The Best Ever "Bringing It All Back Home"?
The Chuck Berry influenced opener, "Subterranean Homesick Blues," with its sly, rapid fire word-spew that literally alerted a generation to the master plan trap into which most of it had fallen could arguably be said to be the first rap song, but I nominate the jingle to Palisades Amusement Park then also on the radio—at least in the New York Metro area. The sequence from D.A. Pennebaker's film "Don't Look Back", where the song accompanies Dylan holding up cue card-like lyric sheets blazed the path for rock videos.
Any adolescent hearing the song for the first time got the message and a good musical slap in the face too, even if it took numerous plays to sort out the references to the civil rights movement, the SDS, drugs and the rest of the time's (that were changing) political and social brew. Hearing it either on a juke box or the A.M. radio made the lyrics that much more difficult to decipher.
The basic message and warning about getting off the cookie cutter treadmill before it was too late resonated with at least the hipper members of a generation. I first heard it on the jukebox of a Cornell freshman dormitory breakfast eating establishment called Fred's Barf Bar and it definitely turned me around, if then only in my mind. It was the beginning call to arms of the "youth subculture" even if that was not Dylan's intention, though I think it was.
"Maggie's Farm" was Dylan's rejection of the role of a generation's spokesman in which he'd been cast, though ironically, the album's opener couldn't have framed him better as just that and its leader, whether or not it watched its parking meter.
Rather than continue the shallow analysis, let's just say that these electrified folks songs set in motion a movement or three whether or not Dylan was so intending. Even without the lyrics, the folkie benefactors who had supported him felt outraged and betrayed.
The rapid wordplay and surreal images in the song lyrics and on the back jacket's painfully personal poem influenced yet another segment of a generation: the musicians. "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" combined the bold personal poetry and musical forward thrust that would carry Dylan through a decade's worth of albums. The side ending "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" was for most young people who heard it, an encapsulating jumble of a lifetime's worth of education liberated from its seriousness. "They asked me for some collateral so I pulled down my pants"—perhaps you had to hear that line in 1965 to understand how truly outrageous was it and the rest of this raucous tune.
Dylan's vocalizing doesn't sound all that unusual now but back then it too represented an earth-shaking break with what was supposed to be "singing." It liberated a generation from the pretty pop crooning in which even The Beatles seemed mired, not to mention the Fab Four's conventional lyrics. This was the album that broke everything wide open, musically and culturally for a generation—even those who never heard it then or haven't yet heard it now, their lives were forever changed.
When the first side ended, first time listeners back then feeling their heads exploding couldn't imagine what was in store on side two. How could Dylan crank it up even further? He couldn't so side two opens with just Dylan and guitarist Bruce Langhorne on a liquid electric in the left channel. Was the song about an LSD trip as some theorized? No. It was actually about a tambourine.
Speaking of crazy interpretations: the cover art was back then the subject of all kinds of craziness. There was speculation that the gal in the photo was actually a transvestite! I remember that. Everyone busied themselves trying to come up with the cover's "meaning" and to identify all of the album covers in a pre-Internet age. It wasn't easy! Most people then didn't know about Robert Johnson's King of the Delta Blues or who Lotte Lenya was, though some knew The Impressions and a few comedic hipsters scoped out Lord Buckley on the mantle. The woman turned out to be manager Albert Grossman's wife.
It's difficult to look back now and decide which side was more life-changing for listeners. With "Mr. Tambourine Man" opening side two, soon to be covered by The Byrds, and the epic surreal imagery of "Gates of Eden" followed by "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), that was enough to lead to teenage exhaustion but Dylan wasn't finished so he ends with the tear inducing heartbreak of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."
When I read today's "futurists" so eager to bury "the album" i just want to bury them. Why should a generation of youngsters not reach for these heights even if they fall? How else can anyone reach these heights if no one tries? Okay there won't be "another Dylan" and maybe these times have finally changed (for the worse) but I'd like to think coherent life-changing albums can still be produced and again move a generation even in the Internet age.
Oh well if that's not going to happen there's still this! This is an album that will endure for generations and one that can be repeatedly played to appreciate fully as the lyrics tumble out in Dylan's snarl.
This edition is mastered from the "master tape" but it's a remixed "master tape" created by Michael H. Brauer and my friend and former Columbia/Sony Legacy Producer Steve Berkowitz, who has heard this in a good recording studio but never on a great home audio system. He has no idea what he's done here—or at least what he's done as heard in a good home environment. He's got a standing invitation but so for he's not accepted but I've been to his place and trust me, he has no idea!
The remix was done at Quad Studios, Nashville, formerly Quadraphonic and they've got the analog goods for a pure analog mix, which this was. The bottom line is this: this remix wipes the floor with the somewhat harsh and less than sonically attractive original.
If all you know is the original, trust me, from the minute the album starts you'll realize you've never heard it sound this liquid when liquidity is called for or as positively hard-edged when that's what's called for. You've never heard Dylan's voice so transparent and present front and center, or so three-dimensional. I know some thought early Mo-Fi's of this era were soft and I don't disagree but this album's transients are stupendous.
The double 45 format means every song can be heard in the tape's full frequency range and dynamic expression. Combine that with superb mastering, a great RTI press (though my copy was covered in an easily removable white haze that looked and felt like mold release compound or something leeching from the sleeve?) plus great gatefold packaging featuring black and white candid studio shots and you have a record that makes for great listening now and probably a reasonably safe investment for the future. I think of all of the out of print musically significant Classic Records that were considered "pricey" a decade ago when new and are now selling for ten times the original price and more.
This probably won't be in print forever but even if it is it's one no record collection should be without. And for those who think SACDs are 'the ultimate' do yourself a favor and don't listen to this, that's all I can advise! Bring this one home. (Comparison made with previously released SACD version).