When I was a lot younger, I often thought of Dr. Martin Luther King as some sort mythical folklore character, a man who captivated an entire race of people with his speeches. As I grew older, I realized that in spite of his great and noble feats, MLK was a human being like the rest of us. But I digress when I tell you this, as the things that MLK was able to accomplish acted as extraordinarily large pieces of the struggle to end segregation in America. As we near MLK day, I imagine that many of us are enjoying the three day weekend, especially with the NFL playoffs occurring simultaneously and a new semester of college in its beginning stages. In light of these relaxation markers, we are apt to forget why we were blessed with a day off in the first place. As a nation, we have made many strides towards the goal of ending racism, such as electing a half black-half white politician to the presidential office. But my focus in making this post is not to give you a long and boring history of political and social problems in America, to put the spotlight on, in my opinion, the most influential musician in the history of American popular music.
In my few years, I have gathered that not many people know a lot about Bob Dylan. Due to a long and drawn out legal battle, for the most part Dylan’s studio music has been stripped of the Youtube outlet. Even fewer people know that after MLK delivered his “I Have A Dream Speech,” Dylan was the next voice to be heard in the March on Washington, unleashing the overall fury of the Sixties in the form of “Only a Pawn in Their Game,” a song about the slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars.
In the early Sixties, before the Fab Four, Bob Dylan made a name for himself by penning protest anthems all in the vein of folk music. Dylan released many classic folk themed recordings during this time, but somewhat switched his style to rock after some of his heroes, such as MLK and JFK were slain. Dylan has commented on this in books, interviews, and magazines, stating that he feared for his own life during the time, and felt it a wise decision to abstain from singing about such controversial topics as some of his earliest albums are famous for.
Because of this, many people wrongly point to the album Bringing it All Back Home, as the album that really ushered in the latter half of the Sixties Dylanesque style, but it was rather an album entitled Another Side of Bob Dylan that achieved these aims. On the album, Dylan mostly strays away from the protest songs that made him famous, instead making complex lyrics and compositions about love and life. One of the most often referred to songs on this album is the all encompassing “My Back Pages,” in which Dylan uses haunting imagery to convey his reasoning for switching up his style.
Other songs such as “Black Crow Blues,” and “It Ain’t Me Babe,” are cryptic love songs, because, as Dylan is probably most famous for, he approaches the love song in much the same way as folk singers approach the protest song, using diction goldmines and making complex allusions to history and literature. Other songs maintain Dylan’s lyrical prowess but are more lighthearted, such as “All I Really Want To Do,” in which Dylan cannot help but laughing at the hilarious promises he is making to the imaginary female subject.
If you are in the beginning stages of your Dylan odyssey, I would suggest checking out some of his more folk-rock orientated stuff before. But the genius of Another Side of Bob Dylan cannot be denied.