(Disclaimer: Those looking for an overall description of the album will find what they're looking for in the "Review Body" section. The section titled "Track Reviews" is meant only for those who want to read detailed descriptions of the songs, and they do not constitute the essence of this review. Lastly and most importantly, this review might not be written in the point of view of a Bob Dylan fan.)
Overall Score: 13/15
Best song: “Chimes of Freedom”
Worst song: “Ballad in Plain D”
That cranky old protest dude from The Times They Are A-Changin' is gone for good, and the likable guy from The Freewheelin' is back. You remember him, right? He writes catchy melodies and interesting lyrics with occasionally a humorous bent to them. However, not everyone in 1964 was quite so receptive to it; many members of the music press criticized Dylan for “losing touch” with his base. Of course his fans knew better, and this album's reputation only increased with time. (Let me ask you something: has the music press ever been good for anything other than giving you something to read while you're on the toilet?) Of course that wouldn't even come close to comparing with the firestorm the music press would give him upon the release of his next album... Whoah boy...
But let's talk about Another Side of Bob Dylan. That's not a very fitting title for this album, because this is pretty much a direct sequel to The Freewheelin'. It even has a song on it called “I Shall Be Free No. 10,” which continues the humorous string of tall-tales he brought us previously in “I Shall Be Free.” (What happened to parts two through nine? Will I hear these on the Bootleg releases perchance?) Dylan himself reportedly hated the album name, but I guess he decided it wasn't worth battling his manager.
At any rate, it's nice to hear the guy make another album chock full of classic songs. ...Oh, and you'd better believe me that these songs are classic. You can tell that just by reading the titles. “My Back Pages.” “Spanish Harlem Incident.” “All I Really Wanna Do.” “Chimes of Freedom.” ...You got it! Those are all Byrds songs! And here they are in their original incarnations. This album also has “It Ain't Me Babe” on it. It was never covered by The Byrds, because The Turtles beat them to it. ...Yeah, The Turtles ...those belly crawling, bog-dwelling, worm-chomping low-life bits of bumpy roadkill... (Er, wait! I like The Turtles, actually. I was talking about their managers.)
“My Back Pages” is superb. ...What else should I say about it? The melody is fantastic, and Dylan sings it such a stinging way that it pierces through to my heart. [Insert inappropriate Steve Irwin joke here.] And “Chimes of Freedom” is just as good for the same reasons. That song goes on for more than seven minutes and I wish it would go on for more. The lyrics of course are striking. ( “Far between sundown's finish an' midnight's broken toll / We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing / As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds / Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing / Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight / Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight / An' for each an' ev'ry underdog soldier in the night / An' we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”) Listening to Dylan sing this kinda sounds larger than life.
Instrumentally, all these songs are as we knew them in The Freewheelin': It's simply an acoustic guitar, Dylan's voice, and the occasional harmonica. It's the final acoustic folk album he would ever release. The exception to that is “Black Crow Blues,” which is instrumented with a bluesy electric piano. I love the piano! However, the groove and melody are very generic for the blues, and I have a tendency to find “generic blues” a hard pill to swallow. But the way Dylan sings it boisterously makes it sound fresh, so I give it my thumbs up. “Motorpsycho Nightmare” shares the spotlight with “I Shall Be Free No. 10” as one of the album's hilarious songs. It starts the same as many dirty jokes I've heard as a teenager... You know... A young man's vehicle breaks down and he takes refuge in a nearby farm where he is asked not to touch the farmer's daughter...
I gotta tell you, despite my immense words of praise for this album, I was on the verge of giving this album a 12. As a whole, its songs don't strike me nearly as classic as those on The Freewheelin'... even some of the famous ones like “All I Really Want to Do” and “It Ain't Me Babe” don't seem to get me too excited. When it's all said and done, there are only two songs on here that really hit me over the head: “My Back Pages” and “Chimes of Freedom.” The latter of which is my pick for the album's best. This album also has the eight-minute “Ballad in Plain D” on it, which seems to go on forever without doing anything interesting. But no, it's a 13. This is a mightily solid album with at least two unequivocally great songs on it. It might not be as good as The Freewheelin', but it nonetheless earns its place as one of rock's finer classics.
All I Really Want to Do A
Awesome. Remember that Freewheelin' Bob Dylan guy? He used to sing in his albums warmly. Forget that no-nonsense, serious-as-lupus dude from The Times They Are A-Changin'. He's gone and been re-replaced with that warm-hearted, humorous dude that we remember best. Hear how his vocals switch to a falsetto at the end of the line “All I really want to do-OOOOOOOOO.” At one point, he even starts to giggle a bit. What other things should I say about this song? Well, the melody is fantastic—it's breezy, sunny, and something that manages to linger in my head long after it's through playing. Perhaps it doesn't strike me squarely in the heart like a “Blowin' in the Wind” or a “Times They Are A-Changin',” but do we really expect every Bob Dylan song to do that to us? Instrumentally, it's as we expect: Acoustic guitar, voice, and a harmonica.
Black Crow Blues A-
What is that?! A piano?! Chalk one up for diversity, I guess! ...Of course I'm really surprised to hear this, because usually folk albums didn't have pianos on them. They're too flamboyant, you see. Hear how the piano player takes his finger and let it slide down the scale? ...Superfluous. ...Of course I'm just kidding; I love hearing the piano. It's very fun, and I like the energetic way Dylan sings this. (“I woke in the mornin' wanderin', weary and worn out / I woke in the mornin' wanderin', weary and worn out / Wishin' my long-lost lover will walk to me, talk to me / Tell me what it's all about”) As you can see the lyrical matter isn't anything huge, and the melody and the piano riff are standard for blues music.
Spanish Harlem Incident A-
Back to to the acoustic guitar music. But I can't complain about that, since this melody is interesting. You might also recognize it from The Byrds' debut where The Byrds took the same melody and added some 12-string guitar awesomeness to it. With that said, it was certainly not one of the Byrds' better Dylan covers, and their somewhat cooled vocal performance doesn't help. Dylan sings this more passionately! (Or maybe I'm such a huge fan of his voice that people think I'm slightly nuts?)
Chimes of Freedom A+
Guess what? The Byrds also covered this in their debut! (Maybe I should stop writing about The Byrds in this Bob Dylan reivew?) ...Anyway, this is surely one of the more iconic tunes from this album. The melody ought to give that one immediately away; if this doesn't strike you immediately as whistleable, then I wonder what does. What's most interesting (to me) about it is that it goes on for more than seven minutes basically repeating the same old thing over and over, and I don't get sick of it. And the poetry is lovely. (“Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail / The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder / That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze / Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder.”)
I Shall Be Free No. 10 A
Yes, it's like The Times They Are A-Changin' never happened. “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is very much like “I Shall Be Free” from The Freewheelin'... In other words, the melody is a sort of generic folk melody, but it is delivered humorously and freshly by Dylan, and he also has some more funny stories to tell. ( “I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day / I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay / I said “Fee fie fo fum, Cassius Clay, here I come / 26 27 28 29, I'm gonna make your face look just like mine / five four three two one, Cassius Clay you'd better run / 99 100 101 102, your ma won't even recognize you / 14 15 16 17 18 19 gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen”) …Violence! ( “Now they asked me to read a poem / At the sorority sister's home / I got knocked down and my head was swimmin' / I wound up with the Dean of Women / Yippee! I'm a poet and I know it / Hope I don't blow it” ) …Naughty!
To Ramona A-
Right about now, I'm quite aware that Another Side is a step down from The Freewheelin'. Songs like this love song are quite nice, but they're kind of easy for me to tone out whereas most songs on The Freewheelin' had me excited to no end! The melody is good, but nothing huge for this guy. His singing style is fairly straight, and he's playing his acoustic guitar in a typical manner. For some reason, it sounds a bit like an Italian folk song to me.
Motorpsycho Nightmare A
This is a little more like it! The melody isn't anything huge for me, but the lyrics are pretty entertaining. It starts out like almost every dirty joke I've ever heard—a vehicle breaks down and he takes refuge in the nearest farmhouse where the farmer has a daughter who “looked like she stepped out of La Dolce Vita.” The daughter tries to seduce him, but to get away from her he pretends he's a communist. (“I said I like Fidel Castro / I think you heard me right / And ducked as he swung / At me with all his might / Rita mumbled something / 'Bout her mother on the hill / As his fist hit the icebox / He said he's going to kill me / If I don't get out the door / In two seconds flat / You unpatriotic / Rotten doctor Commie rat”) Very entertaining storytelling.
My Back Pages A+
Yet another iconic song. It's amazing how many “iconic songs” you find strewn all throughout Dylan's '60s albums! And you know what else? The Byrds covered this as well. ...I usually think Dylan's originals are better because I like Dylan's delivery so much more, but in this case it's close. The back-beat, electric organ, and tight vocal harmonies were pretty great ...At any rate, the melody is fantastic, and Dylan has a way of singing it that it sounds like he's singing about the most important thing in the world. (“A self-ordained professor's tongue / Too serious to fool / Spouted out that liberty / is just equality in school / Equality, I spoke the word / As if a wedding vow / Ah but I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now.”)
I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met) B+
I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed that “My Back Pages” is over when I get to this song! Oh well... It's perfectly nice. The melody is simple and sweet (though it doesn't make much of an impression on me I have to say), and he strums his guitar in a lighthearted manner. He chugs a bit with his harmonica. ...Eh, it's fine.
Ballad in Plain D B
Well... I guess this one's for the real die-hards. This eight minute song goes on and on, and the melody is merely *good* and nothing I find too memorable. I usually space out when I listen to it. The lyrics are good as always, but they're not on-the-edge-of-my-seat awesome. According to Wikipedia, they're about his break-up with Suze Rotolo (the woman he was walking with on the cover of The Freewheelin'). Oh my! An eight-minute break-up song!!
It Ain't Me Babe A
Haha, I was positive that The Byrds covered this one as well, but it was actually The Turtles I was thinking of! (I guess The Byrds couldn't cover everything.) Johnny Cash did a cover as well, but I never heard it. ...But anyway, I gave this an A, and that can only mean one thing: It's one of the classic songs on here! It doesn't quite strike the same chord that “Chimes of Freedom” did, but nevertheless the melody is catchy. According to Wikipedia, the lines “no, no, no, it ain't me babe” were directly meant to parody The Beatles' “She Loves You.” ...So there you go. Some trivia for the evening.
This doesn't get me nearly as excited as The Freewheelin', but at least it was a very welcome return to form after that disappointing The Times They Are A-Changin'. Of course the amount of iconic songs on here are staggering... Just take a look at how many of these songs were famously covered by The Byrds!
Read More Bob Dylan Reviews by Starcollector!
Bob Dylan (1962) | The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) | The Times They Are A-Changin' (1964) | Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) | Bringing it All Back Home (1965) | Highway 61 Revisited (1965)