Going Going Gone: turning an ok song into one of the greatest moments in rock music

By Tony Attwood

My relationship with this piece is one of the strangest of all Dylan songs – and it ain’t my fault.  It’s that Mr Zimmerman who kept re-writing the song, as (we are told) his marriage fell apart.

And the point of these re-writes is they are not tinkering at the edges, but total reconstructions of the song.  So if you only know this piece from maybe Planet Waves or Budokan, and maybe think, it’s ok, then please stay with me, because where this song went along the way is something else indeed.

And thankfully we have the 1976 version, which I suspect comes from Fort Worth – and oh boy is that worth hearing.  Not a better performance, but a totally different concept.  Going Going Gone – in this 1976 edition, is, in my estimation, one of the great, great, great pieces of Dylan.  So I would urge you, if you don’t particularly rate this song, or if you find my reviews generally to be wild whimsy from a guy who honestly doesn’t have a clue, even then, if you haven’t heard this 1976 version, do go and listen.

But let me go back to the start and try and explain myself.

When I heard it on Planet Waves, and thought Going, going gone a good song, putting over a desperation feeling which I didn’t necessarily want to share, but which was still interesting.  However I, personally, in my know-all youth, thought the version was spoiled by the instrumentation, but still it had with a very interesting middle 8.

I also found it something of a shock after “On a night like this” (although of course “On a night” was written later in 1973).  I know that the tradition on LPs was a jolly fast song at the start, followed by a slow number, (something Dylan turned utterly upside down in later albums) but that jolly opener on Planet Waves followed by this level of melancholy?  Not normal.  Not normal at all.  Odd indeed.

And although there’s some jolly guitar moments that we don’t hear again for years and years I was still left wondering, Robbie Robertson what were you thinking?   And yes, I know now that he is ranked in the top 60 all time greatest guitarists in the universe in Rolling Stone.

And of course this is just me.  Tim Riley is quoted on Wiki as saying, “The Band’s windup pitch to “Going, Going, Gone” is a wonder of pinpoint ensemble playing: Robertson makes his guitar entrance choke as if a noose had suddenly tightened around its neck.”  So what do I know?

These original lyrics were savage.  Or at least that’s I saw the opening – a man contemplating suicide

I’ve just reached a place
Where the willow don’t bend
There’s not much more to be said
It’s the top of the end

And in Planet Waves terms that’s odd, straight after On a Night Like This.  But anyway…

I’m closin’ the book
On the pages and the text
And I don’t really care
What happens next

The only respite comes in the third verse, where the lyrics seem to say he’s just going to get up and leave.

I been hangin’ on threads
I been playin’ it straight
Now, I’ve just got to cut loose
Before it gets late

OK the desperation is total, and to be honest I’m ready for a bit of an uplift when suddenly we get the middle 8.  It’s positioning is unusual – after three verses not two – but hell it is worth waiting for both in terms of lyrics and music.

The song is in F, and the chords used are fairly much as you would expect: F, G minor, A minor, B flat.   These are the chords associated with a song in F, and the one unexpected moment is that the verse ends not back on F, where it started, but on D minor.  D minor is a regular chord within this key, but it is just unusual, especially in rock music, not to end where you started.

It is a very clever twist, since it leaves the music “hanging on the edge” … he’s gone, but still teetering over the side.  A superb touch.

So we have three verses of this, and then the middle 8 – and WOW!!!! we are in G, and I’m thinking how the hell did we get here?  Dylan doesn’t do this.  No one does this.  And ok, if you are not a musician this is all gibberish, but just listen to the music at that point.  You surely can hear that the music utterly changes everything about itself.

Grandma said, “Boy, go and follow your heart
And you’ll be fine at the end of the line
All that’s gold doesn’t shine
Don’t you and your one true love ever part”

It is not just a different tune it is at an utterly different level – and we get there through one intermediate chord.

When I first heard this on the original album all I wanted to do was play that middle 8  over and over and over again.  Not the whole song, but that modulation from F to G and that completely different middle section – not just for the brilliance of the middle 8 but also because I didn’t want to hear the instrumental verse.   I’m sorry, but I just think it is wholly inappropriate to the song.  Was it meant to represent nervous tension?  It certainly made me tense.

And that would be that – a 1973 album version – if it hadn’t been for the declining state of Dylan’s marriage (at least that’s how Heylin sees it, and I guess he’s probably right).  Because Dylan wrote, and re-wrote, and re-wrote and (ok you get the idea) re-wrote this song.   And by the time of Fort Worth 1976 we had not just the most incredible version of Going Going Gone but one of the great, great, great Dylan performances of a Dylan song.


If my link doesn’t work do go searching for the Rolling Thunder Review version.   And don’t do anything else while listening.  Not even during the intro are you allowed to stroke the cat, sip the coffee or shout at the neighbours.  Just focus on every note from the very first.

Verse one is the same, but then we can see how the marriage is moving

I’m in love with you baby
but you got to understand
that you want to be free,
so let go of my hand

I’ve been sleeping on the road
with my head in the dust
Now I just got to go
before it’s all diamonds and rust

And now are you ready?  Really, I mean are you ready?   If you are standing at this point it might be best to sit.

Papa said: Son go and follow you heart
You’ll be fine at the end of the line
All that’s gold wasn’t meant to shine
Don’t you and your life-long dream ever part

And if that were not enough, we then have an instrumental break which unlike the Planet Waves version is just right.

I’ve just reached a place
before I can hardly see
And I’ll just be too long
so take it what you see

And then a double plus bonus – we get the middle 8 again.  It’s all sung on one note – which really makes the power and total absolute driving force coming through.  This is, for me, even if no one else, one of the absolute great moments of rock music.  Ever.

By the time of Budokan it had changed again, and although some of the incredible dramatic power of the middle 8 had gone, the latest changes are again right up there as great moments of musical performance.

The lyrics are different too…

Well, I’ve just reached a place
where I can’t stay awake
I got to leave you baby
before my heart will break
I’m going, I’m going, I’m gone

Come over here baby
’cause I’m telling you this
You got to believe it
you got to give me one more kiss

Fix me one more drink baby
and hold me one more time
But don’t get too close
To make me change my mind

Now my mama always said something true: you gotta follow your heart
You’ll be fine at the end of the line
all that’s gold wasn’t meant to shine
Just don’t put your horse in front of your cart

So what does Bob do this time?  He gives us a rollicking rhythm quite different from anything that has gone before, and then follows up with an instrumental which for me is exactly what should have been on the original Planet Waves version.

The ending then uses the middle 8, but doing something very different for Dylan – it is played, and then without modulation it goes up a tone.  And then again.  Well now!

(Incidentally I have seen the “Just don’t put your horse in front of your cart” line written with the word “car” at the end.  Maybe that is right – it always struck me as cart, because there is a phrase (or at least in England there is a phrase) that dates back to the Renaissance, and which I certainly heard in my childhood in London, “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”)

The song continued to mutate until by June 1978 in London we had

Come over here quickly one time baby
and shake my hand
I could find me another woman
you could find you another man

We know what happened next.

If you have taken that musical journey with me, I do hope you got even one tenth of the pleasure I’ve had from the Rolling Thunder version of the song, and indeed Budokan.



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6 Responses to Going Going Gone: turning an ok song into one of the greatest moments in rock music

  1. LarryK says:

    Always appreciated the power of this song…heard Natalie Merchant do a fine cover at a local concert here in New Paltz years ago…thanks for the post.

  2. Lonesomefetter says:

    Thanks for the nice piece. I appreciate it very much.

    One slight (but perhaps key) lyrical correction, however:

    In the 1976 live version you link to, Dylan clearly sings “Don’t you and OUR life-long dream ever part.”

    The verse with “So, take it don’t you see / take it out to sea (?)” is clearly garbled “dummy lyrics” that he is grasping for in the moment – something that fits the cadence and rhymes but is likely the result of faulty memory or simply a desire to perform what was at that point an unfinished rewrite.

    But, the notion that the life-long dream is a shared one rather than a singular one seems to be quite clear in its intent.

    It would have been very easy for him to clearly enunciate the hard “y” in “your” both times, and he strikingly does not.

    I find much to ponder in this slight, yet intriguing grammatical incongruity.

    ~ L.F.

  3. Jerry says:

    Very interesting piece about a fine song. I think that both the ‘Planet Waves’ track and the ’76 live version posted above have their own strengths and would have to disagree with you about the guitar solo from the studio take, which to my ears suits the song just fine. This, of course, is all a matter of taste. The live version is arguably more dramatic but, given the original lyrical content, I feel that the slightly more understated approach is best. I agree, however, that the middle eight is a musical delight. Have to say that whilst it is always fascinating to hear Dylan feeling his way to a new lyrical angle with a song, he inevitably does not always hit the mark and some of the reworked lyrics you quote above don’t really cut the mustard for me and just seem like Bob attempting to sound more angry and more bitter than he had originally intended whilst losing poetry and grace along the way. Different strokes for different folks.

  4. Colin says:

    In the middle 8 I hear “our” the first time but “your” the second time.

  5. Keyla says:

    Your answer lifts the inteillgence of the debate.

  6. cb says:

    Robbie Robertson, ‘what were you thinking?’
    I suspect that Robbie was thinking ‘I’ll lay down one of the meanest, hard-biting, and passionate blues guitar solos possible. It will be a masterpiece of a solo.’ Mission accomplished.

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