Nobody ‘Cept You: Dylan’s early experiment in time travel


By Tony Attwood.

Nobody Cept You was planned as the final song for Planet Waves and then dropped.  It was played eight times in concert in 1974 and then dropped, so we can take it that after a bit of initial enthusiasm, Dylan didn’t really like the song any more.

The opening lines on first hearing does not really warn us of what is going to come later

There’s nothing ’round here I believe in
Except you, you
And there’s nothing to me that’s sacred
Except you, yeah you

The woman being sacred to the singer can be just a way of saying he is love with her.  And the musical approach seems to emphasise that notion.

You’re the one that reaches me
You’re the one that I admire
Every time we meet together
My soul feels like it’s on fire
Nothing matters to me
And there’s nothing I desire
Except you, yeah you

We hardly notice “every time we meet together” at this point, nor the reference to “soul” – it all seems to be conventional pop use of the term, nothing to do with life after death.

So taken this far, and taken at face value, in terms of the lyrics, it really isn’t that wonderful, and although the notion of being deeply moved by a hymn and comparing that to a woman (as happens next) is interesting and unusual, it’s still an “I love you babe” kind of song, at least first time around.

There’s a hymn I used to hear
In the churches all the time
Make me feel so good inside
So peaceful, so sublime
And there’s nothing here to remind me of that
Old familiar chime
Except you, uh huh you

By this stage however there’s also a feeling that something is not right.  She reminds him of a hymn that made him feel good.     So she’s not making him feel good herself, she reminds him of a hymn that made him feel good.

This is odd because just a moment ago we heard that

Every time we meet together
My soul feels like it’s on fire

This is present tense.  He is still meeting with her.  She makes him feel good now – and she reminds him of a hymn that made him feel good in the past.  OK, we can go with that but maybe by now we are starting to hope for some clarification.  After all the music is still so jolly.

The third verse however takes the churchy stuff into a bit of a strange land.  It is not so much that the character in the song did play in a cemetery (kids after all can play anywhere and don’t necessarily understand the implications of context), but Dylan in this jaunty song is saying… what?  That she’s passed away?

Used to play in the cemetery
Dance and sing and run when I was a child
Never seemed strange
But now I just pass mournfully
That place where the bones of life are piled
I know something has changed
I’m a stranger here and no one sees me
’Cept you,  you

Or is he a ghost?  OK I know this is getting fanciful, but as I try to make sense of the lyrics two things happen.  One is the jolly music seems totally out of place for the second half of the song, and the other is that the timing makes no sense.

So is he now in love with the memory of the woman?  Or is she the only one who remembers him?  Or do we have an early look at writing songs out of chronological order, which became the trade mark of the next album, and which reached its high point with Tangled up in Blue?

Now that is an interesting surmise, because in the previous song Dylan wrote (Never Say Goodbye) there are just the slightest elements of that.  Plus there are the lines

Time is all I have to give
You can have it if you choose

which could be a commonplace “all I have is yours” but now in the context of Nobody Cept You is starting to look a little strange.   But back to Nobody Cept You.

Nothing much matters or seems to please me
Except you, yeah you
Nothing hypnotizes me
Or holds me in a spell
Everything runs by me
Just like water from a well
Everybody wants my attention
Everybody’s got something to sell
Except you, yeah you

Now that verse makes sense in terms of how difficult it is for someone famous to have a relationship with people newly met – instead of being introduced as “my mate Bob” he is introduced as “This is Bob Dylan – THE Bob Dylan”.

Most songwriters, if writing about the past, would have written about “the memory of you” – and “lost love”, as I have said so many times on this site, is one of the three classic approaches to pop lyrics (love and dance being the other two).  But Dylan seems to be tangling us up completely while making it (through the music) seem as if nothing has ever changed.  Remember all this began with

You’re the one that reaches me
You’re the one that I admire
Every time we meet together
My soul feels like it’s on fire

By the end that feeling seems to be different.


All the songs reviewed on the site, in alphabetical order

Dylan’s songs in chronological order

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7 Responses to Nobody ‘Cept You: Dylan’s early experiment in time travel

  1. David Herrin says:

    I tend to think that this is his first overtly religious song. The “you” refers to God. I could be wrong, but everything seems to fit and it’s not mysterious at all. It seems to dovetail well with the Wilbury’s song “If you belonged to me” which is from the opposite perspective.

  2. Kieran says:

    I doubt he put as much thought into it as you did, which was enjoyable to read. It’s all a bit throwaway, isn’t it? Little wonder he discarded it eventually….

  3. Stan says:

    I can clearly remember Dylan playing this song on stage at The Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1974 during the solo acoustic set in his concert with The Band. I remember my friends and I were immediately excited because we knew pretty quickly that we were listening to a new song we’d never heard before. I snuck a cassette recorder into that show – it was in the winter and I wore a big winter coat – and we listened to that song over and over for weeks after the show. The entire show was phenomenal, but that new song was sort of the cherry on top.

  4. Rob Sheldrick says:

    couldn’t disagree with Kieran more, all due respect, Nobody ‘cept you is in my personal 10 best, ever, and maybe my best love song he ever wrote. Funny how “he discards” (and never/rarely plays some of his ultimately BEST, ever live. That’s just a little part of the enigma. (“Black Diamond Bay”, “Lily”, and love songs “She’s your lover now”, and two of the finest love songs EVER off of that last album with the band: “Never Say Goodbye”, and as good: “Something there is about you”. Here’s hoping in ’16 in Japan, (and then Americs) the set list changes just a twinge, PLEASE Bob!

    PS: Back to this tune featured in the thread: ‘Ghostly’ is apt, or just great memories as a kid in love, and Robertson’s reverb guitar-lead just sets it on fire. By the way, inre: ‘time travel’, Bob IS from the future, and the only other dude that time-travelled is DaVinci. The Bard was a mortal. 😉

  5. gringo557 says:

    I always thought it was a great song and performed brilliantly in concert. (There’s nothing like Bob Dylan and an acoustic guitar.) The studio version was all wrong. The happy backing didn’t match the lyric at all so I can see why they abandoned a proper recording.

  6. asgh says:

    nice soning

  7. Thank you for a great piece of interesting and informative writing. This link is included in The Bob Dylan Project at: X‘Cept-You (Additional Information)
    Bob Dylan’s Music Box.

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