Subterranean Homesick Blues – Bob Dylan

In the mid-sixties, Bob Dylan was already a famous songwriter. By that time, his compositions performed by other musicians had risen high in the charts more than once. Suffice it to recall the second place on the Billboard Hot 100 for the song Blowin’ in the Wind by the folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary.

But he himself first hit the top 40 only in the spring of 1965 with the single Subterranean Homesick Blues from the album Bringing It All Back Home.

History and meaning of the song Subterranean Homesick Blues

The track surprised Dylan’s fans and critics with unexpected lyrics, an original 18-bar blues, and a video clip that dozens of artists would later copy.

Dylan talked about musical inspirations:

It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of Too Much Monkey Business, and scat songs from the forties.

L.A. Times

In the words of the song, written in the style of “stream of consciousness”, feels the influence of Allen Ginsberg (Allen Ginsberg) and Jack Kerouac (Jack Kerouac), whose works were fond of young Bob. The title is a reference to Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans and hints at the author’s yearning for the beatnik era.

The text of Subterranean Homesick Blues may seem like a set of obscure and unrelated phrases. But a line-by-line analysis of the words of the composition makes it clear that Bob Dylan created a picture of life in the metropolis of that era. In strange images, drug dealers, the unemployed, representatives of new youth movements, participants in protest movements and cops dispersing demonstrations are guessed.

In 1998 Andy Gill writes:

… an entire generation recognizes the zeitgeist in the verbal swirl of Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Classic Bob Dylan 1962–69: My Back Pages

Release and achievements

Bob Dylan recorded Subterranean Homesick Blues on January 14, 1965, and on March 8, the song was released as the first single from Bringing It All Back Home. It peaked at number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 and entered the top ten of the UK charts.

The song was included in the lists of the best songs of all time by Rolling Stone, New Musical Express and Time magazines.

Cover versions of Subterranean Homesick Blues have been performed by Alanis Morissette, Red Hot Chili Peppers and other famous musicians.

Videoclip of Subterranean Homesick Blues

A music video was filmed for Subterranean Homesick Blues. In the video, Dylan shows one after the other cards, on which the words and phrases from the song are written by hand. On some cards, the authors deliberately made inaccuracies, which later gave rise to numerous disputes about the meaning of some phrases.

The Subterranean Homesick Blues video has spawned a huge number of imitations and parodies. For example, word cards are used in the music videos for the songs Mediate – INXS, Mope – Bloodhound Gang, Are You Homeless? – The Jimi Hendix Experience and dozens of other videos.

Interesting Facts

  • Singer Donovan, lyricist Allen Ginsberg and musician Bob Neuwirth helped Bob make cards for the music video.
  • A video clip of Subterranean Homesick Blues plays at the beginning of the Don’t Look Back documentary about Bob Dylan’s UK tour.
  • American radicals from the Weathermen group borrowed the name from the phrase “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.
  • Professor Alex Long of the University of Tennessee has calculated that American lawyers and judges cite Bob Dylan more than other singer-songwriters. The most popular line among lawyers is “You don’t need a weatherman/To know which way the wind blows”
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues has been referenced in titles and song lines by many famous musicians, including Radiohead with their track Subterranean Homesick Alien.

The lyrics of the song are taken from Bob Dylan’s official website, so don’t rush to point out inaccuracies and discrepancies with the inscriptions on the cardboards in the video clip. All claims – to the author.

Subterranean Homesick Blues Lyrics

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get paid off
look out kid
It’s something you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
By the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the DA
look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army if you fail
look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
six-time losers
hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
look out kid
They keep it all hidden
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
‘Cause the vandals took the handles

Subterranean Homesick Blues Lyrics Bob Dylan

Johnny in the basement
Mixes the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
Man in a coat
No badge, no job
Says he has a bad cough
Wants to be paid off
Watch out boy
It’s about what you did
Only God knows when
But you will do it again
You better hide in the alley
Looking for a new friend
Man in a raccoon hat
At the monkey house
Wants eleven dollars
But you only have ten

Maggie rushes at full speed,
All face covered in soot
Says the cops
They set bugs, but
The phone is still on tap
Maggie says a lot of people say
There should be a raid in early May
By order of the prosecutor
Watch out boy
Whatever you do
Walk on tiptoe
Don’t take No-Doz1
Better stay away from those
Who carries a fire hose
Keep your nose clean
Watch out for people in civilian clothes
You don’t need a weather forecast
To understand which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well
Hang around near the inkwell
Ring the bell, it’s hard to say
Will anything sell
Try hard, let them ban you
Come back, write in Braille
Go to jail, get out of bail
Join the army if all else fails
Watch out boy
You will definitely get
But consumers, crooks,
Six Time Losers
Hanging out in theaters
The girl at the whirlpool
Looking for a new fool
Don’t follow the leaders
Watch the parking meter

Oh, be born, don’t be cold,
Short pants, love, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be successful
Please her, please him, buy presents
Don’t steal, don’t steal
Twenty years in school
And they put you on the day shift
Look out boy
They hide it all
You better jump in the sewer
Light a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid scandals
Don’t be a vagabond
Better chew gum
The pump is not working
Because the vandals stole the pen

1. Caffeine tablets

Song quote

… Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues came as a complete surprise to most people … it completely changed Bob Dylan’s career, and with it the history of popular music.

William Ruhlmann, Allmusic

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