Tonight I’ll be staying here with you; not as simple as you might think

By Tony Attwood

In one very real sense “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” is just a nice country song of reassurance, of the singer holding the lady’s hand and saying, “of course I am not a drifter on the road any more – at least for tonight.”

It bubbles and bounces in a country sort of way, and that would be that – a country Nashville song with a country Nashville lyrics, except, except…

The music is decidedly odd.  So odd in fact that its oddness must have been deliberate.  Indeed for any musician who knows his popular music it is quite a tricky piece to play – at least without a couple of very solid rehearsals.  And in fact on the official recorded version at least one of the musicians forgets himself for a moment and plays the music as you would expect it – but quickly corrects himself.

Indeed you wouldn’t really know there was a mistake, unless you know what you were listening for.

To understand what is happening, one must remember that popular music generally works like children’s nursery rhymes – in four bars, with an emphasis on the first or second word of each bar, and a sense of completion at the end.

Take the nursery rhyme….  You can probably count the four beats in each line

1Mary 2had a 3little 4lamb

It’s 1fleece was 2white as 3snow [paused for the 4th beat]

And everywhere that Mary went

The lamb was sure to go. [again pause for the 4th beat]

So as you can see you can count those four beats in each line and you will know that you’ve actually waited after “snow” and held back for an extra beat.  That gives the rhythm of the nursery rhyme a clear shape.  The same is true after the fourth line, we have an extra beat and that gives us shape.   Four bars of four beats, with the last beat of the second and fourth bar having no lyrics, to give us shape.

So 16 beats, the sort of number music likes.  A number that can be divided in half over and over.

In this song Dylan messes with this totally, which makes it very hard to play.  It feels all wrong and as a musician you have to learn where the extra pauses are.

The intro sounds ok, except that when it gets to the point where we expect the voice to come in, there are an extra couple of bars.  It gives the piece an edge of expectation even before Dylan starts singing…

Then after four bars of the song, by which time Dylan has sung the first two lines, the is an unexpected extra bar.  It goes like this

Throw my ticket out the window
Throw my suitcase out there too – the unexpected instrumental bar
Throw my troubles out the door
I don’t need them any more
‘Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

What we have is an 11 bar phrase – which is very very unusual.

The middle 8 takes us the same sort of odd journey for it too has extra bars we don’t expect which makes it nine bars long – a very odd length for a popular song.

Is it really any wonder
The love that a stranger might receive
You cast your spell and I went under
I find it so difficult to leave.

There is nothing in the lyrics that I can really discern that gives a reason for this.  We know the song was written towards the end of the collection that made up Nashville Skyline, and when one writes the lyrics out there is nothing that makes one feel that extra bars are needed.

And really if you look at lyrics like this

I can hear that whistle blowin’
I see that stationmaster, too
If there’s a poor boy on the street
Then let him have my seat
‘Cause tonight I’ll be staying here with you.

you really wouldn’t expect anything odd at all.

Did they perhaps come by chance, because Dylan simply held on to the opening chord for one bar more than normal, and then liked the effect?  That is perfectly possible because at the start the musicians would just be playing around that one chord.

Or did Dylan think that the extra bar emphasised that he was staying, and not taking up his normal drifter pose, moving on down the highway and leaving the lady behind?  Like a move towards the door but sitting down again.

We know that the song took 11 takes to get right – and as I say the take we have on the album contains the hint of a slip by (I think) the pianist, (but it is hard to tell, for whoever makes the mistake covers himself well).  So one might ask, did all those takes occur because of these strange extra bars occurring at odd times?

Or maybe Dylan knew that it was another simple song like Down along the cove, and I’ll be your baby tonight, and he just wanted to throw in another kick to make it a bit less everyday.  The fact that he later played with the words (see below) makes me think this is so.

But most of the time this is another of Dylan’s travel songs with the usual train images tucked in there as he so often does.

You “can hear that whistle blowin'” as he he wants to “throw [his] ticket out the window”.

I do wonder if Dylan added those extra instrumental bars because he wasn’t very satisfied with the song – and that is also why he didn’t play it live until the Rolling Thunder versions.  It is on Bootleg vol 5.

Other than the extra bars, the interest musically is in the middle 8 where the chord sequence is unexpected and unusual for Dylan.  He performs in G but suddenly takes us to the unrelated chord of Cm for “Is it really any wonder” and then the even more unexpected A flat  for “You cast your spell and I went under” before bringing us back to G.  It is the sort of modulation that is very uncommon in Dylan.

Indeed when listening to that move from G to C minor I am immediately reminded of “Idiot Wind” which starts on the minor IVth and travels back to the major.  The same musical idea used in two very different songs.

By the time of Rolling Thunder the middle 8 had become

Is it really any wonder
The changes we put on each other’s heads
You came down on me like rolling thunder
I left my dreams on the riverbed. 

I think he’s mucking around.  But then there’s nothing in the rulebook to say that genius musicians can’t muck around if they feel like it.

Index to all the songs on the site.

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