Don’t Ever Take Yourself Away. Dylan looks back to Durango, but loses the flavour.

By Tony Attwood

In 1975 Dylan wrote Romance in Durango, a truly remarkable song, and in my opinion the highpoint of his work with Jacques Levy.  It was one of a series of innovative songs relating fictional events in exotic locations – something that popular music has rarely been used to do and certainly not something composers often get right when they do try.

So what made Dylan return to “Romance” six years later and reuse the essence of the music but without the exoticism in the music, or the intrigue and innovation in the story line, is completely beyond me.

But this is what he did, for “Don’t ever take yourself away” is little more than a reworking of “Romance” with all the good bits left out.

If on listening to the two songs you don’t hear this then do focus for a moment on the music behind “Soon you will be dancing the fandango” and compare and contrast with “to a place where I can’t find you. ”

Or compare “Hot chili peppers in the blistering sun” with “Don’t ever take yourself away”.  Musically the approach is the same.  Yes the tempo and accents are changed, but I can tell you that if they had been written by different people then the composer of Romance would soon be instructing lawyers to take action again the composer of “Don’t Ever”.

The fact that this happens in musical life from time to time arises however not from the fact that composers are thieves but rather because composers hear vast amounts of music both live and in their heads, and it is easy to think (especially when writing music and lyrics) that one has just come up with something completely new, only to find that what one has just “composed” is remarkably similar to a song that one has heard some years before.

Such court cases as do emerge however are fraught with difficulty – after all a lot of music sounds like a lot of other music, and when you are writing a song that is based around a handful of chords and a common cadence at the end of each section it is hard to make a difference.  But I think hear that even the most obdurate judge would be forced to agree, “Don’t ever” is just a rip off of “Romance”.

To take one stand out point, both songs end with a plagal cadence.  A cadence is a combination of two chords at the end of a musical phrase – a plagal cadence involves a chord based on the fourth note of the key and the first.   So if you are writing in C, the cadence is F major / C major.

Dylan uses this fairly rarely in his writing but in both these songs he uses it, with exactly the same melody above it.  Indeed the simple three chord sequence in both songs is almost identical throughout.

Dylan wrote “Don’t ever take” and recorded it in the Shot of Love sessions in 1981, and there it rested, unused and unreleased until it emerged on the genuine bootleg series in 1996.  Then it was used in the Hawaii Five-O TV series in 2011 for which apparently it was newly mixed and mastered.   It doesn’t seem to have found its way onto the lyrics set of the official Dylan site however.

In the song Dylan does throw in one musical trick by inserting an extra an extra line in the second half of the chorus, and then using this extra line in the verses (which have the same musical setting as the verse).  However the twist is that the extra line is squeezed into the same musical space as used for the first half of each verse.

Thus in the chorus

Don’t ever take yourself away
Don’t ever take yourself to
A place where i can’t find you.

While the second half (using the same musical structure) is

Don’t ever take yourself away
I will never leave you
Will never deceive you
I’ll be right there walkin’ behind you.

This additional line three, rhyming with line two (leave you, deceive you) crops up all the way through the song, and it can be an interesting musical technique.  But to work really well it needs to be polished to perfection, and here, in my view, much of the shine is removed with the use of false rhymes as in

There’s no need for blame
And no reason to be ashamed

and the use of rather uninteresting filler lines as in

You’ve been hurt
You’ve been left in the dirt

One can of course express one’s love to a person using the most ordinary of words, because that is a private expression of love and devotion from one to another.  But if that expression is to be made public then I think it really does need to go a little further than that.

So for me

Dearest, if it’s your heart that I won
There’s no need for blame
And no reason to be ashamed
Of that place where we stand in the sun

is a serious disappointment of itself.  It becomes far worse than that, because I can’t hear the song without immediately thinking…

No Ilores, mi querida
Dios nos vigila
Soon the horse will take us to Durango
Agarrame, mi vida
Soon the desert will be gone
Soon you will be dancing the fandango

which quite simply, instantly transports me to another world.

It’s the sort of thing that takes me back to the line that I have put on the home page of this site: “I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”    When the horse is taking us to Durango and I am told

Sold my guitar to the baker’s son
For a few crumbs and a place to hide
But I can get another one
And I’ll play for Magdalena as we ride.

and this is the dream I want to be in.  I want to be there to find out what happens, to experience the ride, to see if he makes it.

I suppose with

Don’t ever take yourself away
I will never leave you
Will never deceive you
I’ll be right there walkin’ behind you.

I’ve just been in that dream far too many times before.


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