“I’ll remember you”: how Dylan’s experiments brought him to this song

By Tony Attwood

It can be said that Bob Dylan spent 1984 trying to find his new muse experimenting all the way through the year up to Drifting too far from shore which, as I have said in the review of that song, really doesn’t work for me at all.

Then we get New Danville Girl / Brownsville Girl which to me doesn’t work fully but is a much more successful experiment (although I recognise that some people see it as a masterpiece) than some of the pieces composed earlier in the year.

This was followed by Something’s Burning Baby  in which I really do think Dylan had found the new way forward.  That Dylan wasn’t perhaps certain that he really had found his way through is seen by the fact that some of the songs from the era appeared on Knocked out loaded, and others on Empire Burlesque (and of course others not at all), but all the hard work of trying to find the new way forwards through 1984 had finally paid off.

In 1985 we then got Maybe Someday (Knocked out loaded) which I think is a brilliant song, but with a musical flaw in the vocal accompaniment, and Seeing the real you at last  (Empire Burlesque).  Dylan, for me, was back on track.  He might not have realised it himself, (and that is not me trying to be pompous, many artists find it hard to see the breakthrough they have just made) but all that experimentation had been worthwhile.

Next up Dylan composed “I’ll remember you”, and now we had a song that he really felt comfortable with, playing it from 22 September 1985 right through until 30 July 2005 – a 20 year spell in which he played it 226 times on stage.

There’s a version recorded with Tom Petty which is really worth a listen if you can find it on the internet – the copy we were recommending seems to have gone.

It was also featured, in an acoustic version, in the Masked & Anonymous movie, although for some reason not put on the soundtrack release.

It is a plaintive ballad as the opening lines show

I’ll remember you
When I’ve forgotten all the rest
You to me were true
You to me were the best

Musically Dylan gets the approach just right, setting out the basics in those four simple lines before stressing just how deep this memory is

When there is no more
You cut to the core
Quicker than anyone I knew
When I’m all alone
In the great unknown
I’ll remember you

Here’s another version if you prefer – the contrast shows just how much there is in this song.  I prefer the version with Tom Petty above – but each to his own.

What makes the song work so well is that it is what every lover looking back with the deepest affection to a past affair – no matter how short or long – will want to say

I’ll remember you
At the end of the trail
I had so much left to do
I had so little time to fail
There’s some people that
You don’t forget
Even though you’ve only seen ’m one time or two
When the roses fade
And I’m in the shade
I’ll remember you

Then to surprise us Dylan takes us up a few notches with the middle 8.  It is self-justifying of course, but after the two verses that have gone before, we can take that.

Didn’t I, didn’t I try to love you?
Didn’t I, didn’t I try to care?
Didn’t I sleep, didn’t I weep beside you
With the rain blowing in your hair?

Yes he is justifying himself, and maybe in the end it is a little too much – or perhaps a lot too much – but then that is what Dylan does sometimes.   But still he gets the ending right.

I’ll remember you
When the wind blows through the piney wood
It was you who came right through
It was you who understood
Though I’d never say
That I done it the way
That you’d have liked me to
In the end
My dear sweet friend
I’ll remember you

Musically it is Dylan at his simple best.  Two rotating chords and an easy to learn melody, before he suddenly surprises us with “Quicker than anyone I knew” which throws in the minor chord we were not expecting.   And then its back to the rocking chords again.

The song is in C major, and the surprise of the middle 8 (Didn’t I, Didn’t I try to love you?) is that suddenly we are jerked into B flat, F, C, the very familiar blues/rock sequence.  It provides a perfect contrast and fits completely with the change of mood in the lyrics.

Above all, what we feel, or at least what I feel, is that Dylan is now very much on secure territory.  Yes he could have written this earlier in his career, but he needed all that experimenting and all that trying out of new ideas to get back here.

He was there and so secure with I once knew a man but then he felt the need to travel the by-ways of exploration throughout the rest of 1984 before he could get back on track.

There is a list of all the songs of the period in chronological order, with links to all the reviews so far, in the 1980s section of the Chronology Files.






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