"Those records I've made, I'll stand behind them, but some of that was jumping onto the scene to be heard and a lot of it was because I didn't see anybody else doing that kind of thing...From now on, I want to write from inside me, and to do that I have to get back to writing like I used to when I was ten - having everything come out naturally. The way I like to write is for it to come out the way I walk or talk." Bob Dylan 1964
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Another Side Of Bob Dylan" is that the eleven tracks on the album, along with several that did not make it, were all recorded in one six hour session that began at seven thirty on the evening of June 9th 1964 and ended at one thirty the following morning. CBS were ready for another album from Dylan (amazing by today's standards when you consider that "Times" had only been out since February of that year) and were considering releasing a live album that would combine a concert that had been recorded at the New York Town Hall on April 12th 1963 and the Carnegie Hall concert from October 26th 1963. One reason that they were reluctant to do this was because included in that material was an eight minute poem "Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie" which they regarded as a little risky. The poem is an exceptional piece of work and quite unique in Dylan's catalogue, but the corporate decision was probably the right one for the time. Consequently, Dylan went into the studio along with several friends, hangers on and various children to record what would be his last acoustic album until the mid nineties. Red wine, the drink of choice, was also much in evidence, and this laid back attitude was not really conducive to producing a classic Bob Dylan album. Many of the songs recorded at this session were written in Europe during a short trip that Dylan took there after his London concert in May and are very different from the material on his previous album. The title, which some saw as an arrogant statement of intent would cause problems, as would the album content which was patchy and uneven, but surprisingly, apart from a few poor songs it stands up well today.
The opening track "All I Really Want To Do" sees Dylan in the lighthearted mood that is evident on much of the set. There are serious songs on the album, but this is not one of them. Internal rhyming, a device that Dylan often uses is much in evidence here, as he has great fun with the lyrics, "I ain't lookin' to compete with you/Beat or cheat or mistreat you" and "I don't want to straight-face you/Race or chase you, track or trace you" show just how skillful his wordplay is. A recurrent theme in Dylan's writing appears with the lines "I ain't lookin' for you to feel like me/See like me or be like me," and when he sings the chorus (complete with falsetto) "All I really want to do/Is baby, be friends with you" it is quite clear that being friends with the lady in question is the last thing on his mind. A trivial and inconsequential song then, but not so trivial and inconsequential that other people did not want to record it, both The Byrds and Cher took versions of "All I Really Want To Do" into the top forty.
On the second track "Black Crow Blues" Dylan sounds as weary as the song he's singing. Accompanying himself on honky tonk piano and harmonica, this country blues number was recorded late in the session "...Weary and worn out" indeed. Opening with a traditional blues line "I woke in the mornin' wanderin'" he pounds his way through this song, showing us his rudimentary expertise on the (slightly out of tune) piano. This was never going to be a classic, and is interesting only from the point that we are able to witness Dylan's progression as a performer.
"Spanish Harlem Incident" is one of the most sensual songs of Dylan's early period. Drawing on the Latin landscape that would be a rich source of inspiration in later songs, he paints a wonderful picture of longing for an unobtainable beauty. The evocative imagery in this, one of the strongest performances on the album, is some of the best in Dylan's early career "Your temperature is too hot for taming/Your flaming feet are burning up the street" he sings, and adds a further layer to her mystique with "Let me know babe, all about my fortune/Down along my restless palms" which also imparts a terrific double meaning. He is totally awe struck by her "...pearly eyes, so fast an' slashing" and her "...flashing diamond teeth" and there is a wonderful contrast in the pleading "The night is pitch black, come an' make my/Pale face fit into place, ah please!" This was one of the songs that was written on Dylan's brief but productive trip to Europe that marks the beginning of a period of very strong writing that seemed to come to him effortlessly "On the cliffs of your wildcat charms I'm riding/I know I'm round you but I don't know where" he tells her, and by the end of the song we feel that we know this girl who can make him "...really real."
When people list the classic Dylan songs of the sixties, "Chimes Of Freedom" is for some reason frequently omitted. Often seen as his last "protest" song, it began life on the famous road trip to California in February 1964 ("Ballad In Plain D" also had its seeds there) and was performed at Bill Clinton's inauguration party in 1993. Using the image of a violent thunder storm as a canvas on which to paint a stark portrait of suffering Dylan shows with this song the power of his writing, "...the warrior whose strength is not to fight" and "...the refugees on the unarmed road of flight" are just two of the many vivid descriptions he gives us. There are similarities between this and the earlier "Lay Down Your Weary Tune" where the forces of nature are also used to great effect, though in a more benign way. "Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail/The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder" is wonderfully descriptive, and the alliteration in the "...mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute" is particularly striking. The graphic image of the storm abating "Even though a cloud's white curtain in a far off corner flared/An' the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting" is brilliantly done, and the bluntness of "...fired but for the ones/Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting" speaks volumes in its simplicity. The opening lines of the final verse "Starry-eyed an' laughing as I recall when we were caught/Tracked by no track of hours for they hang suspended" are almost hallucinogenic as we are asked to think of "...the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed" and the "...countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse" in this astonishing song/poem. Several takes of this song were attempted on the night, and Dylan, notorious for his dislike of multiple takes, chose this one. Shame then that his voice is showing signs of strain, but to me this remains one of his most outstanding pieces of writing, and sadly one that does not often get the recognition it deserves.
By contrast, "I Shall Be Free #10" is an semi-amusing piece of nonsense that does not stand up to more than a couple of plays. Dylan is obviously enjoying himself, but the song is too long and what wit there is, is buried under too many unfunny in jokes. The verse about Cassius Clay is particularly irritating. Sanity returns with "To Ramona," a beautifully poignant love song addressed to one of Dylan's many earth-mothers. The vocal here is quite stunning, "Your cracked country lips/I still wish to kiss/As to be by the strength of your skin" he tells her in a voice filled with yearning and desire. There is much to enjoy here, from the way he tells her "...it grieves my heart love/To see you trying to be a part of/A world that just don't exist" to his warning of empty promises "I can see that your head/Has been twisted and fed/With the worthless foam from the mouth" and the one recurring Dylan theme to be yourself "...there's no one to beat you/No one to defeat you/'Cept the thoughts of yourself feeling bad." We encounter a more humble Dylan in the final verse, and one who is prepared to accept that sometimes we need to follow our heart "Everything passes/Everything changes/Just do what you think you should do/And someday maybe/Who knows baby/I'll come and be cryin' to you." One of Dylan's great early love songs, performed with passion and an intensity that is lacking on much of the album. Only one take was required on the night.
For "Motorpsycho Nitemare" Dylan employs the absurdist plot lines that he would be far more successful with in later songs (notably the next album's "115th Dream") but here he fails miserably. The long, rambling shaggy-dog story owes more than a little to Hitchcock's "Psycho," Dylan even throws in references to Tony Perkins and the famous shower scene, but the song is tedious, unfunny and ultimately boring. The trite tale of the hippy doctor/salesman, the reactionary farmer and his daughter Rita may have been amusing in 1964, but today it is best ignored.
Any older person looking back on their youth and passionate, if misguided viewpoints will be able to identify with "My Back Pages" With its alternative title "Ancient Memories" this was the last song recorded and may well be Dylan serving notice that he is leaving the protest movement (one that he neither asked for nor really ever embraced) behind. "Ah, but I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now" is how he sees a past where life was "...black and white" and the "...romantic facts of musketeers" are really the stuff of fiction. One interesting point is raised in verse five, where Dylan sees the danger of being too close to one's opinions "...I aimed my hand/At the mongrel dogs who teach/Fearing not that I'd become my enemy/In the instant that I preach" is a sentiment that may have been close to his heart, and one that he was trying to distance himself from, at the time. The irony here is that the thoughts being expressed are as simplistic as the ones it is focusing on, and although it is a good idea, it might have benefited from a little more work, and Dylan's obvious tiredness doesn't help either.
"I Don't Believe You" sees Dylan taking up the position that would traditionally be that of the woman being ignored after a one night stand. "Though we kissed in the wild blazing nighttime/She said she would never forget/But now morning is clear/It's like I ain't here/She just acts like we never have met" he sings, but his approach to the song suggests amusement at the sexual role switching. He ponders on the things he might have done to upset her and sees that "...something has changed/For she ain't the same," but it has to be said that he is not too concerned about it, as he performs the song in a jaunty, cavalier manner, even laughing in places. But in the end, he decides to take the same attitude as her, "But if you want me to/I can be just like you/And pretend that we never have touched" and gives a piece of advice when asked "Is it easy to forget?" yes it is he says "It's easily done/You just pick anyone/And pretend that you never have met!" This song was of course to see a drastic change in style two years later when it was included in the electric half of Dylan's concerts on his world tour of 1966 where he took a perverse glee in taunting his audiences with the way it used to be.
Of the hundreds of songs that Dylan has written in his lengthy career, "Ballad In Plain D" is perhaps one of the most controversial. Intensely personal, the song comes across as petulant and immature and does him no credit whatsoever. "Ballad In Plain D" tells of the eventual break-up of the stormy relationship between Dylan and long time girl friend Suze Rotolo, citing her sister Carla as the main contributory factor. Carla had been one of Dylan's biggest supporters when he first arrived in New York, but in the song he refers to her as a parasite and petty, and did not warn her of the song - the first time she heard it was on the album. He describes his relationship with Suze "In a young summer's youth I stole her away/From her mother and sister though close did they stay/Each of them suffering from the failures of their day/With strings of guilt they tried hard to guide us"(the mother comes off worse in an earlier draft of the song), and of Carla he says "...countless visions of the other she'd reflect/As a crutch for her scenes and her society." He goes on to describe the relationship and the eventual (physical) encounter that ultimately ended it. Throughout he paints himself as the victim and Suze as the tragic, fragile figure desperate for his attention and protection. In the penultimate verse he does show a modicum of remorse "The wind knocks my window, the room it is wet/The words to say I'm sorry, I haven't found yet" but the final line, where he portrays himself as a prisoner is the least convincing of all "Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?" Emotion and passion are necessary for any artistic endeavour, and Dylan was obviously angry and bitter, but he was too close to his subject and allowed those feelings to get the better of him. Carla felt obliged to defend herself, "I was no parasite. I always worked, I always contributed to the food and rent" she told Robert Shelton, and said that she was only protecting her sister Suze, who said "That song just went too far. There are some things you just can't do, no matter how much power you have." In 1985, around the time of the release of "Biograph" Dylan in an uncharacteristic flash of remorse said "That one I look back at and say, I must have been a schmuck to write that. I look back at that particular one and say...maybe I should have left that alone" and contacted Carla to apologise. She however felt that it was too late.
The final song on the album "It Ain't Me, Babe" is of course one of Dylan's enduring classics. Covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to the Turtles this is a perfect example of Dylan writing lyrics that everyone can understand and identify with. "Go 'way from my window/Leave at your own chosen speed/I'm not the one you want, babe/I'm not the one you need" is his blunt opening. He then proceeds to give the unfortunate recipient of his candour a catalogue of reasons why their affair cannot work, before telling her "It ain't me you're lookin' for, babe." This is a brutally honest Dylan, telling her that he can't be the one who will "...open each and every door" the one who will "...die for you and more," he uses the harsh and ruthless metaphor "Go melt back into the night, babe/Everything inside is made of stone" to describe his feelings, before adding insult to injury with "An' anyway I'm not alone" Speaking in 1962, Dylan said of the songwriting process "They exist by themselves, just waiting for someone to write them down. If I didn't do it, someone else would" and I'm sure that he was referring to songs like this. Simple, honest, truthful and one of his most accessible pieces of writing.
When it was released on 8th August 1964, "Another Side Of Bob Dylan" met with mixed reviews and sold poorly. The left wing folkies, who regarded Dylan as their own, hated it for having "...too much sensitivity" and Irwin Silber, editor of Sing Out wrote in an open letter to Dylan "...your new songs seem to be all inner directed now, inner probing, self-conscious - maybe even a little maudlin or a little cruel on occasion." The title did not help either, with Dylan claiming that it was producer Tom Wilson's idea "I begged and pleaded with him not to do it. I knew I was going to have to take a lot of heat for a title like that and it was my feeling that it wasn't a good idea coming after "The Times They Are A-Changin'"...It seemed like a negation of the past which in no way was true." he said in 1985, but it seems unlikely that Dylan would be so powerless in control of his own work, particularly in light of the way his albums were selling. As to the finished product, although creating an album of new material in one session can be seen as commendable, some of the songs could have done with more work or been replaced (or even omitted). There was a strong case for the inclusion of "Mama, You Been On My Mind" which Dylan was performing with Joan Baez in concert, and even "Mr. Tambourine Man," with Ramblin' Jack Elliot on back-up vocals here could have been considered (or maybe Dylan felt that he hadn't quite nailed that yet). So the album stood, and Dylan embarked on the most productive and exciting period of his career, he would cram more into the next two years than most people do in an entire lifetime.