Go ‘way little boy – Bob Dylan meets Maria McKee. The meaning behind the music and the lyrics.

by Tony Attwood

One of the many, many enjoyable things I find in writing this blog is the places the research takes me, finding links and information I never knew before, while reminding me of pieces of music I once knew and have if not forgotten then certainly not played for a fair number of years.  By and large it has become a journey taking me on strange rummages through the backwaters of pop and rock’s extraordinary heritage and my own past.

Consider for example this set of links which occurred to me while I was contemplating the virtually unknown Dylan song “Go ‘Way Little Boy”.

Bryan MacLean, who played in Love (the band that released the extraordinary “Forever Changes” album – one of my all time favourites) wrote “Old Man”  – one of my all time favourite songs –  which I linked to Dylan’s “Señor, Tales of Yankee Power”.

MacLean’s connection with Bob Dylan was that he joined the same Christian ministry (the Vineyard) that subsequently converted Dylan.  I guess MacLean and Bob must have known each other musically before the event, and certainly knew each other personally once Bob converted to Christianity.

Now Bryan MacLean (who sadly died in 1998) had a half-sister Maria McKee who is known for her work as the lead singer with Lone Justice, another singer and band that I have enjoyed over the years, and whose albums I have.

But what I didn’t know (because the song in question turned up as a B side on a single which I never bought, and wasn’t also on either of the albums) Lone Justice with Maria McKee recorded the Dylan song Go ‘Way Little Boy.   And in case you don’t know it, here it is…

I am not sure how it all came together but it seems that Bob taught Maria McKee the song, and it is suggested Bob played rhythm guitar on the recording.  Heylin suggests the harmonica on the track might also be Bob and the lead guitar was Ron Wood.  If so I don’t know what the rest of the band were up to….  Presumably feeling rather displace and maybe a bit fed up.

So the song was released as the B-side of the single, “Sweet, Sweet Baby (I’m Falling).” For the recording of the song Marvin Etzioni was reported as saying that Dylan “doesn’t tell you what the chords are – no discussion about anything. As soon as you set up and you’re plugged in, you’re pushing record, and you’re on. And that’s what we did. It was great.”

The song isn’t by any means a song of significance in the Dylan collection, nor even in Lone Justice collection – if you want to find them at their best try “I found love” or “Belfry” or “The Gift” from the CD “Shelter”.

But Maria McKee who sings the song certainly should be better known to rock fans than is often the case.  She wrote “A Good Heart” and “Show Me Heaven”, both of which were number 1 hits in the UK and has ventured into other musical forms too.

There is also on the CD Shelter the incredibly haunting “Dixie Storms” – one of those songs that somehow entered my life during a period when I was incredibly low and has cut into my conscious and sub-conscious at such a level that I can’t explain it.  I have dim recollections of just sitting at home alone playing it over and over…  not really the best way to cope with feeling down and alone – but then if you don’t get the downs, it is hard to appreciate the ups.

Anyway, after two albums with Lone Justice, McKee went solo and her solo work is really worth hearing.  A remarkable talent, who brushed past Bob Dylan for one moment and whose half brother seemingly passed him and helped him go in another direction.

As for this song… well, to be fair all round it is hardly one of Bob’s great moments.  But I am here to record all the songs that made it onto the wider stage not just the ones I deem to be significant.

Dylan seems to have got very lost, creatively, building up to this moment.  The year had started with the superb run through of “I once knew a man” the provenance of which is unknown (but just listen to the recording linked into that review – it is Dylan-Blues at its peak), and eventually found its way down to this little number.

Dylan wanted and needed to experiment to find his new muse, and he just had a few false starts (what visual artists would call sketches) to make before he made it onto the new direction.  After “Go Way” Dylan wrote the highly experimental Drifting too far from shore which is seen by most people as pretty awful,  Then we got  New Danville Girl / Brownsville Girl which is certainly interesting and memorable, and some think it a masterpiece, and then Something’s Burning Baby (which made it onto Empire Burlesque) which shows us that the old mainstream creative spirit was certainly back, and that the new direction was taking hold.

So I think we should see Go Way Little Boy, as one of those sketches along the road.  A song with the purpose of helping Dylan move along as he did indeed eventually find his new muse.

In this song the lyrics are simple – and indeed perfect for Maria McKee to sing.  The experienced woman is telling the younger man to go off and find a woman more suitable to his personality and needs.

What we can hear in the song are the unexpected chord changes – it feels as if Dylan had the words (which are to be fair nothing very special) and knew the song needed a surprise, so we get it in the chords, which forces the melody to do unexpected things.

It starts out very clearly in D with lots of D, A, D chords and a B minor, all of which secure exactly where we are.  Then we suddenly find that instead of lines ending on the D chord, they end on G – it makes the whole piece feel as if it is a bit wobbly and uncertain at “back to her” and “secure”.

And then really oddly the last line of the verse takes us through D, C, B minor.  This really does make the whole thing feel as if it is about to topple over (like the relationship that the woman is ending) until suddenly the next verse begins, firmly back in D and bouncing through D A D.

The same sort of idea is tried out in the middle 8 (“Don’t you hear your mama calling”).  We are all nice and secure with the descending bass under B minor and then a solid G A D.  Yep we know exactly where we are musically.  We’re in D, on solid ground.

This is repeated until we get to “While you still have a choice” which instead of ending on A, reading to lead us back to the verse (like the middle 8 should always do) it ends on E minor… the choice is uncomfortable, uncertain, unsecured…

My guess is that Dylan was deliberately experimenting, trying to reflect in the music the brashness of the woman in saying “go away little boy” and the bemusement of the young man who now finds himself out of his depth.  That is what ending the verse on B minor and the middle 8 on E minor are there to suggest.

For me it doesn’t quite work, but then experiments often don’t.  As I say, if Dylan had been a visual artist this little sketch would exist in the basement of some gallery, only brought out once every five years for a “The sketches behind the masterpieces” exhibition.

But I’m glad Lone Justice took it – because it has taken me back to one of the less often played parts of my record collection, and reminded me of the rare talent of Maria McKee.  If you ever read this Maria, thank you for all the music.

Go ‘way little boy
I’m not for you
Go back to her
Where you’ll be more secure
She knows you better than I do
Go ‘way little boy
I’m not for you

Go ‘way little boy
You’re making me sad
I don’t wanna to see you bleed
She’s the one that you need
You’ll never miss what you ain’t never had
Go ‘way little boy
You’re making me sad

Go ‘way little boy
It’s much too late
Walk back out the door
Don’t wanna see you here no more
You’re making it hard for me to concentrate
Go ‘way little boy
It’s much too late

Can’t you hear your mama callin’
Don’t you recognize her voice
I think you’d better heed her warning
While you still have the choice

Go ‘way little boy
You’re much too late
Your future’s lookin’ bright
Don’t throw it away tonight
It’s getting hard for me to look you in the eye
Go ‘way little boy
Can’t you see that you’re makin’ me cry

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2 Responses to Go ‘way little boy – Bob Dylan meets Maria McKee. The meaning behind the music and the lyrics.

  1. rjm says:

    I read somewhere part of an interview with Maria McKee talking about this recording. She said that Bob Dylan was in the studio and not impressed with the first few vocal takes, so on 7th recording decided to belt it out with her best Dylan impression; he approved of that and they all packed up! I agree with you about her voice on Shelter – see also the lovely duet with Dwight Yoakham, Bury Me, on his first LP.

  2. TonyAttwood says:

    RJM – yes indeed I saw that interview report. It certainly makes sense. Thanks for reminding me – I should have put it in.

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