Love Rescue Me: the story behind the Dylan / U2 song

By Tony Attwood

1985 had included some highlights – songs that for other writers would have been the height of their career, but for Bob they seemed to be just part of the struggle eternally to go somewhere new.

If we look at the chronology for the later period of songwriting in 1985, we see it contains (by my reckoning) one masterpiece (Dark Eyes) which one might have thought could be the starting point for a whole new Dylan World, but it was (for me at least) a false dawn, followed by another year which again concluded with a masterpiece (To fall in love with you).  But this masterpiece, unlike Dark Eyes, was never finished, reminding me of Leonardo da Vinci’s wonderful comment “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Maybe that is how Dylan saw “To Fall in Love”.

Or maybe the truth is he felt it sounded too much like Dylan (see Bono’s commentary below)

But looking at this roll out of songs Bob could hardly afford to abandon great art.

End of 1985


But then, although the output was limited by past Dylan standards, something began to stir.  After the incomplete To fall in love with you, we get


Now in fact I didn’t intend to write a review of Love rescue me just now, because actually I don’t think it is very interesting.  What I was about to do was write a review of Handle With Care, the first song of 1988.  But to do that, I felt the need to go back and look at the curious mixture of songs that preceded it – which means completing the quartet above, with a look at “Love rescue me”.

The oft-recounted story is that U2 were on the Joshua Tree tour when Bono woke up with the song in his head and feeling that he might just be remembering a Dylan song drove out to Malibu (as you do) and asked Bob if it was indeed one of his (as it would be wonderful to do).  It wasn’t and the two composers finished the piece off.  The song appeared on Rattle and Hum, along with All Along the Watchtower.

The song was recorded at the Sun Studios (although apparently much reworked if not downright knocked down and rebuilt from the Sam Phillips days) but with an engineer who had worked with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, and apparently some of the early Sun Studio equipment.  The album containing the song was released in 1988.

I have to admit the song does little for me – but then I am not a fan of U2.  Neither the melody nor the lyrics seem to offer a breakthrough moment to transport me to a world that I wish to explore…

Many strangers have I met
On the road to my regret
Many lost who seek to find themselves in me
They ask me to reveal
The very thoughts they would conceal
Love rescue me

If you compare this with Dylan’s songs of getting up and moving on, there’s nothing there.  Compare with Restless Farewell, for example, and (as far as I can see) there is no comparison.

Indeed the middle eight, which suddenly ups the volume, is little more than a bit of ordinary poetry

And the sun in the sky
Makes a shadow of you and I
Stretching out as the sun sinks in the sea
I’m here without a name
In the palace of my shame
Said, love rescue me

It has hints of possibility such as those lines

I’m here without a name
In the palace of my shame

But they don’t seem to go anywhere, nor justify the volume changes.

So a rather ordinary set of concepts, a rather ordinary tune, over the normal three major chords.

But there is a nice story attached to this.  Bono, in a New Musical Express interview about the song and meeting Dylan, said this (apparently)

“He’s very hung up on actually being Bob Dylan. He feels he’s trapped in his past… Like we were trading lines and verses off the top of our heads and Dylan comes out with this absolute classic – ‘I was listening to the Nveille Brothers, it was a quarter to eight, I have an appointment with destiny, but I knew she’d come late, She tricked me, she addicted me, she turned me on my head, Now I can’t sleep with these secrets that leave me cold and alone in my bed’.

“Then he goes, ‘Nah, cancel that.’  He thought it was too close to what people expect of Bob Dylan.”

That would fit with the last verse, which might be part of Dylan’s input.

I’ve conquered my past
The future is here at last
I stand at the entrance
To a new world I can see
The ruins to the right of me
Will soon have lost sight of me
Love rescue me.

Indeed if that was Dylan talking then it is hugely prophetic because this was the moment when, very slowly, Dylan picked up the pieces with

OK it took two years for the new found muse to flourish, (including of course the time he took out with his fellow superstars to become the Traveling Wilburys) but just look at what the great man then delivered to us in 1989.

As I have had occasion to comment before, for most songwriters such a collection would be the highlight of a lifetime’s work – but for the tiny handful of utter songwriting geniuses from Irving Berlin to Bob Dylan, that’s just a single bunch knocked out in one year.

So, personally, I can find nothing special within Love Rescue Me, but then that’s just me.  But it came just prior to the great composer rousing himself, at first with just a few songs, and then to give the wonderful Roy Orbison a brilliant  send off to the great recording studio in the sky (sorry, awfully trite, but I have always felt warmed by the fact that Roy did conclude his career among those who really and truly valued what he brought to popular music).   And then, for Dylan, a return to his full majesty.


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