Bob Dylan has released 34 studio albums of original material, starting with his self titled album in 1962 (which was mostly blues covers), and ending with Christmas In the Heart in 2009. During this almost-50-year span, there have been several standouts- Modern Times in 2006, Blood on The Tracks in 1975 and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. But three of his albums shifted the very firmament of music in America: his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home, his sixth, Highway 61 Revisited, and seventh, Blonde On Blonde, released between 1964 and 1965.
Robert Zimmerman was born in Hibbing, Minn., in 1941 and emerged as Bob Dylan, (a name derived from of his love for Dylan Thomas’ poetry), some time around 1960 in Minneapolis. He moved to New York in 1961 and became proficient at covering folk songs he had first heard only a few years earlier. By the end of the year, Dylan had recorded his first album, Bob Dylan, released in March of 1962, with help from John Hammond of Columbia Records. It included only two original songs: Talkin’ New York and Song to Woody.
During his early days in Greenwich Village, there were two significant subcultres of youth: the folk singers and the beat poets. The folk singers sang songs from the 20’s and 30’s, mostly rural American, while the beats preferred jazz, claiming local coffee shops as their stomping grounds. Though it was unfashionable for these cultures to mix, Dylan, only 21at the time, was fascinated by everything, including beats like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Dylan put out three more albums between 1963 and1964, (Another Side of Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a’Changin’, and The Freewheeling Bob Dylan), which not only increased his notoriety within the folk community but also helped him fine tune his now prolific songwriting. These songs were mash ups from classic folk melodies, old lines found in the Anthology of American Folk Music and Dylan’s smart and vicious social commentary.
By 1965, Dylan had befriended Ginsberg, who was famous in the counter-culture for stream of conscious poetry, Howl being his best known work. Perhaps because of this friendship, Dylan’s songs began to miss the social core of a protest singer and his themes became difficult, if not impossible, to follow with the release of Bringing It All Back Home that spring. Also important for this record was the shift to electric music; side A is electric, side B acoustic. A few months after this album’s release, the famous controversy at the Newport Folk Festival occurred when Dylan took the stage and played Like A Rolling Stone, which would be released on Highway 61 Revisted.
Every Dylan fan I talk to has a different take on the importance of these three albums, but mine is this: Bob Dylan, tired of being pegged as a well-read, defiant folk singer, and brimming with creative energy, stumbled onto something important: “there are no truth’s outside the gates of Eden.” Bringing It All Back Home guides us to that conclusion; Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde set it up as their premise. [The motorcycle wreck in 1966 put an end to this source of Dylan’s creativity. His next project would be a partially scripted documentary for ABC called Eat The Document, which was rejected by the network as “incomprehensible.”]
This is my favorite album of all time. I fell in love with it while living in Paris, reading lots of Henry Miller and Nietzsche. This is a young man’s album. It’s Dylan’s final words before a long journey into foreign lands. Bringing It All Back Home is Dylan’s swan-song to the folk revival. “It’s all over now, baby blue” he sings to Donovan. It’s his Declaration of Independence from the expectations of the establishment, (“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more”). Here, Dylan transitions from Greenwich Village to The Void as he follows the Tambourine Man into the fog of the jingle jangle morning- and the jingle jangle morning is electric.