Dylanology is an ongoing series of blog posts in which I'm chronologically going through Bob Dylan's studio discography. There may be some diversions along the way.
Recorded in one long night session while reportedly finishing off a couple bottles of wine, Another Side Of Bob Dylan couldn't possibly have a more accurate title. The record is a casual and more personal affair by far than The Times They Are a-Changin', released at the beginning of the same year (1964). That Another Side followed it by only eight months is all the evidence you need that even with a tossed off and raw record like this, Dylan had begun one of the most legendary stretches in all of recorded history.
It's always been too tempting for me to skip ahead to the next three albums because they're some of my all time favorites. But missing out on Another Side Of Bob Dylan would mean passing over the initial bloom of Dylan as pop star (no longer a mere folkie) and unique artist. Actually most of Dylan's albums from this era kind of bleed into each other. With a punched up full band arrangement, it's easy to imagine the songs of Another Side alongside the best of Bringing It All Back Home through Blonde On Blonde.
Dylan had apparently experienced psychedelic drugs and Rimbaud by the recording of Another Side, and the increasing abstract and visionary lyrical content on display is almost haunting. You can practically hear the late night drunk and inspired mindset in his voice and occasional loopy musicianship. He was certainly getting rather post-modern and self-aware; it's hard to imagine the serious folkie of his last album writing lines like those on the winking 'I Shall Be Free No. 10.' Just as Stephen Spielberg sometimes has to do serious arty movies to get it out of his system before going back to the popcorn fun stuff, it's almost as if Dylan had to make a dark, political album to get it all out of his system to plunge ahead.
I might go so far as to argue that Another Side Of Bob Dylan is one of his hidden gems, because it isn't as well known as most of his stuff from this period. Until I finally sat down to give this album my full attention, I missed out on what a stunning set of songs it is. 'Chimes Of Freedom' sounds like a man possessed, a kind of surreal/imagistic celebration and bittersweet view of the ongoing civil movements of the time—and also a prototype for future epics like 'Desolation Row.' Mostly though, Dylan is puttering around with smirking abstractions and silly imagery. 'I Shall Be Free No. 10' is Dylan's version of those rare nights where you reach that point while drunk and/or stoned enough that you ramble out loud to yourself and make up weird little songs. It even predates Will Smith's 'I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson' for jokingly calling out a boxer the singer clearly has no chance against.
The sound and atmosphere of Another Side Of Bob Dylan makes me think of the novel Steppenwolf. It's the sound of someone who grew old and far too serious before his time trying to reconnect with his former youth, idealism, and sense of fun. Of course, the guy in Steppenwolf screws it up. But as the left-in laughs on some of the songs, the long and purposefully overblown harmonica solos on 'Ballad In Plain D', and the “I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now” lyric of 'My Back Pages' all demonstrate, Bob Dylan had done it; he had reconnected. It wouldn't be long before the slidewhistles of 'Highway 61 Revisited' and the drunken crowd on 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35' cheering to the calls of “everybody must get stoned!”