans with something closer to what they were used to on side B, if they made it that far. That's clever.
The Summer prior to the album's release, Bob met the Beatles. That's significant. Like everybody working at that time (and most people working NOW) Bob would come to be very inspired and influenced by the Beatles. And he remained on good terms with them, despite a perceived musical "rivalry." But without his love of the Beatles, I don't think Bob would've started experimenting with different mixing techniques and sounds and we might never have gotten the electric era or the subsequent stuff. He might've fizzled out with the rest of the folkies. Or at best he'd be playing revival bills with either Simon or Garfunkel and maybe Louden Wainwright III. (All of whom I like. I'd go see that show.) But as it was, Bob got weird with it, and we all benefited.
Reading Bob's Wikipedia page for this album reveals that recording sessions were all over the place and random in nature. It seems a schizophrenic series of sessions led to a schizophrenic album. As it should be. But there's no doubt that the whole time Bob was being intentional in killing off the "folk guy" that everybody knew. Just listen to "Maggie's Farm" and tell me he wasn't purposely saying, "that was fine, but NO MORE." It's obvious. It's bold.
A lot of my personal favorite Dylan songs are on this album. Some of yours probably are too.
- "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - Which I first heard as dialogue in an episode of Murphy Brown, of all places. And it stuck in my head, even from that.
- "She Belongs to Me"
- "Maggie's Farm" - A pacing and rhythm Dylan would return to a lot in his career. There are a lot of his songs that could easily end verses with "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more." I like that.
- "Mr. Tambourine Man" - Of course I like this one. Although the idea of somebody specifically wanting to hear some asshole play a tambourine as a form of entertainment never fails to make me laugh.
- "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" - Definitely in my top-five favorite Dylan songs. I first encountered in in college when a professor described it in a class and encouraged us to read it as a poem. I didn't hear the song until several years later. When I read it as a poem I thought, "Yeah, I get why he likes it..." But when I heard the song, I thought, "OOOOOOOOOOhhhhh...NOW I get it."
I like "turning point" albums as a general rule of thumb. Not always. There are some that suck. Some bands hit a turning point then IMMEDIATELY turn back because it sucked (memo to Arcade Fire). But it sure worked for Bob. This is a great record.