Sometimes it feels like '65 or '75

Dylan's 'Don't Look Back,' Neil Young, Zappa, ragas, and Rush


June was a good month on Turner Classic Movies for music programming. This past weekend there was A Hard Day's Night, the film that helped catapult The Beatles to the top of the charts in the U.S., and Don't Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker's documentary covering Bob Dylan's 1965 British Tour.

A Hard Day's Night is still a sheer joy to watch, bringing me back to the years when I discovered and listened to this music and fell in love with The Beatles as well as the entire process of making records and music. 

The most striking moment for me is when The Beatles break out of their rehearsal schedule and go running and jumping around like children in an open field while "Can't Buy Me Love" plays in the background. Eventually, an authority figure comes by and says 'I suppose you know that this is private property" to which George Harrison replies 'Sorry we hurt your field, mister.' It's the briefest flash of the way that the decade would move into hippiedom and a sign that the moptops were always hippies at heart. It's a little moment that says that the times are indeed a-changing.

1964 was the year that Bob Dylan released his third, and last as a Woody Guthrie/Pete Seeger folk-styled protest singer, The Times, They Are A-Changing. His fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, was released in August of that same year, and it showed Dylan trending away from direct social protest and more in the direction of existential observation. It was still acoustic, but Dylan was writing in a different way and some of the songs that didn't make it onto Another Side surfaced on Bringing It All Back Home. Released in March of 1965, it featured Dylan backed by an electric rock band on a number of songs. There were some amazing acoustic songs as well--"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Gates of Eden," --but the die was cast. 

From April 30-May 10, 1965 Dylan toured Great Britain, a tour that was captured by documentary filmmaker P.A. Pennebaker in his film Don't Look Back (released in 1967). The film is often cited for its portrayal of Dylan as bratty and combative with the British press, as well as dismissive of British folkie sensation Donovan, one of an endless parade of 'new Dylans.' What makes it really informative and fascinating viewing is that it captures Dylan at precisely this moment when he is moving on from one thing to something else. The idea of pop stars as artists hadn't happened yet--not to The Beatles, nor to Dylan, nor even to Frank Sinatra.  John Coltrane and Miles Davis had already moved jazz musicians in the direction of being viewed as artists rather than as entertainers, and Dylan and The Beatles would soon move in that direction as well, taking an entire generation of recording artists with them. 

When Miles Davis moved along into a new sound or a new repertoire, his live performances always trailed the recording sessions. The mechanics of writing songs, learning new arrangements, putting together new groups of musicians, don't allow for easy changes in midstream. But in the studio, some musicians found the ability to recreate sounds they heard in their heads with the use of recording technology. Musicians could be swapped in and out or added at will. Tracks could be recorded and discarded if they didn't produce the desired results.  

While Dylan is in England, his new single, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" is released, and it is unmistakably a rock and roll record. We see him at a party singing "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" in response to Donovan's performance of "To Sing For You." Not only is Dylan's song better, but we realize, right at that moment, that Dylan is already across the line. He's becoming a rock and roll star. In a couple of months, the transformation will be complete.  

Dylan w/Donovan Don’t Look Back, 1965

We see just as clearly that Dylan was not really ever a folk artist or a protest artist, not the way some of the other musicians who fell within his orbit were. Most notably, his newer songs had moved in a completely different direction than those of Joan Baez. Their relationship had already run its course by the time of this British tour, and so had their musical collaboration--Dylan didn't ask Baez to sing with him during the tour. 

Dylan set out originally to become Woody Guthrie's most devoted acolyte, dubbing him the 'true voice of the American spirit.' What he discovered as he studied Guthrie and other folk singers was that the American spirit was rooted in the blues, in jazz and spirituals, in the soul music of black Americans, and in the shared experiences of poverty and oppression shared by urban blacks and rural whites. He abandoned rock music at first because he didn't find it serious enough in grappling with the biggest subjects of humanity: life and death, our identity in the world, and our purpose. 

But by this time Dylan was ready to attempt to bring the seriousness of the blues, of country and bluegrass, of the murder ballad or the plain love song to rock music. Don't Look Back perfectly captures this moment. 

Two months later, he would take his rock and roll show to the Newport Folk Festival and release Highway 61 Revisited. A couple of years after that he grew tired of being a rock star and went back to the basement of Big Pink to explore the roots of American music with The Band. He's been on that journey ever since. 

At New Directions Website

The latest In Ten Tracks, featuring Santana, is live on New Directions in Music website. Another artist where there is so much good music it makes the exercise of choosing ten favorites a fool's mission. But here it is, a list of Santana songs that I listen to again and again, including 'Soul Sacrifice,' 'Everybody's Everything," "Samba Pa Ti," "Mirage," and "Europa." 

Check out other In Ten Tracks lists including Elvis Costello, Heart, Jethro Tull, David Bowie, and Talking Heads

New Directions top articles/pages for June:  

  1. Acid Jazz Brought Soul Back to the Dance Floor

  2. In Ten Tracks: Santana

  3. The Buzzcocks, Twice

  4. Paul Simon: American Tune

  5. Hard Times, Come Again No More

  6. Sun Goddess

  7. History of Jazz: Ragtime & Blues

  8. History of Jazz: Swing and the Big Band Era

  9. History of Jazz: Fusion

  10. Art of the Album: Barry Godber, In the Court of the Crimson King

Bonus Tracks

Neil Young's Homegrown is finally out after being shelved in 1975 in favor or releasing Tonight's the Night. Some of these songs turned up on Young's three-album compilation Decade, American Stars and Bars, and Hawks and Doves. Musicians include Ben Keith, Tim Drummond, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, and Emmylou Harris. 

Feels like '75 The U.K. Top 100 Album charts have Bob Dylan's latest, Rough & Rowdy Ways and Neil Young's Homegrown at the #1 and #2 spots. The U.S. Billboard Top 200 has Dylan debuting at #2, while Young enters the chart at #17. 

Also newly released is the Frank Zappa set The Mothers 1970, a 70-track collection of unreleased studio and live material from the Zappa vaults. The 1970 edition of Zappa's band The Mothers was short-lived but still beloved and legendary to many listeners. The set consists of one studio CD and three live discs that demonstrate that the group had much more to give than the single studio album they cut (Chunga's Revenge). 

The '60s brought traditional Indian music and instruments to the attention of Western musicians and pop music audiences, and it has continued to be an important influence on adventurous performers as well as bringing us new generations of skilled performers such as Anoushka Shankar and Zakir Hussain. An interesting article here on the difficulty for Western listeners in identifying a specific raga.

Neil Pert, the drummer for Rush, died in January of this year. Here's an article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal that talks about a Vegas residency that Rush was offered in 2015-16 that never happened. 

Leaving you this week with a track from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire entitled “Mr Roscoe (Consider the Simultaneous)” from his new album on the tender spot of every calloused moment.

Wishing you a safe and wonderful week, as always. Keep your ears open.

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