Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” – from “Go way from my window” to “Yeah yeah yeah”

By Tony Attwood

This review revised on 10 February 2018

Listening again (in 2018) the Dylan performing It Ain’t Me Babe in 1965 I’m struck by how clear and powerful the performance, and how carefully thought through are the variations from the original recording and how respectful and folk-club like are the audience.  It is a performance that even Heylin was moved by, calling it “spell binding”.

And this after I began my original review written nearly ten years ago, with the lines,

“Coming back to the songs from the early albums after 40 years or more it is interesting to see how beautifully constructed they are. It is as if Dylan spent far more time on these early pieces, crafting and considering each word, melody line and chord change in a way that was lost once electrification came along.”

It Ain’t Me Babe is a perfect example. The message is simple: you can’t rely on me, we can’t have a long-term relationship.

Of course what has happened in the above version is that we have wandered from the original which was the standard strophic approach, with the briefest of harmonica led interludes.

But the twist of the song has always been that it takes a harsher turn than might have been expected when we get to the “heart made of stone” in the third verse. The woman’s demands have become excessive – “to come each time you call”. And there is no mutual exchange – she’s just looking for a “lover for your life and nothing more”.

It’s just three simple verses (although the original manuscript has a fourth – see below), and yet so immensely powerful in its timeless message. But perhaps above all else it is the fact that there is that harsh third verse that makes it clear that the failure to have the relationship is not the singer’s fault, but the woman’s. It’s not that he can’t give love, it is that she can’t. She wants a trophy, not a relationship. The song ends.

But it is what Dylan does by way of detail that is, as always, so captivating.  This was of course the era of the Beatles with “She loves you yeah yeah yeah” so Bob gives us “It ain’t me babe, no no no”.  I’m not sure the writers of popular music reviews in the mid-60s quite got it.

Anyway, in case you are interested, here is the missing fourth verse that was included in Bob’s original sketch of the song…

Your talking turns me off, babe
It seems you’re trying out of fear
Your terms are time behind, babe
And you’re looking too hard for what’s not here
You say you’re looking for someone
That’s been in your dreams, you say
To terrify your enemies
An scare your foes away
Someone to even up your scores
But it ain’t me babe

 

Dylan, as we have seen so all the reviews on this site, is particularly attracted to the three verse song; there are of course many strophic songs in his songbook that break the rule, but three verses held a particular attraction in the early days so maybe that fourth verse was just deemed to be a little too much.

As for the origins of the song’s opening line “Go way from my window” was composed by John Jacob Niles (1892 – 1980) who was also a collector of traditional ballads and known as the was “Dean of American Balladeers”.  If you have any interest in the history of American song and don’t know Niles, it is worth hearing this – a song that absolutely certainly Dylan knew. 

 There is a Joan Baez version of the song which irons out some of the eccentricities of the composer’s own version.

The title phrase is familiar in both European and American folksong, but this does not mean, of course, that songs in which it occurs have a common origin. It may well be a composed song based on some folk original and already on the lips of the people and in the process of becoming a folk song again.  According to Heylin Dylan used to sing a version of the original song in St Paul.

And in true Dylan style the song has been on several meanders over time.  This one below is not one of my favourites but I attach it just to show where it can go.

After that I really do need to go back to the original.

Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?

You are of course always welcome to write a comment below, but if you’d like to go further, you could write an alternative review – we’ve already published quite a few of these.  We try to avoid publishing reviews and comments that are rude or just criticisms of what is written elsewhere – but if you have a positive take on this song or any other Dylan song, and would like it considered for publication, please do email Tony@schools.co.uk

What else is on the site

1: Over 490 reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews

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3 Responses to Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” – from “Go way from my window” to “Yeah yeah yeah”

  1. Eustace says:

    It Ain’t Me, Babe is clearly an antiwar song! It’s addressed to the American flag, and pertains to the then raging war in Vietnam. See website below.

  2. This link is included in The Bob Dylan Project at: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/315/It-Ain't-Me,-Babe (Additional Information)

  3. Quality posts is the crucial to invite the visitors to go to see the web page, that’s what
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