“If not for you” – a simple love song of distinction

If Not for You” was released in 1970.  The Dylan version comes from “New Morning”.  Shortly after that George Harrison released a version.  It is a song that Dylan also recorded with George Harrison, and which he has often performed in concert.  It was a number 1 song on Billboard’s Easy Listening chart, and got to number 7 in the UK.

There’s an instrumental introduction, and then straight in with verse one

If not for you
Babe, I couldn’t find the door
Couldn’t even see the floor
I’d be sad and blue
If not for you

Now something very odd and (if I may say this about a Dylan song) very geeky turns up.  We get the hang of the song, but then in the slight instrumental pause between verses we start to hear a glockenspiel playing three twee descending notes.  And it keeps playing them over and over again.

For me, and of course this is just my opinion, this is one of the worst instrumentation decisions ever on a Dylan song.  A twee glockenspiel on a Dylan record???

Yes in a sense it is a twee song.  But it is also a lovely, honest, caring love song.  The message is so simple (I could do nothing without you) but said in a totally new way (who else ever said, “Couldn’t even see the floor”?)

What gives the song a further twist of interest is that the first three lines establish the two major chords but then we get two minor chords to go with

I’d be sad and blue
If not for you

It is a real surprise musically, and it works beautifully.  In the second verse we get it with

To shine in through
But it would not be new
For the middle we then get another simple musical trick – we are back to the standard major chords, but then the piece gently modulates.

I’d be lost if not for you
And you know it’s true

It’s a beautiful touch – and the sign of a true master of the simple song.  Strangely we get the middle 8 twice but with a variant in those last two lines:

Oh! what would I do
If not for you

(Thankfully by this point the glockenspiel player seems to have left the room for a few moments – although he’s back for the last verse).

I think someone in the production department of the record company heard the song, remembered the lines

If not for you
Winter would have no spring
Couldn’t hear the robin sing

and said, “Oh its a Christmas song.  Right, when we do Christmas songs we always have a glockenspiel.”  Yes and pictures of Vienna.

Oh for goodness sake.

But despite that it is a simple love song of distinction.






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2 Responses to “If not for you” – a simple love song of distinction

  1. Tangela Plowden says:

    Love songs can be found in the histories and cultures of most societies, though their ubiquity is a modern phenomenon. A highly controversial and startling explanation of the genesis of love songs can be found in Denis de Rougemont’s “Love in the Western World”. De Rougemont’s thesis is that love songs grew out of the courtly love songs of the troubadours, and that those songs represented a rejection of the historical Christian notion of love. ‘;:^

    Have fun

  2. Thank you for a great piece of interesting and informative writing. This link is included in The Bob Dylan Project at: http://thebobdylanproject.com/Song/id/290/If-Not-for-You (Additional Information)
    Bob Dylan’s Music Box.

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