Inside Bob Dylan's Shoot for 'Subterranean Homesick Blues'

Plus: More rock anniversaries with James Brown, the Cure, Led Zeppelin and the Red Hot Chili Peppers

May 2, 2011 5:35 PM ET
Bob Dylan in London on the set of his video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues"`
Bob Dylan in London on the set of his video for "Subterranean Homesick Blues"`
Tony Frank/Sygma/Corbis

This week in rock history, James Brown unleashed a funk classic, Bob Dylan filmed “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” the Cure released their masterpiece, Led Zeppelin reformed at a wedding, and John Frusciante left the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

May 6, 1964 - James Brown records "I Got You (I Feel Good)” at Miami’s Hit Factory
At 31, James Brown was already a prolific recording artist before he passed through the Hit Factory’s doors. He crooned relatively straight-ahead, gospel-laced R&B with vocal group the Famous Flames, even hitting No. 1 on the R&B charts with “Try Me” in 1959.

"I Got You (I Feel Good)” was a career-making track and an explosive display of Brown’s new funk prowess. It also alienated the Famous Flames, who weren’t included in the recording but ultimately received billing for it. Alone in Miami, Brown’s vivacious charisma and long-held interest in funk came through unfettered: the brassy instrumentation followed genre style by falling “on the one” (i.e. heavily emphasizing the first beat of the measure), and the song charted as one of Brown’s first two Top 10 pop singles (with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag").

In the fall of 1964, bolstered by the new direction of “I Got You (I Feel Good)," Brown took the stage with the Famous Flames for his iconic concert performance on The T.A.M.I. Show—upstaging none other than the Rolling Stones.

May 8, 1964 - Bob Dylan films the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video
Shot in a nondescript alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London, the video for Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” served as the opening segment for Don’t Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker's 1967 documentary of Dylan’s first tour through England in 1965. Shot with a nod to the cinéma vérité style of the film, the famous clip shows Dylan hoisting more-or-less corresponding cue cards to his politicized lyrics while poet Allen Ginsberg and road manager Bob Neuwirth chat animatedly in the background.

While in London, Dylan and Pennebaker shot the video in two alternate locations: at a park and on a rooftop. (Martin Scorsese’s 2005 Dylan documentary, No Direction Home, compiles much of this lost footage.) “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was the lead track of fifth album Bringing It All Back Home (1965), in which Dylan first upended his spare folk songwriting with electric instrumentation, and the video shares a similar defiance: initially, Dylan’s cards align perfectly with his lyrics, but as he continues, he lags behind the beat and flashes intentional errors (the card for the line “11 dollar bills” reads “20,” others are scrawled “pawking metaws” and “sucksess”). Don’t Look Back is rife with this attitude: in its final scene, Dylan discovers that he has been labeled an anarchist in the press, and rejoins with the now-infamous drawl, “Give the anarchist a cigarette.”

May 2, 1989 - The Cure releases Disintegration The Cure’s eighth studio album was a despondent return to origins, and feared initially as commercial suicide by their UK label, Fiction Records. Its recording process was tumultuous: disgusted by the group’s ascendant mainstream popularity, lead singer Robert Smith fell heavily into hallucinogenic drugs and opaque writing. The group also fired drummer Lol Tolhurst, a founding member and Smith’s childhood friend. In Disintegration, Smith attempted to return to the sullen goth-rock of the band’s earliest days. Instead, Disintegration’s slow-building pop sprawl became their most popular and critically acclaimed release to date. On the strength of singles “Lullaby,” “Lovesong,” and “Pictures of You,” Disintegration defined the Cure’s aesthetic and sold over three million copies.

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