This article was updated in May 2018.
This song is based on the folk song “Who’s gonna buy you ribbons” which has both music and some lyrics that closely resemble Bob’s song. This version recorded in 1960 was made by a friend of Bob’s.
Bob has played this over 1000 times in concert, here’s one picked at random which turned out to be utterly beautiful to my ears, after a rather haphazard start.
Sometimes it is a little too easy to forget just how perfect some of the early Dylan works are, and that is why the demo version of Don’t think twice is so welcome on the “No Direction Home” album. Beautifully understated, lovingly caressed, it seems the most perfect version of the song ever.
There are thousands of cover versions. This is one of the best, but that of course is just my opinion.
This is the start of the goodbye songs that occupied Dylan so much in the early years – “You just kind of wasted my precious time” – so much the precursor of It ain’t me babe and the other early songs of that genre.
From the instrumental introduction there is the feeling of oneness between Dylan, the song and the guitar. Through this early version you feel for him, and you even feel for the girl who is cast as the outsider – Dylan walks off with the guitar and the song, the girl has nothing save humiliation.
After all, “You’re the reason I’m travelling on” is one of the harshest lines anyone has ever sung to a woman.
It is such a perfectly simple song – the simple strophic verse-verse-verse, which makes the words become understated. Sometimes it seems that “I give her my heart but she wanted my soul” needs to be accompanied by a clash of drums, with possibly some lighting and thunder to help us along.
And this simplicity is why it can work. It is so beautifully understated. Even though “You just wasted my precious time” we have that simple chord structure and elegant melody. How could someone write such a beautiful farewell song?
Here’s the original
The general belief is that this is written in relation to Bob’s relationship and breakup with Suze Rotolo. Ultimately the whole thing comes from “Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I’m Gone” although unfortunately I can’t find a version on line at the moment. If you know one please add it.
There have been a number of arguments about whether Bob actually played the rather difficult guitar part on the recording – the official story is that the whole song was recorded in one take, which if that is the case requires a guitarist of enormous ability to get such a complicated part perfect in one go.
Certainly Dylan didn’t normally play it like this when it played it in live shows, although the early concerts did, so I guess it was just a perfect take. And that idea is backed up by the version on the Witmark Demos (Bootleg vol 9) which is certainly worth listening to if you haven’t heard it for a while. It is on Spotify if you don’t have the album.
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