Friday, 13 November 2009

the love songs of bob dylan

When you’re lost in the rain
in the rainforest
and it’s springingtime too

But absence does make the heart grow fonder. Whether it’s a few days, weeks, months, years or decades.
So in a remote site work camp for some protracted weeks, and somehow the mind gets to imagining yearning & reminiscing fantasising & daydreaming hoping & pining listing & spinning lusting & sinning drinking & lurching drumming & humming singing (singing? must be the whiskey).

Bob Dylan is quoted as saying:
"A Red, Red Rose" is one of the greatest love songs of all time. It's a song that resonates down the ages. It's part of the (Robert) Burns song canon. It's one of his most emotive and emotional, perhaps his biggest expression of love. It's very much about comparing love to the joyous things of nature and in the arts. It's Burns where he rejoices most in love. It's from the love gut...

I stand corrected - on one leg, with some bootleg whiskey in my hand (drinks aren't sold in camp) - but i don't think Dylan has the one song that encapsulates all that he's said above, but throughout his career he has captured the gamut of emotions of love like no one else.
I took out my laptop one night to listen to some songs whilst i was drowning my sorrows. And i came up with a playlist below.
From hello to goodbye, from wooing to shooing
and from every stage of falling and being in love.
All the songs speak for themselves, and i haven't commented on all of them.
And I'm sure there's a hundred other Dylan love songs out there but hey, can't play them all.
You can comment on them all though.

One or more (and any and all) of the songs is dedicated to someone.

Girl of the north country
Remember me to one who lives there/She once was a true love of mine.
joni mitchell and johnny cash
Liam Clancy

Heart of mine
Don't let her know that you love her.
Don't be a fool, don't be blind
Heart of mine
norah jones and peter malick group

is your love in vain?
from the much-underrated album Street-Legal, but the version from budokan is say more resigned hence more emotive (or more sincere).
This song has both been panned and nitpicked by critics and reviewers. In a way it's a typical Dylan song - love it or hate it, or maybe like it or not.
I myself do not identify with 'dining with kings' or 'can you cook and sew' etc,
but i like the almost resigned couldn't-care-less nonchalant though really yearning and hopeful lover's desire to hear from the object of his/her affection:
all right i'll take a chance
i'll fall in love with you
Eiri Thrasher
Dylan live from Goteborg

All i really want to do
All i really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you.
the byrds
Dylan here lets loose with an array of things that some lovestruck soul would promise. And then wittily and teasingly claiming in the chorus that all he wanted to do was to be friends.

if not for you
If not for you/My sky would fall/Rain would gather too.
Without your love I'd be nowhere at all/Oh! what would I do
If not for you.
dylan and george harrison at bobfest 92

I’ll be your baby tonight
Shut the light, shut the shade,
You don't have to be afraid.
I’ll be your baby tonight
emmylou harris

Lay lady lay
Stay lady stay, stay with your man a while/'til the break of day,
Let me see you make him smile.
I long to see you in the morning light/I long to hold you In the night.
Stay lady stay, stay with your man a while.
everly brothers

Buckets of rain.
Tonight i’ll be staying here
Throw my ticket out the window/Throw my suitcase out there, too,
Throw my troubles out the door/I don't need them any more
'Cause tonight I'll be staying here with you
Janet Plant
happy traum

make you feel my love
When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love
Billy Joel
It starts off with a heartfelt reasonable expression of love, and then like any irrational lover starts promising eternity, going hungry, and to the ends of the world...
This has been covered by Billy Joel, Neil Diamond, Joan Osborne, Luka Bloom, Timothy B. Schmit, Ronan Keating, Bryan Ferry, Mary Black, Adele, and Maria Muldaur and a host of others.
I like Adele's popular version too but Billy Joel just gives it the rough edge that typifies Dylan.

You’re gonna make me lonesome
But I'll see you in the sky above,
In the tall grass, in the ones I love,
You're gonna make me lonesome when you go.
(Madeleine Peyroux)
"You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" is one of Dylan's most earnest love songs. Skipping right past the poetry of romance, it nails the more human, realistic aspects of the early days of a love affair. He sings about being surprised by love, humbled, and worried about the eventual but likely end. The result is possibly one of the more honest love songs in modern music.
I forget where this review came from.

If You Gotta Go, Go Now
I am just a poor boy, baby/Lookin’ to connect
But I certainly don’t want you thinkin’/That I ain’t got any respect
But if you got to go/It’s all right
But if you got to go, go now/Or else you gotta stay all night
Fairport Convention (French version)

One more cup of coffee
Your breath is sweet/Your eyes are like two jewels in the sky.
Your back is straight, your hair is smooth/On the pillow where you lie.
But I don't sense affection/No gratitude or love
Your loyalty is not to me/But to the stars above.
the white stripes

Sweetheart like you
And that smile's so hard to resist
what's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?
guy davis

tomorrow is a long time
There's beauty in the silver, singin' river,
There's beauty in the sunrise in the sky,
But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty
That I remember in my true love's eyes.
Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin',
Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin',
Only if she was lyin' by me,
Then I'd lie in my bed once again.
(See Nickel Creek)
Ahh love at its most sublime. when the hours take forever, and all one wants to do is go home to his love's side. Even Elvis Presley covered this song, but i like Nickel Creek's version. Elvis (as he would) sings it like his lover's really just one of many, and that he's just singing it for the moment. but Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) sings it like to her one and only true love.

One too many mornings
From the crossroads of my doorstep/My eyes start to fade.
And I turn my head back to the room/Where my love and I have laid.
I've no right to be here/If you've no right to stay
Until we're both one too many mornings
And a thousand miles away
johnny cash and waylon jennings

To Ramona
Everything passes/Everything changes
Just do what you think you should do
And someday, maybe
Who knows, baby
I'll come and be cryin' to you.
I wish i can write, let alone compose, like Dylan. Ah sober up Marto.
Okay I wish I knew a girl called Ramona or...sineadlohana
sinead lohan

I’ll remember you
When I'm all alone
In the great unknown,
I'll remember you.
'fried green tomatoes' soundtrack

I’ll keep it with mine
And if I can save you any time
Come on, give it to me,
I'll keep it with mine.
marianne faithfull

Most of the time
I don't even care if I ever see her again
Most of the time.
ani difranco
Now denial starts flowing again. what starts flowin?
Even Moses floated on denial.
He did! as a baby. :-)

boots of spanish leather
This is classic Dylan. a forlorn ballad for lovers at the crossroads. Dylan gives us both the physical and emotional sense in this song; the verse by verse unravelling of the realisation of lost love, and the acceptance of it with a kiss-off. As Nanci Griffith puts it: "Boots".
I got a letter on a lonesome day,
It was from her ship a-sailin',
So take heed, take heed of the western wind,
Take heed of the stormy weather.
And yes, there's something you can send back to me,
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.
(see nanci griffith)
from the revelation of the leaver, to the fare-thee-well then.
and finally to the kiss-off with boots.
and Dylan was only 21(?) when he wrote this song.

just like a woman
When we meet again
Introduced as friends
Please don't let on that you knew me when
I was hungry and it was your world.
Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes, you do
You make love just like a woman, yes, you do
Then you ache just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl.
bob dylan concert_for_bangladesh
(see also Richie Havens @ bobfest 92)
This breakup song is full of hurt and bitterness. Moving slowly through all the resulting emotions, Dylan lands on the hope of making friends after all is said and done. It's as good as "Don't Think Twice," but with less spite. Jimmy Webb spoke of his envy of those last two lines.

don't think twice it's alright
I'm walkin' down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I'm bound, I can't tell
But goodbye's too good a word, gal
So I'll just say fare thee well
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right
(See PPM for a sweet version. play it for Mary)
Dylan once introduced "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as "a statement that maybe you can say to make yourself feel better... as if you were talking to yourself."
It's also rated as "... possibly one of the best breakup songs ever written."
It captures what many heartbroken lovers have wanted to make at some stage; the ultimate kiss-off.

When the deal goes down
In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain
You'll never see me frown
I owe my heart to you, and that's sayin' it true
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down
official video

I decided to end the list on a wise and mature Dylan tune, rather than the obvious don't think twice of his youth. Here Dylan's lover is more accepting of the loss, bears no ill will, and staying true will get on with his life ...
As we all should. Lovers and beloved alike.

I used to blame heartaches on ol' richard. Who? Now let's not go there. You can get Kinky though.
Kinky? Yep. Mr Kinky Friedman. He wrote The Love Song of J. Edgar Hoover. This is the sequel... :-)

I recommend all the above cover versions. But nobody sings Dylan like Dylan.


  1. Enjoyed your post! Thanks.

  2. thanks for reading.
    and commenting...

  3. Nice list, and excellent commentary
    The difficulty with doing a list like this is that Dylan's songbook is virtually boundless. Which means so many of the songs are about love. What could be more meaningful or personal to a true sensitive soul, and we know Bob hides that so well at times with his vagueness.

    Here are a few I would include:

    Wedding Song:
    You breathed on me and made my life a richer one to live
    When I was deep in poverty you taught me how to give
    Dried the tears up from my dreams and pulled me from the hole
    Quenched my thirst and satisfied the burning in my soul.

    If You See Her Say Hello:

    And though our separation,
    it pierced me to the heart
    She still lives inside of me,
    we've never been apart.

    And of course, Sara:

    Now the beach is deserted except for some kelp
    And a piece of an old ship that lies on the shore
    You always responded when I needed your help
    You gimme a map and a key to your door

    Sara, oh Sara
    Glamorous nymph with an arrow and bow
    Sara, oh Sara
    Don’t ever leave me, don’t ever go.

  4. Nice post. Totally agree with you on Street Legal. Possibly my favourite Dylan album, I keep coming back to it. I think the poor production on the original LP sealed it's fate with the critics, but the remastered CD is just so full of life, energy and wonderful lyrics that makes it spellbounding. And Bob was going through so many changes at the time that were only revealed through the next LPs.

  5. Loved your post! Greatly enjoying all these covers.


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