Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Bob Dylan, Subterranean Homesick Blues. Album: Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
This song skips from one cultural reference to the next. It touches on social discontent (“20 years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift”), drug busts (“The phone’s tapped anyway/Maggie says that many say/They must bust in early May/Orders from the D.A.”), violent policing witnessed at civil rights protests (“Better stay away from those/That carry around a fire hose”) and the fight against authority (“Don’t follow leaders/Watch the parkin’ meters”).
The lyrics resemble a stream of consciousness, a writing technique championed by beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, both of whom were a major influence on Dylan. Musically, Dylan told the LA Timesthe song was inspired by Chuck Berry: “It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and some of the scat songs of the forties.”John Lennon was apparently so captivated by this song, he worried he would never be able to write anything that could compete with it. Lennon quoted it in his 1980 Playboy interview, which was one of his last. He said, “Listen, there’s nothing wrong with following examples. We can have figure heads and people we admire, but we don’t need leaders. ‘Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.'”
Musicians have alluded to this song for decades. Jet named their 2003 breakthrough album Get Born after the song’s lyric “Ah get born, keep warm.” Radiohead alluded to the track on the album, OK Computer, which features a song titled “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The Gaslight Anthem’s song, “Angry Johnny and the Radio” includes the lines “I’m still here singin’ thinking about the government” and “Are you hidin’ in a basement mixin’ up the medicine?” both of which are referring to the opening lyrics to “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: “Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement thinkin’ about the Government.” Artists to have covered this song, meanwhile, include Red Hot Chili Peppers, Harry Nilsson and Glenn Campbell.
The American radical (some would say terrorist) group, the Weathermen, got their name from the lyric, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” (the lyric was also the title of their manifesto). The group, also known as the Weather Underground, had a left-wing agenda, opposing the Vietnam War and other American military actions with militant actions of their own
The title may have been a nod to Jack Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans.