Saturday, December 27, 2014

Pat Garret and Billy the Kid: Dylan Takes a Supporting Role in Iconic Western

In 1973 Bob Dylan made his acting debut in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Directed by Sam Peckinpah and filmed in Mexico, the film has remained a curiosity of 1970s cinema.  The story follows Pat Garrett (James Coburn), a one time compatriot of Billy's (Kris Kristofferson) who eventually joined law enforcement.  Local landowners hire Garrett to recruit a posse to hunt down and kill Billy.  Dylan plays a character named Alias, a sort of flaneur who drifts between the worlds of "the kid" and Pat Garrett.  What can you say about Dylan's acting? It's like he wandered in from some other movie set.  If anything his presence adds a mystical atmosphere to the film.  As a tone poem on the end of the West and the creation of myths, one can see why the material appealed to Dylan.  Upon its initial release in 1973, audiences saw a heavily edited version not reflecting Peckinpah's vision.  In the years since, many restored versions have appeared and the film gained new life as an important revisionist Western.

Dylan wrote most of the soundtrack, including one of the most popular songs in his catalog, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."  He played it for Pope John Paul II in Rome. I remember first hearing the song on the MTV Unplugged Concert in 1994, with Dylan mumbling the lyrics.  On Before the Flood (1974), their's a more rock and roll feel.  Then on the Rolling Thunder Revue (1975) bootleg, it's more of a folk rock catharsis.  According to  he has not performed the song live since May 13, 2003.

As a movie soundtrack, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid has its moments.  Most of the music is instrumental and sounds dated for the most part.  Three versions of "Billy" appear.  "Billy 1" has an exciting intro and enthusiastic vocal, but ends way too soon.  "Billy 4" and "Billy 7" are all acoustic, with Dylan singing in a lower register on the latter version.

Dylan's songwriting leveled off a bit in the 1970s and he generally kept a low profile.  In 1974, he released Planet Waves for David Geffen's Asylum Records and embarked on a tour with The Band, his first one since 1966, thus beginning another solid series of albums.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Comeback Album: New Morning

Critics heralded New Morning as a return to form after the poorly recieved Self Portrait and yet it never gained a large following.  I'd call it a cult classic.

1) If Not For You - Written with George Harrison, Bob's soulful delivery makes a nice contrast to George's spaced out version on All Things Must Pass.

2) Day of the Locusts - A song about a specific event in Dylan's life, accepting an honorary degree from Princeton.  Not bad for a college dropout.

3) Time Passes Slowly - Personally one of my favorite Dylan songs with a splendid verse like:

Once I had a sweetheart, she was fine and good lookin'
Sat in the kitchen while her mama was cookin'
Stared out the window to the sky up above
Time passes slowly when you're searchin' for love

The bittersweet verse plays wonderfully with time. With reliable Al Kooper on piano, the recording has staying power.*

4) Went to See the Gypsy - It's nice to imagine Dylan and Elvis Presley meeting in Las Vegas.  Who knows if it ever happened?  When Elvis met the Beatles in 1964, he was by most accounts moody and defensive. Elvis dis perform Dylan's ballad 'Tomorrow is a Long Time" and possibly a few other tunes.  What would they talk about?**

5) Winterlude - A country tune and brief return to the croon from Nashville Skyline.

6) If Dogs Run Free - A Beatnik Poem. 

7) New Morning - Lennon-McCartney styled pop song.  Would Dylan have made a worthy fifth Beatle?

8) Sign on the Window - The most complex composition on the album, almost like a mini suite.

9) One More Weekend - Another soulful love song.

10) The Man in Me - Can anyone not think of The Big Lebowski when hearing this tune?  Makes you wanna hit the bowling alley to see how those semi-finals came out.

11 and 12 Three Angels and Father of Night - Two spiritual songs end the album with a benediction of sorts.

*Dylan dedicated a chapter in his memoir to the making of New Morning.  He worked with the renowned poet Archibald MaCleish who asked him to contribute songs for his play Scratch, a modern retelling of the folk tale The Devil and Daniel Webster.  The play itself is dark and takes on the hypocrisy of 19th Century America that literally tore country apart and threatened to again in the 1960s.  All I can say of the play is everyone's loquacious and mean spirited.  

**Elvis: Hey there Bobby Dylan, nice to meet you man.
  Dylan: Never thought I would meet the King.  I saw Buddy Holly, but never the man himself.
  Elvis: Ah shucks, you're the king man.  To the kids, I'm old news.
  Dylan: You changed my life. When I first heard "That's All Right" I told myself, nobody, I mean nobody, is EVER going to tell me what to do."
 Elvis: (Laughing) I believe it
  (They size each other up)
Elvis: You know Bobby, I was thinking we should do a movie together. I'll play the sheriff of this small town and I'll recruit you as my deputy.  We'll team up and fight off evil cattle barons.  Like a buddy picture you know, we'll top Redford and Newman.  Hell, you can write the script and maybe a few songs if you want.  I'll sing them."
Dylan: Sign me up, I'll do that anytime.
Elvis: Well nice to meet you Bobby.  I'll be in touch ( closes the door).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Self Portrait: Throwing Paint on the Wall

"All the tired horses in the sun
How am I supposed to get any riding done"?

Thus begins the opening chorus of Self Portrait.  Released in 1970, Dylan like many of his peers that year, looked to the past for inspiration.  The Beatles made a slipshod attempt in their ill fated Let It Be project. The Rolling Stones stepped up their game with an amazing run of blues based rock albums culminating with Exile on Main Street in 1972

Self Portrait disappointed and angered many for it's lack of original material and questionable production. Over the years, it has attained something of a cult status (no longer considered "shit").*

Whatever possessed Dylan to release a double album of folk and country covers, live cuts, and instrumentals remains something of a mystery.  Was it in response to all the bootleg records released without his permission?  An attempt to sabotage the legend built around him over the years?

There are many reasons to dust off Self Portrait, one is hear some of Dylan's best vocals.

You'll find a great performance on "Days of 49", an account of the gold rush. Dylan plays an old prospector reminiscing about "the days of old, in the days of gold."

My personal favorites are "Copper Kettle" and "Wigwam."  

"Copper Kettle" tells the story of a clan of moonshiners who are proud of defying the government, "we ain't paid no whisky tax since 1792."  The syrupy production works for me.

"Wigwam" would make a great opening title theme for an apocalyptic Sc-Fi/Western epic set in the 22nd century.  Imagine a camera panning over a desolate landscape.

Other curiosities include excerpts from the Isle of Wight Festival held on August 31, 1969, a few weeks after Woodstock.  Dylan joined The Band for a 50 minute set.  If anything, you get a hillbilly version of "Like a Rolling Stone."

The fragmentary structure of Self Portrait makes it an oddity in Dylan's canon since there's no commonality of theme, just a collection of songs he enjoyed singing.  Many are worth listening to, some are forgettable.  So, just chill and enjoy.

* That's what Rolling Stone thought of it back then.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Nashville Skyline: Heart of the Country

With Nashville Skyline, Dylan introduced a new sound and voice to the world.  As a follow up to the sublime and nearly impenetrable John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline was straight country.
Released April 9, 1969

The towering influence of Johnny Cash casts a long shadow over Nashville Skyline.  Cash and Dylan recorded several songs together, but only one,"Girl from the North Country,"  appears on the LP. The haunting melody has a deeper remorse than the original on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.  Although their voices hardly harmonize, their iconic combination has a resonance.

Nashville Skyline's an anomaly in Dylan's canon in that's it's short and breezy. The instrumental "Nashville Skyline Rag" creates the right verisimilitude. On "To Be Alone With You" Bob actually sounds. . . happy for once. In "I threw it all Away"  he is once again the all knowing narrator warning listeners not to repeat the mistakes he's made.  "Peggy Day" is a pleasant throwaway.

"Lay Lady Lay" reached #7 on the Billboard charts.  The initial recording of Dylan's solemn love song changed often in live performances, yet never quite captured the magic of the studio take.  A staggering number of artists have performed their own versions ranging from the hardcore metal band Ministry from Cher to Buddy Guy.

And the record cruises along to a pleasant conclusion with "One More Night" and 'Tell Me That it Isn't True","Country Pie" and the excellent closer "Tonight I'm Staying Here With You."

As the 1970s beckoned the musical landscape stood to under go many mutations as audience tastes fragmented.  Rock critics wrote cranky lamentations about the end of rock and roll. With Richard Nixon in the White House, pop culture took comfort in nostalgia to assuage a future of diminished expectations. Others would embrace the decline and make art appropriate for the moment. 

Meanwhile Dylan spent the next few years recording archaic songs, occasionally release new material, raise his family, and dabble in acting.  He chose to remain outside of his time and pretty much stayed on that course all the way to the present.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

John Wesley Harding: A Record for Long Days

   Northern Ohio, Late January 1981

Tim, a local hippy and one time student of philosophy, lived on the outskirts of town with his brother Jeff. Recently discharged from the Air Force, Jeff came home to an empty house and discovered his wife had run off with a banker. Since then he had grown his hair out and spent his days getting high and listening to records. I often went over there after school.

Jeff answered the door, "Hey Danny boy, we're going to play to some Dylan."

"Which album?"

"John Wesley Harding. It's a good one."  The scent of coffee came from the kitchen.

Dylan's name often came up at their house.

"So what's up with his Christian music?" I asked.

"Hey, the songs are ok - if you can get past the proselytizing."

I tried not to laugh.

Jeff put the record on and "John Wesley Harding" played; a mini-epic of a Western gunslinger.  A perfect song for a Peckinpah film, I thought to myself.

More lucid than usual, Jeff continued on, "I know what you're thinking, these songs are nothing like Blonde on Blonde.  But that's the beauty of it.  It's like he stepped into a time machine and went back to the 1880s and immersed himself in Old West, came back to 1967, and recorded these songs."

"John Wesley Harding came out after the motorcycle accident right?"

"What about it?"

"I think it changed him in some way. Maybe he saw the face of God and it terrified him. I don't know."

"Who knows?  It's a mystery."

Tim walked in holding a can of Old Milwaukee, "Some say the cover is a parody of Sgt. Pepper and you can see the Beatles in the trees.  Like Mount Rushmore or something man!"

I picked up the album cover and looked it over.  All I saw was Dylan standing with some random strangers near his farm at Woodstock.

Jeff laughed out loud, "Hmmm . .  .  Sounds like hippy paranoia to me.  Never bought that story.  Dylan never saw the Beatles as competitors, they inspired each other.  Besides the Beatles practically worshiped him."

"I'm sure an academic will pen a tome on the matter someday," said Tim with a hint of sarcasm.

We listened to the rest of side one. Starker morality tales ensued on "I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine" "All Along the Watchtower" and "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest."  I especially liked "Drifter's Escape."  Was it about redemption? The power of God to strike at any moment? The inherent corruption of all institutions?  Dylan's God appeared cunning and remorseless.

"I don't know. I'm conflicted about Dylan," said Tim.  "Sometimes I think he turned his back on everyone. I saw him back in February of '74 with The Band in Ann Arbor.  The show was ok, but it had the feel of a coronation with the not so subtle message of 'I'm a big rock star now - I'm just here for your money and your women.' "  I checked out after that."

"Really, you checked out with Dylan in '74?"

Tim replied, "Yes and No.  I still dig his music - he's a gifted songwriter.  But everything's a game with him.  It gets tiresome.  Lennon seemed more honest about himself and the sham of being a rock star."

The loss of John Lennon lingered in our minds. We stood in shocked disbelief when Howard Cosell announced the news during a Monday Night Football game.  The brothers almost came to blows that night.  Jeff went into a rage over the senselessness of the act yelling "This is the final straw! Then Tim angrily accused Lennon of not living up to the ideas espoused in his music.  Things got a ugly for awhile.  Eventually the night ended in a melancholy drunken revelry. We hitchhiked as far as Cleveland, never making it to New York.

"So maybe Lennon cared more - or at least became more grounded as he got older. Dylan realized the 60s were over before most of his contemporaries."

Jeff flipped the record over and the second side began with "Dear Landlord" with Dylan sounding weary and desperate. And then more songs about outcasts: "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" and "I am a Lonesome Hobo" dwelt painfully on themes of regret and anger. Things get even stranger with "The Wicked Messenger."  Then another shape shift to country ballads on "Down Along the Cove" and "I'll be Your Baby Tonight" - proving some relief after a very heavy album.

The record spun to a close.  "Let's listen again," I said.  Jeff played it once more as Gunsmoke reruns floated across the television screen.

Outside the freezing wind shook the windows.  It felt like one of those winter days when you feel a sense of the inevitable moving quietly over your head.  You're thankful and perplexed when it's gone. That was John Wesley Harding.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blonde on Blonde: The Thin Wild Mercury Sound

Blonde on Blonde completed a cycle of albums Dylan made in 1965-66 that remain unrivaled in the history of rock. Released on the momentum of going electric on Bringing it all Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde continued to push the possibilities of songwriting in the 1960s and beyond.  Unlike previous LP's, it took much longer to write and record. When the initial studio sessions in New York City with "The Band" failed to produce anything to Dylan's satisfaction he relocated to Nashville on the advice of Columbia producer Bob Johnston and the album began to take shape.

Many bootlegs exist of "She's Your Lover Now," sounds like a template of the songs to appear on Blonde on Blonde - mainly in terms of theme and tone.  Recorded with the band on January 21, 1966, it's a manic stream of consciousness rant from the perspective of a man seeing a former girlfriend with someone new.  The move to Nashville allowed Dylan to give a more poetic touch to the lyrics and the right group musicians to provide the sound to match the words. 

"Visions of Johanna" weaves an bewildering web of desire, betrayal, and spiritual malaise is best played after midnight when it will make more sense. Melancholy and freedom mingle on "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" has the right amount of loss, sorrow, past joy. "I Want You" a three minute pop song on romantic longing and jealousy encapsulates the essence of Blonde on Blonde. The eleven minute Romantic ballad, "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands", we have a pure love song with no hint of cynicism, quite unlike anything he recorded before or since.

Dylan himself has singled out the album's "thin wild mercury sound" as a career benchmark. Something clicked between Dylan and Nashville session musicians Charlie McCoy, Wayne Moss, Joe South, Kenny Buttrey who all created the watercolor sound of the album - with support from Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson on organ and guitar. Dylan would stay up all night revising lyrics while the musicians waited to play, usually just before dawn. Their range gave the album an array of styles ranging from the blues, rock, country western, and surrealistic folk. The opener, "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35", with it's polka rhythm perhaps best captures the camaraderie of the sessions.   

Dylan's absurdest humor comes through throughout.  "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat" mocks his less than faithful lover's materialism.  On "Fourth Time Around," allegedly a parody of John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood", follows an absurd courtship between a couple of wise asses that ends with the narrator winning her over, but not before a final warning/insult, "I never asked for your crutch, now don't ask for mine"  Or revisit "Temporarily Like Achilles" and its comic tale of unrequited love with some amazing music evoking the pain.  "Absolutely Sweet Marie" dances through a maze of innuendos and hidden messages in a pastiche of surf music.

Virtually every Dylan album to follow would be compared with Blonde on Blonde. The songs don't really come at you, they swirl.  He had come a long way from the days at Greenwich Village playing for change at the Gaslight or Kettle of Fish.  Now every word he wrote came under close scrutiny and compared along side the likes of the great poets.  

In the spring of 1966 Dylan embarked on a grueling European tour with The Band and gave intense performances in front of hostile audiences divided between those who saw him as a revolutionary/prophet/poet and others who thought him a sellout, or at best an amoral opportunist. Anyone who's watched Scorsese's No Direction Home, Dylan did seem close to the abyss on his 1966 tour of Europe. After falling of his motorcycle in Woodstock, NY on July 29, 1966 he kept a lower profile, focused on raising his family, but never stopped writing.  Much more was yet to come.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Highway 61 Revisited

Out of the anger and despair running through Highway 61 Revisited a weariness of the heart may occur, but not the soul.  Although the album has outsider in mind it manages to rise above such categorizing.  Everyone fancies themselves the outsider at some point, but as the opening track suggests - it's no picnic. With the devastating beauty of "Like a Rolling Stone", a jukebox sermon of self-reliance, Dylan transcended his early persona as the conscience of a generation into something more.

On the second track, "Tombstone Blues," Dylan raises the rancor to another level.  We get a macabre vision of 1960s America with Jack the Ripper sitting at the head of the Chamber of Commerce and Gypsy Davy blow torching everything in sight.  Mike Bloomfield's guitar is unleashed as well. 

A respite arrives with "It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" as the pace slows down. A smooth barrel house piano adds to the leisurely ambiance. If the train symbolizes the vibrancy of 19th century America, the automobile personifies the strange unpredictability of modern times.  

Then we're back on the road with "From a Buick 6" with its pulsating blues rhythm.  Your mind's eye is flying through the USA with an unhinged Neil Cassady behind the wheel.  The American highways in "From a Buick 6" are not the healthy veins of freedom Kerouac wrote about.  Instead they're deadly passages with the threat of disaster always looming around the bend and you are  "cracked up on the highway and on the water's edge." 

The first side closes with one of Dylan's most analyzed compositions, "Ballad of a Thin Man."  On earlier albums, Dylan took a more confrontational approach on songs like "Masters of War," "Only a Pawn in their Game" and many others.  The attack here is more psychological: an indictment of an entire mindset of, for lack of a better term, "the Establishment." By placing his subject in a series of grotesque situations we see the disconnect between his perception and reality.  Although Mr. Jones is wealthy and well read, he's unable to relate to the world around him.  His insulated world of Madison Avenue, Ivy League faculty meetings, corporate boardrooms, and the White House gives him the privilege of having the opinion that matters.

"Queen Jane Approximately" had potential as a pop single with it's catchy refrain "won't you come see me Queen Jane."  Once again Dylan is advising the song's character to avoid superficial people or else continue being miserable.  In an interview, Dylan when asked about the true subject of the song, he replied "Queen Jane is a Man."  When watching the D.A. Pennebaker documentary Don't Look Back, a behind the scenes look at Dylan's 1965 tour of England, he is surrounded by an entourage of not so charming hipsters who only want to be seen with him.  In the film, he seems overly concerned about how the media sees him.  In the interview with Time Magazine he angrily accused them of misrepresenting reality and characterizing him as a folksinger. Whatever the genesis of Queen Jane, the combination of guitar, organ, piano, harmonica, and vocals creates a constellation of emotion.

With "Highway 61 Revisited" we're back on the road that ran from Dylan's city of birth Duluth, Minnesota to a place inseparable from the Beat imagination, New Orleans.  The hard driving blues mirrors "Tombstone Blues" with its assortment of odd characters we meet along the way from Georgia Sam to the prophet Abraham.  

A weariness sets in on "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" signaling the journey's coming to a close.  Once again, Paul Griffin's piano adds a lightness to a bleak tune about feeling lost, exploited, put upon, and defeated.  By the final verse he resigns himself to apathy and despair, "I started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff."  Feeling lost and betrayed, he declares, "I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough." One more stop remains - at Desolation Row.

The surreal setting of "Desolation Row" imagines real and fictional characters interacting in the carnival of history.  Like T.S. Eliot's "Wasteland", ideas of fatalism and fate are in conflict.  Each verse pours on the gallows humor and Gothic allusions with each verse the momentum intensifies into an incredible sadness as Dylan's harmonica and Charlie McCoy's guitar play the song to a cathartic conclusion.  

While Dylan "went electric" in Bringing it all Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited marked a quantum leap forward.

Next Album: Blonde on Blonde

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bringing it all Back Home

LBJ... Beatlemania. . . Woody Guthrie . . . Chuck Berry . . . Fallout Shelters . . .Welcome the Rolling Stones . . . Ed Sullivan.. . Another Side of Bob Dylan. . . Jean Harlow . . . Time Magazine . . .  Recorded over a couple days in January 1965, Bringing it All Back Home launched Dylan's own brand of revolution.  For his new LP had a side of all "electric" tracks and a side of acoustic tunes.  But they were nothing like his old protest songs about war and social justice, but songs of deep personal expressions of anger still radiating through the vinyl after nearly a half century.  "Subterranean Homesick Blues" sets the tone with Chuck Berry riffs accompanied by Dylan's own brand of jukebox poetry.  Set in a basement . . Or a back alley . .  The characters are out of a Beckett play and speak the language of James Dean. For this began Dylan's fascination with freaks and outcasts as inspirations behind some of his most adventurous songwriting. With Bruce Langhorne, "the original Mr. Tambourine Man"  on guitar "She Belongs To Me" hums along nicely. "Maggie's Farm" sounds similar to Subterranean Homesick Blues" only it's much funnier with absurd lyrics about bedroom windows made of brick and the National Guard standing around the door.  More splendid folk rock follows with Love Minus Zero/No Limit with images of ravens with broken wings. "Outlaw Blues" offers another jam with Dylan declaring I look like Robert Ford but feel like Jesse James"  Another hilarious epic follows with "On the Road Again" with about a girl's family of Gothic stereotypes. The first side ends on the hip absurdity of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" offers a phantasmagorical version of American history with appearances by Captain Ahab (Arab?), Christopher Columbus, some girl from France, telephones with foots coming through the line, ultra-violent patriots, and many, many, more. The false opening on the acoustic guitar which segue ways into a rock pastiche accompanied by producer Tom Wilson's chuckle is one of those magical moments one gets on transcendent albums.   Then the first acoustic number "Mr. Tambourine Man" evokes the dreamlike state of the creative process. OR maybe the mystical experience of falling asleep. Or inspiration. oR the magic of nighttime. or maybe some substances were involved.  One critic said "Gates of Eden" opened up "new philosophical frontiers."  I don't know about that but the imagery's magnetic with grey flanneled dwarves and Miltonic overtones of a flawed, but not entirely hopeless paradise.  We get an even blunter version of America with "It's All Right Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)  with its tirade against a rising empire destined to crash and join the other debris of history.  Despair everywhere here.  For Operation Rolling Thunder (the bombing campaign on North Vietnam) begins the same month Bringing It All Back Home was released.  All bent out of shape of society's pliers.  And, in yet another farewell song to end an LP, we get an unforgettably bitter sermon against something or someone which has wronged us.  "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" has Dylan singing in a higher register with terrifying lyrics like "yonder stands your orphan with his gun."  The song does end with the promise of renewal, "forget the dead you've left they will not follow you."  And we go into the jingle jangle morning.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another Side of Bob Dylan: Goodbye to All That

Release Date: August 9, 1964
Pete Seeger, when asked about Dylan's potential for longevity replied: "Dylan may well become the country's most creative troubadour - if he doesn't explode."  Many around Dylan during those years felt the same way.  Between 1964 and 1966 he recorded four albums (one of them a double LP) of varying styles and increasing complexity.  By 1964 the pace of events began to speed up with hints of foreboding balanced by blinding excitement.  Those looking for more "protest" songs instead found philosophical musings ranging from the serious to outright jest.  Recorded June 9, 1964, Another Side one of the few, maybe the only, in which Dylan gave New Yorker writer Nat Hentoff full access.    

Joining Dylan in the studio were some friends, including "Ramblin" Jack Elliot, and Columbia producer Tom Wilson.  Hentoff reported the session began at 7:30 and ended around 1:30am.  Fueled by bottles of red wine, Dylan recorded a dozen new songs and  announced to Hentoff, "There aren't any finger-pointing songs in here."  

Much had transpired in the past several months. 

The assassination of President Kennedy, whom Dylan affectionately mentioned in "I Shall be Free," had traumatized the country. In December 1963, he was awarded the Tom Paine Award by the ECLU (Emergency Civil Liberties Committee).  He gave a derisive speech calling the audience fat, old, and out of touch and then professed an affinity with Lee Harvey Oswald just weeks after the killing of Kennedy.  The crowd hissed at him.  Dylan wanted nothing to do with the establishment.

In February he embarked on road trip (an attempt to emulate Kerouac) from New York to California partly in homage to Kerouac's On The Road, but also for inspiration.  Robert Shelton's biography gives a detailed account of stops made in coal towns, a visit with an unimpressed Carl Sandburg in North Carolina, experiencing Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and ending with a tour of the west coast.  At least two songs were written: "Chimes of Freedom" (his most cryptic song to date) and "Mr. Tambourine Man."  

Dylan and his travel companions also listened to the Beatles on the radio as Beatlemania swept America.  Although Dylan dismissed the Beatles as "bubble gum pop" in interviews, he privately loved their music.

The first track, "All I Really Want to Do" is a sort of parody of all love songs, with its amusing wordplay of a neurotic suitor.  "Black Crow Blues" is all piano and harmonica set to a bluesy riff. "Spanish Harlem Incident" nicely evokes nighttime imagery.  "Ramoma" offers a message of solace and solidarity with a girl "conflicted about staying in the South." "Ballad in Plain D" is mostly autobiographical about the end of his relationship with Suze Rotolo. My favorite track, "I Don't Believe (she acts like we never met) is Dylan at his best playing the jilted lover. "My Back Pages" declares, "Ah, but I was so much older then/ I'm younger than that now." The closer, "It Ain't Me Babe," bids a melancholy farewell.

As an album, for what Another Side lacks in coherent themes is made up for by some solid songs.  I'd compare with the Beatles LP, Help.  Both split the difference between their old and new styles, hinting at new directions.  For this was Dylan's last all acoustic album before "went electric" in Bringing It All Back Home.