By Bill Spurge
Last year, I decided to complete my collection of Bob Dylan albums. I was a few albums and some odds and ends short, so I bought most and swapped items with a co-worker and fellow Dylan fanatic.
Then, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his first album, 1962’s Bob Dylan, I set out to rank every Dylan album and song. A monumental task, indeed. I listened to album after album, four or five times through. Even albums I knew in my sleep were placed under scrutiny.
Then came the hardest part: making the list. The albums came easier. The songs, not so easy.
My song list is coming soon. In the meantime, here's my album-by-album ranking of Dylan's 33 studio LPs (NOTE: Dylan has actually released 34 studio albums, but I've chosen not to include 2009's Christmas In the Heart.)
These 33 album-ranking stories will take us right up to the release of Tempest, Dylan's new album, which is scheduled to come out September 11. Enjoy!
No. 11 of 33: Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964)
This album, Dylan's fourth, closes out his all-folk phase, sitting snugly between the all-serious, mostly topical The Times They Are A-Changin' and the new electrified Dylan of "Subterranean Homesick Blues." Although it doesn't contain the historical value of some of the songs on The Times They Are A-Changin', the album is freer and looser, humor-laden and more about relationships. I don't know if that's why I ranked it higher than his previous LP, but I do enjoy listening to it.
Memorable numbers include "Chimes of Freedom," which features a very nice guitar melody, and "It Ain't Me Babe." "Ballad In Plain D" is apparently a vitriolic message to Dylan's old gal pal, Suze Rotolo's sister. It's nice, but it's too long. The LP also includes the famous "My Back Pages." This is a song I prefer when it's performed by other artists, including the version on the live 30th Anniversary CD. "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." It seems he's giving up his serious, song-activist past for a new Dylan.
My favorite song on the LP is "I Don't Believe You," one of my favorite Dylan melodies ever. It has the closing lines, "And if anybody asks me, 'Is it easy to forget?' I say it's easily done, you just pick anyone and pretend that you never have met." This song became a staple of Dylan's shows with The Hawks (The Band), and I love the live electric version with Robertson's melodic guitar line throughout. But the simple folk version on the LP is beautiful enough.
By the way, four songs from this LP were recorded by The Byrds: "Chimes of Freedom," "My Back Pages, "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "All I Really Want To Do."
As a collection, this is Dylan in really fine form, writing as someone who needed to get away from the heavy-message label earned as a result of his previous two works (including Freewheelin') and thinking as someone who has by now heard The Beatles extensively and itches to change course while still writing wonderful melodies, as The Beatles did. That will come to fruition on the next LP, when electric guitars meet the acoustic Dylan in a Big Bang display.
So it's not quite the Top 10 for Another Side of Bob Dylan, but it's an LP worth having thanks to a good amount of popular songs and some hidden gems.
Journalist Bill Spurge of New York City has been a Bob Dylan fan since 1974.