Maggie's Farm

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"Maggie's Farm"
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album Bringing It All Back Home
B-side "On the Road Again"
Released 1965
Format 7"
Recorded Columbia Recording Studios, New York City January 15, 1965
Genre Electric blues, blues rock, folk rock
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) Tom Wilson[1]
Bob Dylan singles chronology
"Subterranean Homesick Blues
(1965)
"Maggie's Farm"
(1965)
"Like a Rolling Stone"
(1965)
Bringing It All Back Home track listing

"Maggie's Farm" is a song written by Bob Dylan, recorded on January 15, 1965, and released on the album Bringing It All Back Home on March 22 of that year. Like many other Dylan songs of the 1965–66 period, "Maggie's Farm" is based in electric blues. It was released as a single in the United Kingdom on June 4, 1965, and peaked at #22 on the chart.

Lyrics[edit]

The lyrics of the song follow a straightforward blues structure, with the opening line of each verse ("I ain't gonna work...") sung twice, then reiterated at the end of the verse. The third to fifth lines of each verse elaborate on and explain the sentiment expressed in the verse's opening/closing lines.

"Maggie's Farm" is frequently interpreted as Dylan's declaration of independence from the protest folk movement.[2] Punning on Silas McGee's Farm, where he had performed "Only a Pawn in Their Game" at a civil rights protest in 1963 (featured in the film Dont Look Back), Maggie's Farm recasts Dylan as the pawn and the folk music scene as the oppressor. The middle stanzas ridicule various types in the folk scene, the promoter who tries to control your art (fining you when you slam the door), the paranoid militant (whose window is bricked over), and the condescending activist who is more uptight than she claims ("She's 68 but she says she's 54"). The first and last stanzas detail how Dylan feels strait-jacketed by the expectations of the folk scene ("It's a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor" and "they say sing while you slave"), needing room to express his "head full of ideas," and complains that, even though he tries his best to be just like he is, "everybody wants you to be just like them".

The song, essentially a protest song against protest folk, represents Dylan's transition from a folk singer who sought authenticity in traditional song-forms and activist politics to an innovative stylist whose self-exploration made him a cultural muse for a generation. (See "Like a Rolling Stone" and influence on The Beatles, etc.)

On the other hand, this biographical context provides only one of many lenses through which to interpret the text. While some may see "Maggie's Farm" as a repudiation of the protest-song tradition associated with folk music, it can also (ironically) be seen as itself a deeply political protest song. We are told, for example, that the "National Guard" stands around the farm door, and that Maggie's mother talks of "Man and God and Law." The "farm" that Dylan sings of can in this case easily represent racism, state oppression and capitalist exploitation.

In fact this theme of capitalist exploitation came to be seen by some as the major theme of the song. In this interpretation, Maggie's Farm is the military industrial complex, and Dylan is singing for the youth of his time, urging them to reject society.

Critical responses[edit]

Critical responses are ambivalent. The common thread is that Dylan is pointing the finger of refusal and declaring his self-possession.

"Maggie's Farm" is described by critic Bill Wyman in Salon.com as "a loping, laconic look at the service industry." Music critic Tim Riley described it as the "counterculture's war cry," but he also notes that the song has been interpreted as "a rock star's gripe to his record company, a songwriter's gripe to his publisher, and a singer-as-commodity's gripe to his audience-as-market." However, Allmusic's William Ruhlmann also notes that "in between the absurdities, the songwriter describes what sound like real problems. 'I got a head full of ideas/That are drivin' me insane,' he sings in the first verse, and given Dylan's prolific writing at the time, that's not hard to believe. In the last verse, he sings, 'I try my best/To be just like I am/But everybody wants you/To be just like them,' another comment that sounds sincere." [3] One of the critical responses to the song, favored by many contemporary fans, is Todd Haynes'. In his Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," the song debuts at the Newport Folk Festival, with Dylan and his band firing machine guns at the crowd. At the conclusion of the performance, Haynes' Dylan declares to a cartoonish folk-protest audience: "I'm sorry for everything I've done, and I hope to remedy it soon."[4]

Newport Folk Festival 1965[edit]

"Maggie's Farm" is well known for being at the center of the fervor that surrounded Dylan after his electric set at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival; it was that set's performance of "Maggie's Farm," much faster and more aggressive than on the Bringing It All Back Home recording and featuring prominent lead electric guitar by Mike Bloomfield, that caused the most controversy. The festival's production manager Joe Boyd claimed that "that first note of 'Maggie's Farm' was the loudest thing anybody had ever heard."[5] It is still unknown what exactly was the biggest source of the controversy, with accounts of the event differing from individual to individual. Though Dylan's move from acoustic folk to electric rock had been extremely controversial, many accounts suggest the problem was largely due to poor sound. Pete Seeger, who is often cited as one of the main opponents to Dylan at Newport 1965, claimed in 2005:

There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the '65 Newport Folk festival, but that's wrong. I was the MC that night. He was singing 'Maggie's Farm' and you couldn't understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, 'Fix the sound, it's terrible!' The guy said 'No, this is what the young people want.' And I did say that if I had an axe I'd cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn't mind him going electric.[6]

Singer Eric Von Schmidt has a similar recollection of the event: "Whoever was controlling the mics messed it up. You couldn't hear Dylan. It looked like he was singing with the volume off."[7]

Also, Al Kooper, Dylan's organist at the concert, claims:

The reason they booed is because he only played for 15 minutes and everybody else played for 45 minutes to an hour, and he was the headliner of the festival. [...] The fact that he was playing electric...I don't know. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (who had played earlier) had played electric and the crowd didn't seem too incensed.[8]

However, the style of the music features heavily in several accounts such as that of Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman: "Backstage, Alan Lomax was bellowing that this was a folk festival, you just didn't have amplified instruments."[9]

The "Maggie's Farm" performance from Newport was featured and discussed extensively in the 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home and released on its accompanying album, The Bootleg Series Vol. 7: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack. Media reviews of the soundtrack were overwhelmingly positive towards the "Maggie's Farm" performance, yielding such descriptions as "blistering" [10] and "remarkably tight, and downright spine-tingling. You can sense Dylan and the band feeding off their collective nervous energy." [11]

Cover versions[edit]

"Maggie's Farm," like many Dylan songs, has been widely covered. One of the first versions was by Solomon Burke, "one of the first black singers to record a Bob Dylan song", who released it in 1965 just prior to Dylan's own single release,[12] as the flip side of his "Tonight's the Night" (Atlantic 2288). Burke's version peaked at #2 on the R&B charts, and #28 on the Pop Charts.[13]

In 1968, Richie Havens covered the song on his album Something Else Again.

In 1971, The Residents recorded a version for their Warner Bros. Album, however, it was not released at the time.

In 1980, The Blues Band recorded a version as a commentary on Margaret Thatcher's government [1]. The line, "The National Guard stands around the door" being replaced with a line about the Special Patrol Group (SPG), the controversial unit of the London Metropolitan Police then being used to quell protests. The 2-Tone ska band The Specials also recorded a version, again relating to then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, replacing the words "National Guard" with "National Front."

At various times the song has also been a live favorite of Uncle Tupelo (1988–89 tours), U2 (1986–87), The Specials, Richie Havens and Tin Machine, among others. Recently there have been some reggae versions including one by Toots Hibbert off of the Is It Rolling Bob? tribute album.

The Grateful Dead played the song 43 times from 1987 to 1995. It was picked up during their tour with Dylan in 1987.[14]

Flatt & Scruggs also covered this song on their album Hard Travelin'/Final Fling.

Mike Seeger (with David Grisman and John Hartford) covered the song on Retrograss, released in 1999. He used an old-timey Dock Boggs approach on banjo, and was laughing as he sang, obviously enjoying the lyrics.

A much heavier version is Rage Against the Machine's interpretation appearing on their 2000 covers album, Renegades. In this version the line "She's 68 but she says she's 54" has been changed to "She's 68 but she says she's 24". This is actually a change Dylan made for the electric version of "Maggie's Farm" he performed at the 1965 Newport Festival. Rage Against The Machine's version of the song was featured during the end credits of the 2010 buddy cop film The Other Guys.

U2 performed the song at the Dublin-based benefit concert Self Aid.

The song is performed by Stephen Malkmus and The Million Dollar Bashers – a supergroup, which includes members of Sonic Youth and Television – on the soundtrack of the 2007 Dylan biopic I'm Not There.

Muse often perform a variation of the main riff from the Rage Against the Machine cover of the song as an outro to "Map of the Problematique".

The Catalan band Mazoni performed a version of "Maggie's Farm" translated into the Catalan language, "La granja de la Paula", on their album Si els dits fossin xilòfons (Bankrobber, 2007). The translated lyrics follow the English version, but the name "Maggie" is changed to "Paula".

In 2006 Silvertide covered the song for the film Lady in the Water.

The song is covered by Hot Tuna on their 1992 Live at Sweetwater album.

Popular culture[edit]

  • The Beastie Boys' song "Johnny Ryall" contains the lyrics: "Washing windows on the Bowery at a quarter to four, 'Cause he ain't gonna' work on Maggie's farm no more." [2]
  • The Placebo song "Slave to the Wage" contains the lyrics: "Sick and tired of Maggie's farm. She's a bitch, with broken arms to wave. Your worries, and cares, goodbye". The radio edit contains the word "witch" instead of "bitch".
  • The OK Go song "The Greatest Song I Ever Heard" contains in the lyrics: "Now I saw Bob Dylan gone electric, feeling Pete Seeger with his axe in the crowd. Maggie and the farm, never meant no harm, but my heart started beating too loud."
  • The !!! song "Shit Scheisse Merde, Pt. 1" contains the lyric: "I try my very best, to be just like I am, but everybody wants me to be like Zimmerman", a reference to "Maggie's Farm".
  • On Peter Mulvey's 1995 release, Rapture, the title track contains the lyrics: "Guess we're all gonna work on Maggie's farm for a little while longer now, Not tell anyone what we have inside to give."
  • In the 1980s, "Maggie's Farm" was widely adopted as an anthem by opponents to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The many instances of the song being referenced in anti-Thatcher art or literature include:
    • Chris Rea's 1989 song Looking For A Rainbow features the lyrics: "Yeh we're Maggie's little children; And we're looking for Maggie's farm."
    • the Mark Knopfler song Wye Aye Man, from the album The Ragpicker's Dream, which contains the lyric "...nae more work on Maggie's Farm." The song is about redundant British laborers having to seek work in Germany as a result of Thatcher's economic program. [3]
    • the Billy Idol song Fatal Charm uses the term in a reference to his punk roots with Generation X.
    • Cartoonist Steve Bell's comic strip "Maggie's Farm," which appeared in the London listings magazines Time Out from 1979 and later in City Limits.
  • In the 1989 mystery novel A Necessary End by Peter Robinson an actual farm inhabited by suspects in the murder crime to be solved by Robinson's Inspector Bank is named "Maggie's Farm" and it is mentioned that this is based on Dylan's song.
  • In the 1990 movie The Freshman, Bert Parks, portraying a version of himself and acting as event MC and musical host, performs a cover of "Maggie's Farm" during the final gathering of the Gourmet Club, a group of wealthy individuals who attend a covert and expensive dinner in order to dine on the last of an endangered species (which is actually an elaborate con, with the real meal consisting of more traditional ingredients).
  • In the 2006 movie Lady In the Water, the rock band, Silvertide, that starts to play during the party at The Cove (as a setup for Story's departure), begins playing their own, harder-rock style version of Maggie's Farm.
  • President Barack Obama said that "Maggie's Farm" was one of his favourite songs to listen to during the election season. [4]
  • Maggie's Farmhouse Ale is the name of Terrapin Beer Company's 7th Volume of their Side Project Series of beers.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 32, track 2.
  2. ^ "20 Protest Songs that Matter: No. 8". Spinner.com. 2007-07-13. Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  3. ^ Ruhlman
  4. ^ Haynes 2007
  5. ^ Blake 2008, pp. 64
  6. ^ Scorsese 2005
  7. ^ Blake 2008, pp. 65
  8. ^ Blake 2008, pp. 66
  9. ^ Blake 2008, pp. 65
  10. ^ BBC – Music – Classic Pop/Rock
  11. ^ Bob Dylan: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack – The Bootleg Series Vol. 7 – PopMatters Music Review
  12. ^ Chris Hutchins, "London", Billboard (12 June 1965):16.
  13. ^ Deming, Mark. "Solomon Burke: The Platinum Collection". AllMusic. Retrieved 2011-01-27. 
  14. ^ "Maggie's Farm". Grateful Dead Family Discography. Retrieved 2011-01-17. 

References[edit]