Ranking the 5 Best Songs on Bob Dylan’s Stunning ‘Bringing It All Back Home’

Weary of his image as a somber folkie and intrigued by the excitement created by British Invasion bands, Bob Dylan decided to turn on the electric juice in 1965. He did it during a series of controversial live shows that engendered outrage and boos, lots of boos. And he did it on record with his stunning album Bringing It All Back Home.

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The album holds up today as a wall-to-wall display of Dylan’s verbal gifts married to thrilling, occasionally counterintuitive music, which is incendiary on the electric side and mesmerizing on the acoustic. There’s so much good stuff here that the legendary “Mr. Tambourine Man” doesn’t even make our Top 5 from the album. Let’s see what does.

5. “Gates of Eden”

Dylan might have been placating some of the purists by leaving the second side of the record for acoustic guitar-based songs. But even those tracks, complex, elusive, and yet utterly relevant to the moment, were leaving behind the easier-to-parse issue songs of his earlier years. “Gates of Eden” finds Dylan contorting the English language into fascinating, sometimes grotesque shapes. The titular location promises delights, but there doesn’t seem to be any group of people that’s eligible for entry, leaving humanity scrambling amidst the songwriter’s nightmarish hellscape.

4. “Maggie’s Farm”

It’s tempting, probably too tempting, to view all these songs through the prism of Dylan’s decision to change up his musical style. “Maggie’s Farm” works for anyone who’s desperate to exert their personal freedom, even if there’s no guarantee happiness will be waiting for them based on this decision. Still, it’s easy to hear the relish in Dylan’s voice when he sings lines like Well, I try my best to be just like I am / But everybody wants you to be just like them / They say “Sing while you slave” but I just get bored. There’s nothing boring at all about the glorious racket produced by Dylan and his cohorts here.

3. “Subterranean Homesick Blues”

Just as Dylan borrowed the cadence for the album-opening track from Chuck Berry, so too would artists like Elvis Costello and R.E.M. borrow from “Subterranean Homesick Blues” for their own wordy diatribes. But the song’s influence spreads wider than that. You have to remember songs that didn’t move from Point A to Point B and make clear narrative sense were pretty much nonexistent in 1965, especially on the charts. This song and others like it by Dylan made it OK for other songwriters to go for the surreal, the humorous, and the bizarre, instead of worrying about having it make sense. That development made the music scene infinitely more exciting.

2. “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”

People get so carried away talking about Dylan’s move to electric music in this time period they can sometimes overlook the brilliant ballads that he was dropping with regularity. This is another song you can easily imagine being a personal message from Dylan, one which tells his fans he’s not turning back from his forward thinking. But “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” resonates with anyone who has reached the point of no return in a relationship, suggesting that a new start might not be such a bad thing after all.

1. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

It can be easy to write this epic off as nihilism. Instead, it’s more like Dylan suggesting that first identifying the inherent horrors of the world is the only way to properly avoid and/or address them. While not many folks would describe “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” as fun, it’s still a kick to sit back and listen to Dylan as he free-associates from topic to topic until there’s practically nothing left he hasn’t hit. What’s even more is how he finds the connective tissue between all these disparate issues. To us, it’s a listen that’s far more thrilling than depressing, and it remains one of his most massive achievements.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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