To be alone with you: a Dylan song that could have been more, but got lost.

By Tony Attwood

To be alone with you
At the close of the day
With only you in view
While evening slips away
It only goes to show
That while life’s pleasures be few
The only one I know
Is when I’m alone with you

There is something really rather charming, slightly unexpected, a little unusual in that verse.  It’s not brilliant, it’s not a revelation.  But it is sung with a certain feeling.  Which always makes me think this could have been a delightful song, worthy of Dylan – or at least worth playing once in a way just for old times sake.

But then, talk about throwing it all,away we get

They say that nighttime is the right time
To be with the one you love

And oh… I find that hard to take from a man who has given me so many phrases that have peppered my life from teenager to pensioner.

To be Alone with You is a dead simple song that sticks to the standard format of chords and structure, and it has been suggested in an interview by Dylan that it was part of an experiment musically to grasp something new, but in which that “something” remained forever out of reach.

And yes the song does degenerate into, well, not the ordinary, because Bob is never that, but less than it might have been.

If you listen to the first two verses which are taken in a slightly lighter manner than what happens later,  before the middle 8 starts to stretch the simplicity and instead gives us what everyone else would have done, then you can have the feeling that despite the simplicity this really could actually turn into a beautiful or at least memorable love song.

But where it all goes wrong is in tha middle 8.  Dylan can and does use platitudes and common phrases, but he gets away with it usually by being unexpected in the music, or having given us the everyday phrase, takes us off to somewhere unexpected.

But here the middle 8 here starts

They say that nighttime is the right time

which is about as hackneyed as you can get.  Fine – that’s ok if it were to be the nighttime that was the right time to … something very unexpected.  But no it is

To be with the one you love

Oh.  I think I knew that.  And then to sing the last line of the 8 unaccompanied is just so everyday, so much what everyone would do in the middle 8 of every song of this type. Plus that false modulation in “Too many thoughts” it is too, too, much.

The fact is that Dylan had easily enough talent each day before he woke up and switched on the light to be able to do something very unusual, interesting and exciting with this song.  And that very gentle light start suggests he might be halfway there.

But it never happens.  I personally blame the pianist, whose work is out of context, crude, jarring and just erghhh… I think I was playing like that when I was about six years old – no imagination, no originality, I’d just learned it from rock n roll records and was imitating.  “Hey listen Dad I can do this.”  “OK son, yes you can.  Just don’t.”

However fade that out of your mind and y0u actually have something quite interesting… Until the middle 8, which could make or break it, broke it.

A Dylan on even 10% of his normal form would have avoided the chord sequence of A E F# B which we so utterly expect that when it comes is just…. oh….

Dylan on 10% would instead have given us the unexpected in the lyrics.  But no, we get everyday chords and everyday lyrics.

So the promise dies away, and its just a song that could have been but wasn’t.  Apparently 20 years later Dylan suddenly started playing it on the Never Ending Tour and because the words were fairly indecipherable it actually became quite an interesting song.  I wish I’d heard it.

We’re told that the other songs that Dylan had written for the album before he got to the studio were “Lay Lady Lay”, “I Threw It All Away” and “One More Night”.   It was and is the very weakest of the four.  Not irredeemably so, because I suspect the earlier version s without all the extra instrumentation could have worked better – if maybe he had given a little more attention to the lyrics.


AllMusic liked the song and found all these songs, “so effective in displaying the down-home, country values that Dylan was attempting to convey.”  OK, so it is probably just me, brought up and living in another country, not fully appreciating the nuances of what I hear.

I’m closer to All Music however with hearing it almost as a nursery rhyme, “I’ll always thank the Lord/When my working day is through/I get my sweet reward/To be alone with you.”

Maybe I have, in all the years I have known the song, not been ready for a return to the nursery.  (Not that we had one in the little London flat I was brought up in, but you know what I am mean).

Here’s a final thought.  As so often the chronology of the songs is interesting at this point.

Or to put it another way

  • Sad lost love
  • Happy in love
  • Sad lost love

I threw it all away tells us…

I once held her in my arms
She said she would always stay
But I was cruel
I treated her like a fool
I threw it all away

Then, to be alone with you…

It only goes to show
That while life’s pleasures be few
The only one I know
Is when I’m alone with you

And finally back to sad

One more night, the stars are in sight
But tonight I’m as lonesome as can be
Oh, the moon is shinin’ bright
Lighting ev’rything in sight
But tonight no light will shine on me

Maybe Bob always has been better at the songs of separation, leaving and loneliness than the songs of love.  And as he was better at it, he practised them more, and learned how to do them better.

Dylan songs in chronological order

All the songs reviewed on this site.

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