Subterranean Homesick Blues

Album: Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Charted: 9 39
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  • 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 Times the 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."
  • Chas Chander of The Animals offered some insight on this song in an interview with NME published before Dylan released it. Chandler said that when the group was in New York, Dylan took them out and they ended up back at his place, where they "got smashed on some huge casks of wine he had." Dylan then played them this song, which Chandler remembered as "Those Old Subterranean Blues." Dylan told them it was about "people living after the Bomb was exploded."
  • 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.
  • This was Dylan's first Top 40 hit, peaking at #39 on the US chart.
  • The promotional clip for this song is arguably one of the most famous music videos of all time. Shot in 1965 as part of the documentary Don't Look Back (chronicling his tour of England), it features Dylan standing in an alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London. He is holding cue cards, which he flips through as the song progresses. On the cards are select phrases from the song's lyrics, often with purposeful misspellings. These cue cards were written by Dylan along with the folk singer Donovan, the musician Bob Neuwirthand, and the beat poet Allen Ginsberg (these latter two can be seen in the actual video, standing just behind Dylan).

    This video has been spoofed countless times - notable parodies include Weird Al Yankovic's video for the song "BOB," INXS' "Mediate," and Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade's "Buzzards of Green Hill."
  • The title may have been a nod to Jack Kerouac's novel The Subterraneans.
  • Bringing It All Back Home is Bob Dylan's fifth album. The record is divided into an electric and an acoustic side. This introduction of electronic instruments lead to Dylan becoming increasingly alienated from the folk community. Furthermore, the album saw Dylan withdraw from protest songs to instead write on more abstract, personal issues.
  • The song was recorded in three takes. In Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, Dylan is quoted saying, "Kenny Rankin played on this. I don't think we even rehearsed it."

    Rankin was a New-York-born musician who cultivated a pretty good following in the '70s. He played The Tonight Show more than 20 times and in 1987 played "Blackbird" at the request of Paul McCartney when McCartney and John Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • The Beastie Boys borrowed the "20 years of schooling" line for their 2011 track "Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win":

    You work hard to climb the list
    Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift
  • The B-side of the single is "She Belongs To Me," a song that is very sweet on the surface, but may have latent meanings.

Comments: 60

  • Mike from Berkeley, CaThere is a clear connection between this song and Beat writers. Not just because Allen Ginsburg is in the promotional filmed version, but because of the title is a direct homage to "The Subterraneans" by Jack Kerouac. The Beats took drugs and were generally anti-establishment, greatly influencing hippie philosophy. Think about what Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Burroughs were doing in the 50's, then read the lyrics again, and you'll most likely hear Dylan singing about a Beatnik state of mind.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer:
    Bruce Langhorne, the session musician who inspired the Bob Dylan song "Mr. Tambourine Man," died Friday, April 14, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 78.
    Langhorne was well-known in the 1960s Greenwich Village scene as a session musician for folk albums and performances. He played guitar and percussion instruments.
    He worked with many performers during the folk revival that began in the 1950s. The list of musicians he accompanied include most of the legendary names in folk music. He worked with Joan Baez; Richie Havens; Odetta; Gordon Lightfoot; Peter, Paul and Mary; and many others.
    Langhorne met Bob Dylan in 1961. He told Premier Guitar in an interview that, at first, he didn't think much of Dylan's talents.
    "I thought he was a terrible singer and a complete fake, and I thought he didn't play harmonica that well," Langhorne said. "I didn't really start to appreciate Bobby as something unique until he started writing."
    Langhorne played on the classic Dylan albums "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan," which was released in 1963, and 1965's "Bringing It All Back Home." He played the lead guitar parts on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and "Maggie's Farm."
    Langhorne was the inspiration for the title character in Dylan's legendary song "Mr. Tambourine Man." Langhorne often played a large Turkish drum that had bells attached to the outside that made it sound like a tambourine. Langhorne contributed electric guitar for the song.
    Langhorne learned to play the violin as a child and was considered a prodigy. When he was 12, however, he lost three fingers in his right hand when he was lighting a homemade rocket. This contributed to his unique sound on guitar. Later in life, he started a hot sauce company called Brother Bru-Bru's African Hot Sauce.
    He is survived by his wife of 29 years, Janet Bachelor.
    May he R.I.P.
  • Soph from Close Enough To Atlanta To Call It AtlantaI think 'you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows' is saying that you don't need an expert to tell you how you'll end up.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn May 9th 1965, Bob Dylan performed in his first major United Kingdom concert, when he appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London...
    At the time he had two records on the U.K. Singles chart; "Subterranean Homesick Blues" at #10 and "The Times They Are A-Changin'" was at #20...
    And he also had five albums on the U.K. Top Albums chart; "The Free Wheelin' Bob Dylan" {#2}*, "Times They Are A-Changin'" {#4}, "Another Side of Bob Dylan" {#12}, "Bob Dylan" {#13}, and "Bringing It All Back Home" {#19}...
    * "Free Wheelin'" was at #2 for two weeks, then it bumped "Beatles - For Sale" out of the top spot and became #1 for one week, it was then displaced at #1 by "Bringing It All Back Home".
  • Valerie from Eureka, CaNow whether Dylan was referring to what I said about parking meters or not, I don't know...and after reading most of the comments here...none of us know what Dylan was thinking of when he wrote this song....but it is a super cool song that maybe was meant for us to apply any meaning that we see in cool everyone :)
  • Valerie from Eureka, CaSomeone commented about the parking meters in the video for this song. Years ago there was a rumor that the government was watching the population thru parking meters.
  • Matt from Winnipeg, MbI think the "parking meters" line has a little more depth. "Don't follow leaders, watch your parking meters". It seems like he's saying that, on the one hand people will speak out against authority, but on the other hand, that authority is internalized to the point that we don't even recognize it. They don't have to impose any rule over us, we'll do it to ourselves for them. Leave the protest early to feed the meter.
  • Luis C. González from Panamá City, Panama"Don't Follow Leaders,Watch Your Parking Meters" means don`t support and follow politicians or leaders that lie and use people for their own interests, and Watch Your Parking Meters means life is short, take care of it, don´t waste it
  • Adam from Manchester, United KingdomSteve, Dylan took LSD too, starting sometime in 1964, and spoke positively of it. He definitely wasn't taking a dig at The Beatles there...just probably referencing the growing LSD use or perhaps the growing use of prescription 'medicine' as the Stones did in Mother's Little Helper
  • Ali from Morgan Hill, Cai love at the end of the video...the last cue card just says "what?" and he just drops it and walks away... the ultimate vid!
  • Nick from Seattle, Albaniai think this song is about growing up in conformast america and the lyrics in the last verce describe that, "Ah get born, keep warm
    Short pants, romance" est. then once you do everything your "supposed" to do, u end up getting F--ed over by people and the goverment. even when you get 20 years of schooling, they still put you on the day shift! so the song is also a warning to watch your back "meters" and don follow leaders or else your gonna be stuck on that old day shift. yeah?
  • Matt from Winnipeg, MbThe Weathermen changed their name to the Weather Underground because they felt the suffix "men" was a tad sexist. As a militant leftist organization they attempted in a number of ways to overcome sexism and patriarchy in practice. This from the documentary about the group.
  • Skip from Honesdale Pa, NcThe "Get born..." verse might be one of the most densely cogent critiques of Western culture around -- Who knows how many thousands of people woke up with a start when they heard the words "Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift"!

    With the recently increased notoriety of William Ayers, hopefully more folks will go back to this song and think about those days...

    And wouldn't it make a fine mashup with "It's the End of the World (As We Know It)"?
  • Laura from Chicago, Ilyou can watch the music video on youtube.
  • Matthew from Montreal, QcSteve, Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to pot, therefore he wasn't taking a dig at the beatles.
  • Nick from Brisbane, AustraliaIs there any connection between this song and 'Doctor Robert' by The Beatles?
    eg. "Johnny's [John Lennon?] in the basement mixing up the medicine"
    The song 'Doctor Robert' was written by John Lennon about Bob Dylan about a year after this song. Any explanation or just coincidence?
  • Bianca Sanchez from Alburquerque, NmThe line "You better stay away from those who carry 'round a fire hose." It was the time when there was segrigation and people would have fire hoses and spray people and the water would go so fast it would break their legs. So.....yah
  • Bianca Sanchez from Alburquerque, NmLove this song. I love it like....Crazy.
  • Steve from Perth, AustraliaThe line 'Johnny's in the basement
    Mixing up the medicine
    I'm on the pavement
    Thinking about the government'
    is a dig a the Beatles (Johnny - John Lennon) experimenting with drugs (Lucy in the Sky - LSD?), meanwhile Dylan is on the pavement (the real world) thinking and writing songs with political comment.
  • Adam from Everytown, United StatesYeah, the cards in the video don't always match the lyrics. Bob Dylan's website has it down as big (not pig) pen and no doz (not dose)...and so forth.
    Great song. People look at 'cha strange when you sing it, I've noticed...
  • Al from Baltimore, MdHey, guys! Doesn't anybody out there realize that Dylan based this song on Chuck Berry's famous tune "Too Much Monkey Business"?
    Just give that song a listen, perhaps as performed by The Yardbirds, and you'll see it immediately. Of course the content is all Dylan, but the "rappin' rhythm" is exactly borrowed from Chuck Berry.
  • Musicmama from New York, NyThis is my fifth-favorite song. (Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and "Coming In From the Cold" tie for No.1. Next for me is John Lennon's "Imagine," then Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay.") I agree with the opinion that this song is the spiritual predecessor of rap and hip-hop. But it's not just a matter of Dylan's plain-voiced, rapid-fire delivery. If you look at the lyrics, you'll see they're constructed the same way as rap songs are: Rhyming three-beat lines. However, Dylan didn't "invent" this type of lyric, any more than The Last Poets or any of the other artist who have been labeled as proto-rappers. The rhyming three-beat lines have at least a 400-year history in the English language: If you took studied English lit in college, you'd realize that it's called Skeltonic verse, after the poet John Skelton. I'm willing to bet that it's one of the things (aside from the political opinions) that Allen Ginsberg loved so much about this song: He was also a great fan of Skelton. (I know this because I was a student of Ginsberg's.) And to those who think this song doesn't "make sense": You may be right, but this song still conveys some important truth. Think of it this way: Journalism and police reports might give us the facts, but imagery, metaphors and similes make them real. That is what Dylan did so brilliantly in this song.
  • Alvaro from SantiagoCool fact: they shot the video in England, and the whole "entuorage" was there drawing cards, including Donovan (known as "the British Dylan" in that time). Since Donovan was the best drawing, he ended up doing most of the work.
    In that same movie (Don't Look Back) you can see Donovan in Dylan's hotel room playing a song, but the director decided to cut out a really great anecdote: Donovan grabbed the guitar and showed Dylan and the whole gang a new song he was working on, called "My darling tangerine eyes". They all started giggling, since it was the exact melody as "Mr. Tambourine man", until Dylan told him: "I'm suppossed to have written a lot of tunes, but I DID write that one". Donovan was so embarrassed, as he thought it was an old traditional tune. He never ever played that song again. I would love to see footage.
  • Page from New York, NyYou guys -- Ohio is right about the line being "don't tie no bows" as in: Don't bend over if you don't want to get you know wha-ted in your you know what.

    Watch YOUR parking meters means " yes-- continue to get stresssssed out because someone (traffic cops) added yet another rule to keep us running (hurry up and put change in that meter before you get a ticket) and keep us from feeling free.

    In the weatherman line in Dylan's song (not the group that came out of it) he's simply stating the obvious. I think many of you are over analyzing it. Stated simply: to our generation (Dylan's generation) we don't need someone telling us that this stuff is going on (we're being spied on and such). We can see it for ourselves.

    As far as some of the other lyrics go, I assume you know what "mixing up the medicine is"........"bad cough laid off" line means that the person worked in a hazardous job, got laid of and wants to collect........"stay away from those who carry round a fire hose" refers to the 60's protests where folks were standing up for their rights (especially in the south) and the police opened full stream fire hoses on the protesters........ and its "keep a clean nose,watch FOR plain clothes, as in plain clothes police........ Yeah. I know. I had a serious hippie mom. What can I say. Check out Pacifica Radio.
  • Joe from San Diego, CaAlan Ginsberg is in the background during the video. Haha that guy blows my mind. Not as much as Dylan though.
  • Casey from Dalton, GaThis isn't about a school girl, you're thinking of "Like a Rolling Stone".
  • Pinkmonty from London, Englandi feel sorry for the guy that had to draw on all the words on the cue cards! D:
  • Ian from Peterborough, CanadaJohn: 'Watch the parking meter' means wherever you're at, you gotta pay (by the hour) for the privilege of being there. Don't kid yourself about your 'right'. The prudent know you gotta pay to stay. And if you can't pay you gotta move on. Remember Cool Hand Luke (Paul Newman) being jailed for busting parking meters on main street? In Patterson that's just the way things go. Kind of like you gotta serve somebody, which came years later in Dylan's maturity. Civic authority in SHB expands to everything and anything in YGSS

    Also, it comes after 'Don't follow leaders', and there is no 's' on meter purposely - I think he's saying don't follow the leader of 'leaders' by saying 'meters', everything doesn't have to rhyme exactly, you have to think for yourself, you know? It's aimed at the individual too, one meter per person - that being you. As in 'you watch your meter'. There's a point to everything he writes down to the letter.

    Check out a great book by Christopher Ricks called Dylan's Visions of Sin out in 2003 or so. The best book I've ever seen about Dylan.
  • Katie from Somewhere, NjAlso, "No Doz" is the copyrighted name of a caffine pill brand. Chances are that Dylan just misspelled it in the video the same way he mispelled "Pawking Meters" and "Sucksess."
  • Tyler from Buffalo, NyAlso according to the video the line is "Six time Users" not "Six time losers"
  • Tyler from Buffalo, NyAccording to the music video the card says "No Dose" not "No Doz"
  • James from Milwaukee, Wito emily in oswego - will you e-mail me? i know a guy who has some great first-hand dylan stories.
  • Paul from Pipestone, MnThis song is based off the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, and his idea of 'streaming consciousness', which is just a continous flow of ideas, thougts, and words. Check out some of Ginsberg's poetry and you can see a pretty direct connection.
  • Mo from Newark, NjIts fun to sing along with this song and the video is great in its simplicity. Its cool how Dylan was able to keep pace with the song.
    I will attempt to find the meaning behind this Dylan song......(takes deep breath) it goes....
    I think its about Dylan telling someone to watch their back and be aware of government surveillance for a potential drug bust and if he make it out ok then go live a cleaner , safer , more typical lifestyle....just like everyone else.
  • Izik from Besh, Israelthe song is also played at the movie "Cadence" with the Sheens (matin and charlie).
    Charlie Sheen plays a rebellious inmate in an Army stockade.
    worth watching.
  • Laurel from Milwaukee, Wiseemly meaningless statements have never seemed to mean so much. beautiful, Dylan is good, he keeps you guessing
  • Cameron from Irvine, CaThis is the first Bob Dylan song I ever heard. I loved it!
  • John from Cleveland, TnI love it. It is not worth arguing for a central meaning of the song, nor is it worth meditating for hours on the possible exact allusions he makes. I personally believe that that is itself the message to be written in. I cannot obviously speak for Dylan and if he were actually to speak about the songs meaning we would be flooded only with more equally ambiguous responses sent to dissuade us from looking any further. I think Dylan is trying to tell us something. The diced and stream-of-consciousness style of the song is meant to give distinct images in the mind; I note however that distinct does not mean particular to any era (as people so often try to stretch this song as much as possible into a political diatribe of the turbulent sixties, and no doubt it had some impact on the cultural environment of the time but thats not the point). The images are meant to be created by the listener, and as it is formed depending on the subconscious level of both the individual and era etc., will show itself differently everytime. And also to the lady who said the political group the "Weatherman" were so angry they changed their name after learning Bob Dylan went electric that cannot be possible. The album Bringing it All Back Home on which this record is the title track was Dylan's first electric record. If they had named themselves after the song only to change it once they discovered he had gone electric they must not have understood the song they took their name from was in fact electric. That is possible, but I sincerely doubt they can't tell the difference between an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar on a recording so Im assuming they must have changed their name for another reason.
  • Jerrybear from Flint, MiIIRC, in the background of the video there is the poet Allen Ginsberg wandering around! I got to hear Dylan sing this backed by the Dead two summers totally rocked!
  • Nathan from Defiance, OhI think the line 'Don't try No Doz' is actually 'Don't tie no bows'.
  • Ahmer from Meerut, Indiai think "watch your parking meters" mean "don't be fooled by what politicians say and be careful about yourself
  • Alejandro from Mexico D.f., MexicoREM "It´s the end of the world (As we know it)" lyrics is based on this one....
  • Emily from Oswego, IlAnd the Weathermen did name their group after the line "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." When Dylan went electric, they were so mad they changed their name.
  • Emily from Oswego, IlI think those two song facts up there are wrong... I think that guy meant those for "Like a Rolling Stone."
  • Joe from San Fransisco, Cadoes anyboady know the connection bytween the weatherman and their saying "bring the war home" as compared to the title of bob dylan's record "Bringing It All Back Home". Did Dylan make the song and then the weatherman came around or visa versa??
  • John from Healdsburg, CoTim Robbins aped the video of SubHomsckBlues in the film Bob Roberts. Question: What the hell does watch the parking meters mean?
  • Matt from Downey, CaYou can get the video of LimeWire or any other music/video downloading program.
  • John from Levittown, NyINXS borrowed the flipping cards notion in their video for Mediate/Need You Tonight.
  • Matt from Downey, CaYeah the music video for this is great. All it is is Dylan standing in an alley in London with about 40 cards. As the song goes on he's throwing each card down, the cards match the lyrics like was said before. IE, Basement, medicine, pavement, government, trenchcoat, kid, did, etc, etc. It's pretty basic but cool at the same time. You can dowload LimeWire and search for it, or you can email me at

    I have several rare Dylan videos, including Dylan and Lennon in a taxi together in 66 talking about random things, Dylan's totally stonned.
  • Ryan from Chicago, IlI own the DVD, The Weather Underground, and on it they have the SHB music video.
  • Kevin from Babylon, NyRadiohead wrote the song called Subterrainean Homesick Alien (on OK Computer). I think theres some connection in the titles, they names are too random for it to be a coincidence, in my opinion.
  • Blind Boy Grunt from Anywhere, LaAnother comment on this amazing song...Some people claim that Dylan started rap music with this song because of it's upbeat tempo and the way in which it is sung. I'm not sure if I necesarily believe that, but I thought it was pretty funny and interesting and just thought I'd share. Peace.
  • Blind Boy Grunt from Anywhere, LaRight on, Martijn. The movie is titled "Don't Look Back." It's an awesome movie, one which every Dylan fan should check out. Most movie rental places usually have it and it's all over the internet. Check out or the like. You can also download the Subterranean video include on the movie from a file sharing program, such as Ares.
  • Martijn from Helmond, NetherlandsIt was not an actual music video, they didn't have those back in the 60s. It was part of a movie about Dylan's tour of England in 1965, directed by D.A. Pennebaker. It shows Dylan holding up and dropping cards with words from the song (i.e. 'pavement', 'basement'.)It's shot in black and white.
  • Anastasia from Anaheim, Cajohn lennon once said that this song was so great, he didn't know how he would ever compete...i must agree :)
  • Ryan from Chicago, IlThis song inspired a group of radical left wing students belonging to Students for a Democratic Society to succeed and create a new organization. They named themselves The Weathermen after the line in this song which was, "you don't need a weathermen to know which way the wind blows". The Weathermen lasted between 1969-1975. The declared war against the U.S. and bombed institutions of U.S. injustice.
  • Brice from Tallmadge, United StatesId like to know to where to find it ive been searching for it for a while. -Brice Ohio
  • Anastasia from Anaheim, Cahey yeah, where do yo find the music video for this? this song was one of his finest works...-Anastasia
  • Jeff from Barrington, IlWhere did you find the music video? I'd like to see it.
  • Jefferson from Nekoosa, WiThis is one of the best music videos ive ever seen.
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