Seven Days: the prelude to Señor. The meaning of the music and the lyrics

By Tony Attwood

If you are a regular reader you’ll know I am not listing and reviewing every Dylan song – just the songs on the original albums and the outtake albums, plus a handful of others where other artists have recorded the songs.  In short the songs where we have full versions rather than notes and excerpts.

Seven Days is unusual – it is the only song from 1976 that we have, making it song number 168 in the list that starts with Ballad for a Friend in 1962.

We have the Dylan live recording, and a significant array of versions from other artists – although I don’t want to start giving listings of them on YouTube.  They are easy to find, and I am not too sure any of them add anything to the Dylan version.  I get the impression that some “superstars” find it a good excuse for a long jam session.

What interests me however is something different: what happened to the song.

It was first played in a concert on 18 April 1976 and got five outings and was then dropped from the repertoire.  Then on 19 April 1996 it suddenly reappeared, was performed 13 times, and then dropped again.

Now that information is available in various books and web sites, but that is not all there is to the story.  Because in late 1977 Dylan wrote “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)”, the third of the songs written in the Street Legal sequence, and in this song a part of “Seven Days” reappears.

If you listen to the lines

seven more days she’ll be comin’
I’ll be waiting at the station

and compare with

do you know where we’re headin’?
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?

you may perhaps note a similarity in the melody and the chord sequence.  (I’ve put the two songs in the same key below for this comparison although the two recordings are in different keys).

The sequence in the original song (Seven Days) is F, C, E, Am, while in the latter it becomes F, C, Em, Am.  The melody is also very similar.

“Seven Days” is recorded as a lively bouncy piece, sung with a lot of vigour and energy, and it is also a very simple piece – the singer has been waiting to see again a woman whom he has not seen since childhood, and she’ll be here in seven days.  All of this is set out in three straight verses.

Seven days, seven more days she’ll be comin’
I’ll be waiting at the station for her to arrive
Seven more days, all I gotta do is survive

She been gone ever since I been a child
Ever since I seen her smile, I ain’t forgotten her eyes
She had a face that could outshine the sun in the skies

I been good, I been good while I been waitin’
Maybe guilty of hesitatin’, I just been holdin’ on
Seven more days, all that’ll be gone

And then to contrast with the long held “Days” at the start of the verse we get the rush of lyrics in the bridge…

There’s kissing in the valley
Thieving in the alley
Fighting every inch of the way
Trying to be tender
With somebody I remember
In a night that’s always brighter’n the day

The music is different and the lyrics take on a very different turn, before we come back to the original theme

Seven days, seven more days that are connected
Just like I expected, she’ll be comin’ on forth
My beautiful comrade from the north

(There is also a variant version of this verse: Seven days she’ll be going, I can hear the whistle blowing.)

I find it a strange notion – the long, long wait for a childhood friend, interrupted by the kissing and thieving passage – then back to the childhood friend now described as the beautiful comrade from the north.  I don’t think I can offer any insight into that, it just seems disconnected to me.

Heylin sees a link between this song and “Darling be home soon” by John Sebastian of the Loving Spoonful, the song and used in the film “You’re a Big Boy Now”.  The All Music review called it “…one of the most heartfelt songs about being away from a loved one, written from the point of view of a musician on the road writing a letter.”  I would certainly agree – it is a song that has been with me all my life – I still have the original 45rpm disc and still play it occasionally even though I’ve long since known it off by heart.

The link Heylin finds is with the fact that “Darling be home soon” suggests the singer has been waiting for his love since she was as child, and Dylan speaks of her having been gone since he was a child.

But it seems to me a bit of a tenuous link, because the feel of the two songs is so utterly different, and I’ve always taken it that Sebastian is suggesting that he has been waiting all his life for this moment, which is rather different from Dylan’s notion.

There are loads of versions of “Darling be home soon” (truly one of the great romantic rock songs of all time) on the internet.  If you are interested you might care to try this one by the composer, from Woodstock.

My point is that Sebastian’s concept is that

And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you

which is not at all related to Dylan’s vision in Seven Days.

But maybe Heylin meant something else.

Anyway, it is interesting though that Señor was the one song from Street Legal that really survived for Dylan in the next era of his songwriting and was played 265 times between June 1978 and April 2011.  So a little element of Seven Days did live on.  And it gave me an excuse to mention one of my favourite non-Dylan songs of all time.

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