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Maggie's Farm by Bob Dylan

Album: Bringing It All Back HomeReleased: 1965Charted:
22
Get some Geography in the Maggie's Farm Songplaces
  • This was an update of Dylan's 1961 song "Hard Times in the Country," which was adapted from The Bentley Brothers "Penny's Farm," a 1920s musical complaint about a rural landlord. In "Maggie's Farm," Dylan included descriptions of Maggie, her brother, her father, and her mother in successive verses.
  • Dylan recorded this at one of his first rock sessions on January 14, 1965. He was backed by two electric guitarists, piano, bass, and drums.
  • Dylan's famous (some say infamous) set at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965 marks the split of Bob Dylan with the folk movement when he decided to play a set with a backing band of electric instruments. The set included three songs: "Maggie's Farm," "Like A Rolling Stone," and "Phantom Engineer."

    This appearance by Dylan is portrayed as one of the most important and controversial events in the history of American rock and roll. The audience at the festival was clearly angry with Dylan and they expressed their anger with a growing chorus of boos during the 16-minute set.

    The band for this set was hastily thrown together. This would indicate that doing an "electric" set wasn't necessarily part of Dylan's plans for this festival.

    Several members of this band played with the Paul Butterfiled Blues Band, who played for about 45 minutes just before Dylan took the stage. Guitarist Michael Bloomfield, bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay all played with Dylan that evening. Al Kooper, who didn't play with the Butterfield band but played the instantly recognizable organ line on "Like A rolling Stone" in the studio recording, rounded out the band. Legend has it that Dylan rehearsed all night with this band the day before the performance, but even with that preparation, the performances were weak. That too could have accounted for the boos.

    Al Kooper said later in an interview that he thought the booing was caused by a bad sound system, but recordings don't bear that out.

    But the day before during a blues workshop, Alan Lomax, one of the organizers of the festival, was very condescending in introducing the Butterfield Blues Band. Lomax was a blues purist and felt that white boys had no business playing the blues. That led to a physical fight between Lomax and Albert Grossman who managed both Dylan and the Butterfield Blues Band.

    Also, in introducing the evening show, Pete Seeger (another organizer of the festival, and another folk music purist,) played the audience a recording of a newborn baby, and said that the final night's program was a message from everyone to this baby that the world it was being born into was full of hate, hunger, bombs, and injustice, but that the people - the folk - would overcome, and make it a better world.

    Overwrought displays like this also may have set Dylan's teeth on edge. If he was on the fence about doing an electric set, these two events might have convinced him just to get under the skin of these two pompous organizers.

    Or maybe the audience was angry with the short set of only three songs. A rain delay pushed some of the afternoon bands into the evening show. So people had been sitting and waiting for Dylan for a while. Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul and Mary, and another of the Festival's organizers) persuaded Dylan to return to the stage to sing a few more songs. Dylan borrowed an acoustic guitar (allegedly from Johnny Cash) and opened with "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" while he appeared to be regaining his wits after being blindsided by the boos from the audience.

    The acoustic set seemed to placate everyone. Dylan then started to strum the chords to "Tambourine Man" but realized he didn't have a harmonica. He asked for anyone with an E harmonic to throw it up to him. There followed a barrage of incoming harmonicas hitting the stage. Dylan picked one up, thanked the crowd and played on. (This can be seen on the Songfacts.com video of the song.)

    The two recordings of Maggie's Farm presented here – the acoustic studio version, and the video from the Newport Folk Festival – are good examples of how Dylan's music changed.  In 1963 when Dylan released his first successful recordings, he was hailed as one of the most powerful musical voices in America. By 1965, with the growing influence of the Beatles, and the continued musical conservatism of the folk movement as personified by Pete Seeger, the relationship between the folk movement and Dylan became increasingly strained. The final separation came with "Maggie's Farm" at the Newport Folk Festival of 1965. (Thanks, David Sherman, who teaches the History of Rock and Roll at Excelsior College.) >>
    Suggestion credit:
    David Sherman, who teaches the History of Rock and Roll at Excelsior College.
  • Making his fifth appearance performing on the Grammys, Dylan played this at the 2011 ceremonies backed by The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons.
  • Festival! was a 1967 documentary film about Dylan's three mid-'60s appearances at the Newport Folk Festival, including his controversial electric set from 1965. Uncut magazine asked the movie's director, Murray Lerner, what he could hear on stage, after Dylan came on and played "Maggie's Farm."

    "I heard a combination of boos and applause," he replied. "And some catcalls. And then when he came back and did the acoustic songs, they got with it again. He was nervous when he came back, there's no question about it. That was sweat you can see rolling down his face. And on 'Mr. Tambourine Man,' asking for a harmonica from the crowd - the fact that he forgot his harmonica." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
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Comments: 24

This is (one of) Dylan's classic songs depicting his emancipation from the extremely dreadful and overly restrictive Folk Music Industry of his day, and how all of those restrictions were so fabulously being contrasted and counteracted by the wonderful new freedom he finally experienced as a true "Rock and Roll" Musician.Louis - Calhoun, Ga
This is how I read the lyrics:

Maggie's brother is corporate power/the "boss" in the workplace. He determines your pay and has the power to punish you for meaningless infractions
Maggie's pa is police power/military force. They can bully you/"put a cigar out in your face" and there's nothing you can do about it. The brick wall and National Guard imagery buttresses this.
Maggie's ma is the government/politicians. Lectures common folk about "Man and God and law", and is in fact the brains behind "pa"/police power and the military. Prone to serial lying (and so firmly entrenched in their "bubble" of a reality re-written to suit them) she has no problem saying she's 24, despite being 64.

The last verse is Dylan's frustration with the common populous, who expect you to be just like them (and if you're not, you're a dumb/wrong/an enemy/an "other"), and expect you to "sing while you slave" i.e. be gainfully employed and proud in your work.

Brief but brilliant song, some of Bob's best (and most timeless) lyrics and imagery.
Chuck - Joppa, Md, Md
I just love this song.. Hail the master who recently turned 70..:DBudoshi - Sandnessjøen, Norway
In addition to David from Youngstown pointing out that U2 did a great version of this during their '86 tour, I am pretty sure U2 co-opted the meaning of the song to stand for Ireland's long-standing struggle with the UK and used it to refer to Margaret ("Maggie") Thatcher, prime minister of Britain at the time.Podge - Philadelphia, Pa
my girl friend and i are huge rage fans and bob dylan fans. we always credit it to bob. infact, the first time i heard it my girl friend said "wanna know how badass bob dylan is?" and she showed me the rage version which i'd never heard.Cody - St Joe, Mo
Maggie's Farm- I have always imagined that Maggie's family were representative of different elements of human organization- or any situation where power is concentrated and inevitably mis-wielded.

Specifically-
Her brother is the economy-(he keeps you subservient by establishing your pay scale and manipulating your cost of living)
Her father is the government-(his power is physical, and represents law. Also he is unaccountable, untouchable)
Her mother is the press-(It's her job to frame reality day by day in such a way that the servants don't revolt)
Maggie herself doesn't really do anything tangible like this- She is more like an idea. She's the mythos that allows you to justify being a cog in the wheel of someone else's wealth or power- She's the American Dream, or perhaps your faith.
These roles are transposable to any human organization.
Ben - Pittsburgh, Pa
RATM (Rage Against The Machine) did a good remix of this song i no it was bob dylan song this gu is one of the kings of rock like chuck berryKyle - George Town, Cayman Islands
My best buds and I believe that this song may be one of the many Bob Dylan songs that contains androgynous marijuana references. I first came to this conclusion while drunkenly singing the lyrics to "Subterrainian [sp] Homesick Blues" namely "Maggie says... they must bust in early May, orders from the D.A." But my friend once said, "He hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime," can possibly be construed as marijuana slang for increments of the product sold for five and ten dollars respectively. Also, "Asks you with a grin if you're having a good time" [how good is the latest crop?]. Then, "He puts his cigar out in your face just for kicks" [blowing a 'shotgun' with a blunt] "His bedroom window is made out of bricks, the National Guard stands around his door." [What the hell is Maggie's Pa doing back there?] This is of course one interpretation, but remember what happens when you multiply 12 and 35. "Everybody must get stoned..."Fitz - Trenton, Ga
it sounds to me like the amancimation promclamtion was just released and he was a sleve who no longer has to work on maggies farmHunter - Cincinnati, Oh
this is a ratm song bobby dylan songKyle - George, Cayman Islands
I love those old, gritty Bob Dylan blues songs. Maggie's Farm, Hwy 61, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Tombstone Blues, they're great. For the supposed revolutionaries they were, the members of the old folk movement were a pretty closed-minded, self-righteous bunch.Nathan - Austin, Tx
The best version of this song is probably from the boot, Hold the Fort (for What it's Worth). The second Rolling Thunder Revue was such an amazing tour, I prefer it over the first RTR.Chad - Reading, Pa
Lucas, I believe your question is: doesn't someone have to get the rights to cover a song from another writer. The answer is that a writer can decide who records a song first. After it has been recorded once, anyone has the right to cover it - they have to pay royalties to the writer, but they do not need permision to record it after it has been recorded once.Tom - Newark, De
The Specials did a pretty good cover of this song. Awesome song.Eileen - Redmond, Or
This song was part of U2's concert set in 1986, and they played it during the Amnesty International music festival that summer at Giants Stadium. A decent job done by the band on this classic.David - Youngstown, Oh
I think the one played at the New P;ort folk festival is also on the No Direction Home sound track. That's the Bob Dylan documentary that was released last year (2005). It' great!! I listen to this particular version If I were you! I like it better than the studio one.Stefanie - Rock Hill, Sc
The controversial version of "Maggie's Farm" performed at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival can be seen in the great film FESTIVAL (1967) directed by Murray Lerner. This movie has been released on dvdBarry - New York, Ny
About your question Lucas, on the Renegades album they never credited the songs to their original songwriters, but Rage never credited themselves as the songwriters. On the official Rage website, www.ratm.com, they credit all the songs to their original songwriters. Anyways, this song is kick ass. My favorite Bob Dylan song.Elies - Surrey, Canada
After watching Martin Scorcese's documentary "No Direction Home", I was convinced that Dylan was using Maggie's Farm as a metaphor for the Folk Singer Industry. He wasn't going to work for the Flok Factory anymore...he was going to go electric and cover new ground.Tim - Charlotte, Nc
I sang this in a pub session the day after Margaret (Maggie) Thatcher was ousted by her party. For those of us who lived through her uncaring and manipulative regime it was unbridled joy. Didn't even learn the chords very well, but knew the verses off by heart, ripped through it and got a real ovation. It just seemed such an appropriate song for that time.Mark - Hereford, England
The Residents covered this song on their first album, The Warner Bros Album.Barry - Wellington, New Zealand
Did Bob Dylan give Rage permission to do this song? He has to right if they want to do a cover...doesn't he?

Great Song. Love Bringing it all back home...LOVE IT
Lucas - Hermosa Beach, Ca
Yeah dude, it pisses me off to that people think Rage wrote it. I was browsing a lyrics page once and they attributed the song to Rage. It seems as if Bob never gets credit for the songs he wrote. For example, Knockin On Heavens Door, All Along the Watchtower, etc. So many people think that others wrote his masterpieces, it's sad. Back to Maggie's Farm...One of my favorite quotes of all time is in this song: "I try my best to be just like I am but everybody wants you to be just like them." I saw Dylan and Willie Nelson play back in August of 2004 (10 ft out center stage HELL YEAH)and when Bob took his turn on stage he opened with this song. It was kick ass!Blind Boy Grunt - Anywhere, La
This is an excellent song, and its a shame that most people assume Rage Against the Machine wrote it, although their cover is extremely good too..Jefferson - Nekoosa, Wi
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