It marked the moment when Dylan went electric, Bringing It All Back Home not only changed sound of an evolving musical legend, but the album sleeve changed the very concept of album art itself.
In 1965 Bob Dylan split music opinion so acutely that in some camps it’s a debate that still rages on. Up until Bringing It All Back Home arrived Dylan was heralded as the beatnik poet – loved the world over for his folk musings and acoustic troubadouring. But with his fifth album he decided to change all of that.
Even though the title of the album suggested to Dylan fans that this was going to be a collective ‘home’. For some of them, it was anything but. Dylan had gone electric and he was coming out fighting. With an album that was half electric guitar, half acoustic it can be too easily forgotten nowadays how much Dylan changed the musical landscape at the time.
Not only was Dylan’s sound breaking new ground but the artwork on the sleeve itself featured – or rather didn’t feature – something that had been longstanding in LPs released up until that point. Track listings appearing on the front cover of LP’s was a favoured industry practice – and certainly a standard for all of Columbia’s album’s, that is until the release of the 1965 album. All four of Dylan’s previous album covers had been encumbered with song titles. His fifth was loaded with something completely different.
Using an edge softened lens, Daniel Kramer photographed Dylan sitting in a room full of records and magazines. Sat just behind him was Sally Grossman – the wife of Dylan’s then manager – looking striking as she stares defiantly into camera. Dylan himself also stares straight ahead, with a look that is part challenging the buyer, part limbering up for the fight he knows is coming.
To Dylan’s right, LP’s lay scattered – Eric Von Schmidt, Lotte Lenya, Robert Johnson, Ravi Shankar and The Impressions – an eclectic mix of blues, classical, soul and folk – a sign of the many influences on his work. Most symbolic of all is the fact that Dylan’s previous album, Another Side of Bob Dylan, sits just behind Grossman, in the shadows of a looming fireplace. Positioned as it is, it looks almost like it’s been tossed into the fire. Forever to burn in the flames of Dylan’s new direction.
Not only was the sound of Dylan evolving, but the concept of album art was too. It may be difficult to understand now how such a small change made a difference, but the notion of holding back information from the album cover itself was a new and startling one back in ’65 and was the first step on the road to the concept album – which would allow bands, photographers and artists to really sell the idea behind the ten or so tracks laying wait within the paper sleeve. The artwork featured on album covers was about to go boom and without the change embraced on, Bringing It All Back Home, we would perhaps have had a very different, Dark Side of the Moon. But For now we had Dylan, and his electric guitar.