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On This Day In Music… March 22, 1965: Bob Dylan Releases 'Bringing It All Back Home'

Dylan’s fifth album marked the moment he went electric – and was also his big commercial breakthrough.

bob dylan bringing it all back home
Source: mega / Columbia Records

'Bringing It All Back Home' was a transitional moment for Bob Dylan.

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When Bob Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home on March 22, 1965, he was already a near-deity in the American folk music scene.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released in 1963, and 1964’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ had both hinted at a crossover into mainstream success; and with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”, and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” he had become a champion of the emerging counterculture scene, an acoustic poet in the tradition of Woody Guthrie.

Was it enough for Dylan? Apparently not – his ambitions were greater than being the biggest fish in a relatively small folk pond. In 1964 the Beatles had come to America, and with them a whole British Invasion of bright boys with electric guitars, making a louder and more exciting racket than could be heard in the coffee shops of Greenwich Village.

With Bringing It All Back Home, he began to realize those ambitions – and also to reap the consequences, both good and bad.

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bob dylan
Source: mega

By 1965 Dylan had ambitions beyond the folk scene.

The album’s genesis lay in the summer of 1964. On an earlier road trip seeking inspiration for fourth album Another Side of Bob Dylan, he had experienced a Damascene moment. In an interview he later recalled. “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.”

On his return he decamped to upstate New York, where he spent the summer in a frenzy of creation. In her autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With, Joan Baez recalled visiting him at that time.

“Most of the month or so we were there, Bob stood at the typewriter in the corner of his room, drinking red wine and smoking and tapping away relentlessly for hours. And in the dead of night, he would wake up, grunt, grab a cigarette, and stumble over to the typewriter again. He was turning out songs like ticker tape.”

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bob dylan joan baez
Source: mega

Dylan with Joan Baez - 'He was turning out songs like ticker tape.'

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On August 28, 1964, Dylan met the Beatles at their New York hotel, and was further entranced. The seeds for the future of popular music were being sown, and to borrow a phrase, he didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

The following January he hit the studio – where the 11 songs on Bringing It All Back Home would be recorded, somewhat astonishingly, in just three days.

On the first day Dylan worked solo, recording himself singing with acoustic guitar or piano in his usual style; but on the following day he packed the studio with a full band, fully plugged-in. Eight new numbers were attempted – and in a breakneck three-and-a-half hours in which each song rarely exceeded two or three takes, five tracks were recorded for the album.

The following day they did it all again. That session began with “Maggie’s Farm” – laid down and finished in a single take.

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In Bob Dylan All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track, photographer Daniel Kramer, who was present at the sessions and also shot the album cover, recalled: “The musicians were enthusiastic. They conferred with one another to work out the problems as they arose. Dylan bounced around from one man to another, explaining what he wanted, often showing them on the piano what was needed until, like a giant puzzle, the pieces would fit and the picture emerged whole.

“Most of the songs went down easily and needed only three or four takes… In some cases, the first take sounded completely different from the final one because the material was played at a different tempo, perhaps, or a different chord was chosen, or solos may have been rearranged… His method of working, the certainty of what he wanted, kept things moving.”

On March 22, 1965, Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home. The album was preceded by its lead single (and the first song on side one), “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The raucous, breathless, unapologetically noisy single gave Dylan his first Top 40 hit in the United States, and, according to popular mythology, was said to have affected John Lennon so profoundly that he claimed not to know if he could write a song to compete with it.

The album did even better, reaching No. 6 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart, the first of Dylan's LPs to break into the US Top 10. It also topped the UK charts later that spring.

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The electric sound of songs like “Maggie’s Farm”, “Outlaw Blues”, and “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” were a clear progression from Dylan’s earlier output – but if he’d seen the direction the wind was blowing musically, he also grasped the impact going electric would have on his devoted folk audience. Accordingly Bringing It All Back Home became an album of two halves: Side 1 were the tracks recorded with the full band, and Side 2 featured a more “traditional” Dylan sound, with songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” (ironically, thrillingly electrified by The Byrds just a month after its Dylan release) featuring the singer accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar.

Of course, for some, even that compromise was betrayal. During his first fully electric performance at the Newport Folk Festival the following July the one-time acoustic messiah was booed by sections of the audience horrified by his apparent betrayal of his roots.

It was too late for the purists. A month later Dylan released Highway 61 Revisited… and the rest is history.


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