(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)
Last week, I watched Bob Dylan: Roads Rapidly Changing, a documentary that recounts Dylan’s rise in and eventual departure from the Greenwich Village folk scene. He arrived in the Big Apple from the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1961 with no connections, but – due to his talent and drive – quickly made a name for himself. “Blowing in the Wind,” The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changing,” Another Side of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home, his 1965 farewell to the folkie world, date to this period in his life.
The film, which I highly recommend, features a wealth of archival footage and performances alongside insights from an assortment of fellow Village folkies (Eric Andersen, Maria Muldaur and Tom Paxton) and rock journalists (Robert Christgau and Anthony DeCurtis).
Highway 61 Revisited, released a mere five months after Bringing It All Back Home, isn’t covered in the doc, which is understandable – it was his first full-fledged rock album, and the film focuses exclusively on his folkie days. Still, think about that for a second: In an era where it can take an artist years to release the next album, Dylan released two monumental sets within five months of each other. Paradigms shifted with each.
Of Bringing It All Back Home: The first side features Dylan backed by an electric band – a radical notion within the purist folk scene at the time. In the most simplistic description, the new sound marries the folk form to the rock beat.
The second half features an acoustic Dylan at his most electric.
There’s little more to say but this: The album, which expanded the concept of what popular music could and should be, is consistently rated as one of the greatest of all time. (This Rolling Stone article delves into its impact.) It sounds as fresh today as it must have sounded in 1965.
One last thought: Since the dawn of written history, there have always been purges of the past in order to placate the present. (You might say that we, as a people, have a long history of criticizing what we can’t understand.) Humans are flawed creatures, in other words, with our biggest flaw being that we tend to run with the pack. But in the mid-‘60s, Bob Dylan didn’t turn his back on what came before. Instead, he synthesized it into something new.
The track list: