Consistent with its title, the album marks a shift away from the more overt, issue-oriented folk music that Dylan had previously been gravitating toward, dominating his previous LP, The Times They Are A-Changin'. This break from traditionalist roots prompted sharp criticism from influential figures in the folk community. Sing Out! editor Irwin Silber famously complained that Dylan had "somehow lost touch with people" and was tangled up in "the paraphernalia of fame". Most critics outside of these circles, however, praised its innovations in songwriting, which would have a tremendous influence on such legendary rock acts as The Beatles.
Despite the major thematic changes, Dylan still performed his songs solo, with acoustic guitar and harmonica, and even piano on one song. Another Side of Bob Dylan reached #43 in the US (although it eventually went gold), and peaked at #8 on the UK charts in 1965.
Macmillan's senior editor, Bob Markel, said, "We gave [Dylan] an advance for an untitled book of writings...The publisher was taking a risk on a young, untested potential phenomenon." When Markel met with Dylan for the first time, "there was no book at the time...The material at that point was hazy, sketchy. The poetry editor called it 'inaccessible.' The symbolism was not easily understood, but on the other hand it was earthy, filled with obscure but marvelous imagery...I felt it had a lot of value and was very different from Dylan's output till then. [But] it was not a book."
It would be years before Dylan finished his book, but the free form poetry experiments that came from it eventually influenced his songwriting. The most notable example came in a six-line coda to a poem responding to President John F. Kennedy's assassination (which took place on November 22, 1963):
the colors of Friday were dull / as cathedral bells were gently burnin / strikin for the gentle / strikin for the kind / strikin for the crippled ones / an strikin for the blind
This refrain would soon appear in a very important composition, "Chimes of Freedom", and, as biographer Clinton Heylin writes, "with this sad refrain, Dylan would pass from topical troubadour to poet of the road.
In February 1964, Dylan embarked on a twenty-day trip across the United States. Riding in a station wagon with a few friends (Paul Clayton, Victor Maymudes, and Pete Karman), Dylan began the trip in New York, taking numerous detours through many states before ending the trip in California. (At one point, Dylan reportedly paid a visit to poet Carl Sandburg.) "We talked to people in bars, miners," Dylan would later say. "Talking to people - that's where it's at, man.
According to Heylin, "the primary motivation for this trip was to find enough inspiration to step beyond the folk-song form, if not in the bars, or from the miners, then by peering deep into himself." Dylan spent much time in the back of the station wagon, working on songs and possibly poetry on a typewriter. It was during this trip that Dylan composed "Chimes of Freedom", finishing it in time to premiere at a Denver concert on the 15th. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was also composed during this trip.
It was also during this trip that The Beatles arrived in America. Their first visit to the United States, it remains a cultural touchstone in American culture. Dylan, however, had already been following The Beatles since 1963. There have been different accounts regarding Dylan's attitude towards The Beatles at this time, but it's known that Suze Rotolo and Al Aronowitz immediately took to them and championed their music to Dylan. Aronowitz later claimed that Dylan dismissed them as "bubblegum", but in an interview taken in 1971, Dylan recalls being impressed by their music. "We were driving through Colorado, we had the radio on, and eight of the Top 10 songs were Beatles songs...'I Wanna Hold Your Hand,' all those early ones. They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid...I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go."
When Dylan returned to New York in March, he rented himself an electric guitar. In January, The Beatles were in France, playing a week's worth of concerts. During their stay in France, George Harrison came back to the hotel with an album titled En Roue Libre, better known as The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. According to Harrison, "we just played it, just wore it [out]. The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude!" (While The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan was released in the UK in August of 1963, the French edition En Roue Libre was not released until May 1965 so it was likely the UK release).
As The Beatles began to influence Dylan and vice versa, Dylan's personal life was undergoing a number of significant changes. Though their stage appearances together began to dwindle, Dylan continued his romance with folksinger Joan Baez. Dylan's girlfriend Suze Rotolo apparently had enough of the affair. Soon after Dylan returned to New York, the two had an argument. At the time, Suze was staying with her sister Carla, and when Carla intervened, Dylan began screaming at Carla. Carla ordered Dylan to leave, but he refused to go. Carla Rotolo pushed Dylan, and he pushed her back. The two of them were soon practically fighting. Friends were called and Dylan had to be forcibly removed, effectively ending Dylan's relationship with Suze Rotolo. In an interview taken in 1966, Dylan admitted that after their relationship ended, "I got very, very strung out for a while. I mean, really, very strung out."
One account of Dylan's first experience with hallucinogens places it in April 1964; producer Paul Rothchild told Bob Spitz that he was present when Dylan took his first hit of LSD. By February 1964, Dylan was already telling his friends that "Rimbaud's where it's at. That's the kind of stuff means something. That's the kind of writing I'm gonna do." A legendary poet, Rimbaud once wrote to his mentor Georges Izambard that "the poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious and rational disordering of the senses...He reaches [for] the unknown and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them." (Dated May of 1871) Dylan's early experimentation with hallucinogens has often been connected with the dramatic development his songwriting would soon take, but Dylan himself has denied any connection.
Dylan later left for Europe, completing a few performances in England before traveling to Paris where he was introduced to a German model, Christa Paffgen, who went by the name of Nico. After treating Dylan to a meal at her flat, Nico accompanied Dylan across Europe, a trip that passed through Germany before ending in Vernilya, a small village outside of Athens, Greece. Dylan stayed at Vernilya for more than a week, finishing many of the songs that would appear on his fourth and upcoming album. Nine songs of these would be recorded upon his return to New York: "All I Really Want to Do", "Spanish Harlem Incident", "To Ramona", "I Shall Be Free No. 10", "Ballad in Plain D", "It Ain't Me, Babe", "Mama You Been On My Mind", "Denise Denise", and "Black Crow Blues." Dylan also completed another song called "I'll Keep It With Mine", which, according to Nico, was "about me and my little baby". Dylan gave the song to Nico, who would eventually record it for her own album, Chelsea Girl, released in 1967.
With Dylan's commercial profile on the rise, Columbia was now urging Dylan to release a steady stream of recordings. Upon Dylan's return to New York, studio time was quickly scheduled, with Tom Wilson back as producer.
The first (and only) session was held on June 9th at Columbia's Studio A in New York. According to Heylin, "while polishing off a couple of bottles of Beaujolais", Dylan recorded fourteen original compositions that night, eleven of which were chosen for the final album. The three that were ultimately rejected were "Denise Denise", "Mr. Tambourine Man", and "Mama You Been On My Mind".
Ramblin' Jack Elliott was present during part of this session, and Dylan asked him to perform on "Mr. Tambourine Man". "He invited me to sing on it with him," recalls Elliott, "but I didn't know the words 'cept for the chorus, so I just harmonized with him on the chorus." Only one complete take was recorded, with Dylan stumbling on some of the lyrics. Though the recording was ultimately rejected, Dylan would return to the song for his next album.
By the time Dylan recorded what was ultimately the master take of "My Back Pages", it was 1:30 in the morning. Master takes were selected, and after some minor editing, a final album was soon sequenced.
All songs written by Bob Dylan
"As a set, the songs constitute a decisive act of noncommitment to issue-bound protest, to tradition-bound folk music and the possessive bonds of its audience," writes NPR's Tim Riley. "The love songs open up into indeterminate statements about the emotional orbits lovers take, and the topical themes pass over artificial moral boundaries and leap into wide-ranging social observation.
"Chimes of Freedom" can be traced to "Lay Down Your Weary Tune", an outtake from The Times They Are A-Changin'. "Its sense of the power of nature...closely mirrors 'Lay Down Your Weary Tune,'" writes Clinton Heylin. "Unashamedly apocalyptic...the composition of 'Chimes of Freedom' represented a leap in form that permitted even more intensely poetic songs to burst forth."
"The compassion that laces all the complaints in 'All I Really Want to Do' and 'It Ain't Me, Babe' is round with idealism and humor," writes Riley. "That [both songs] work off a pure Jimmie Rodgers yodel only makes their ties to wide-open American optimism that much more enticing (even though they are both essentially reluctant good-byes).
"It Ain't Me, Babe" also reworks the same "Scarborough Fair" arrangement that was written into Dylan's earlier composition, "Boots of Spanish Leather". Johnny Cash would record his own hit version of this song soon after Another Side of Bob Dylan was released, while The Turtles' version would chart even higher.
Riley describes "My Back Pages" as "a thorough X-ray of Dylan's former social proselytizing...Dylan renounces his former over-serious messianic perch, and disowns false insights." ("I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now.")
According to Heylin, "Ballad in Plain D" takes its melody and refrain ("my friends say unto me...") from the Scottish folk song, "I Once Loved A Lass (The False Bride)". "The song graphically details the night of his breakup with Suze," writes Heylin. "Dylan's portrayal of Carla as the 'parasite sister' remains a cruel and inaccurate portrait of a woman who had started out as one of [Dylan's] biggest fans, and changed only as she came to see the degrees of emotional blackmail he subjected her younger sister to." Asked in 1985 if there were any songs he regretted writing, Dylan singled out "Ballad in Plain D", saying "I look back at that particular one and say...maybe I could have left that alone.
"'Spanish Harlem Incident' is a new romance that pretends to be short and sweet," writes Riley, "but it's an example of how Dylan begins using uncommon word couplings to evoke the mysteries of intimacy...her 'rattling drums' play off his 'restless palms'; her 'pearly eyes' and 'flashing diamond teeth' off his 'pale face.'
Described by Heylin as "the most realized song on Another Side", "To Ramona" is one of the more celebrated songs on the album. A soft, tender waltz, Riley writes that the song "extends the romance from ideals of emotional honesty out into issues of conditioned conformity ('From fixtures and forces and friends / That you gotta be just like them')...in 'Spanish Harlem Incident,' [Dylan's] using flattery as a front for the singer's own weak self-image; in 'To Ramona,' he's trying to save his lover from herself if only because he knows he may soon need the same comfort he's giving her."
Described by Riley as "the unalloyed sting of a romantic perfidy", "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)" would be dramatically rearranged for a full-electric rock band during Dylan's famous 1966 tour with The Hawks.
Four songs from Another Side of Bob Dylan were eventually recorded by The Byrds: "Chimes of Freedom", "My Back Pages", "Spanish Harlem Incident", and "All I Really Want to Do", all of which received their share of critical acclaim.
A complete take of "Mama You Been On My Mind" was recorded for the album, but for reasons unknown, it was rejected. Described by Tim Riley as "the echo of a left-behind affair that rebounds off a couple of self-aware curves ('I am not askin' you to say words like 'yes' or 'no,' / ...I'm just breathin' to myself, pretendin' not that I don't know)," the song was soon covered by Joan Baez, who had a considerable amount of commercial success with it. Dylan's version would not see released until The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991 in 1991. However, Dylan would periodically perform the song in concert, occasionally with Baez as his duet partner. Rod Stewart would later cover the song for his critically acclaimed album, Never a Dull Moment, and a version by Jeff Buckley appears as an out-take on the 2004 re-issue of Grace. The Israeli singer Shlomi Shaban recorded a version of this song translated to Hebrew, which appeared on his 2007 album Ir (עיר, City).
Though "Mr. Tambourine Man" would be re-recorded for Dylan's next album, Sony released the complete take recorded for Another Side of Bob Dylan on The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack in 2005. Unlike the familiar version recorded for Bringing It All Back Home, this early version has a harmonica intro as well as Ramblin' Jack Elliott singing harmony vocals on the chorus.
Dylan also recorded two additional songs that did not make the album. The first is "Denise", a song which uses the same music as "Black Crow Blues" but with different lyrics. The second is "California", which again uses "Black Crow Blues"'s music as the basic structure of the song. A small section of the "California" lyrics were reused in "Outlaw Blues", a song that appeared on Dylan's next album, Bringing It All Back Home. Both outtakes are circulating.
Though the audience at Newport seemed to enjoy Dylan's new material, the folk press did not. Irwin Silber of Sing Out and David Horowitz criticized Dylan's direction and accused Dylan of succumbing to the pressures/temptations of fame. In an open letter to Dylan published in the November issue of Sing Out, Silber wrote "your new songs seem to be all inner-directed now, inner-probing, self-conscious" and, based on what he saw at Newport, "that some of the paraphernalia of fame [was] getting in your way." Horowitz called the songs an "unqualified failure of taste and self-critical awareness."
The album was a step back commercially, failing to make the Top 40, indicating that record consumers may have had a problem as well.
Dylan would soon defend his work, writing that "the songs are insanely honest, not meanin t twist any heads an written only for the reason that i myself me alone wanted and needed t write them." (Transcribed as typed.)
Dylan would concede in 1978 that the album title was not to his liking. "I thought it was just too corny," he said, "I just felt trouble coming when they titled it that." However, it's worth noting that the original manuscripts to the album make two references to the eventual album title: an early draft of "I Shall Be Free No. 10" has the line "You're on another side" while the only line occupying one final page says "there is no other side of bob dylan."
Years later, mixed reactions over Another Side of Bob Dylan would remain but not for the same reasons. Critics would later view it as a 'transitional' album. Clinton Heylin would claim that "Dylan was simply too close to the experiences he was drawing upon to translate them into art. He was also still experimenting with the imagery found on 'Chimes of Freedom' and 'Mr. Tambourine Man.' 'My Back Pages,' the least successful example of the new style, was replete with bizarre compound images ('corpse evangelists,' 'confusion boats,' etc.)." Salon.com critic Bill Wyman would dismiss it as "a lesser, 'relationship' album", but conceded that "Chimes of Freedom" was a "lovely hymn to the 'countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse'."
However, NPR's Tim Riley would call it "a bridge between folkie rhetoric (albeit superior) and his troika of electric rants...a rock album without electric guitars, a folk archetype that punches through the hardy, plainspoken mold. Built on repeated riffs and coaxed by the controlled anxiety of Dylan's voice, the songs work off one another with intellectually charged élan. It's a transition album with a mind of its own."