Floater (Too much to ask). Revisiting Bob Dylan’s song and wondering about meanings & plagiarism

by Tony Attwood

Updated April 2018 including a link to a live version.


From Haiku 61 Revisited

When you get this old,
You get less sentimental
About everything.

Dylan has endlessly been accused of taking other people’s lyrics and melodies, and it has never particularly worried him.   With Floater he goes overboard on the borrowing, with music taken directly from “Snuggled On Your Shoulders” by Lombardo/Young and lyrics taken from Junichi Saga’s novel Confessions of a Yakuza (translated by John Bester).

Maybe the contrast between the two sources amused him.

If you want to hear the original song there are many versions on the internet, but here’s the most famous (although its not complete) by Bing Crosby.

Do listen, it is one hell of a song wonderfully sung.

Here’s a complete version

There is a complete analysis of the original words compared with the lyrics of a whole range of Dylan songs here – but to give a bit of a flavour just consider this.


…some kind of trouble that put him on bad terms with the younger men… it’s up to him whether a session comes alive or falls flat…even kicking him out wasn’t as easy as that… I decided to wait a while and see how it worked out… age doesn’t matter…Age by itself just doesn’t carry any weight. (155)


Well, the old men ’round here sometimes they get on
bad terms with the younger men,
Old, young – age don’t carry weight
It doesn’t matter in the end

Things come alive or they fall flat.

Not always easy kicking someone out,
Got to wait awhile, it can be an unpleasant task.

Dylan obviously loved this book having found it, for it is also used as a source in “Honest with Me”, “Summer Days”, “Po’ Boy”, and “Lonesome Day Blues”.  One gets the impression he didn’t have too much to say.

The author of the Dylan haiku quoted above also makes an interesting comment on the song as a whole…

The song contains 16 verses, none of which seem to relate to each other, other than a recurring reference to living like a contrarian when people try to get the singer to do one thing or another. The title comes from the last verse when Dylan observes that it’s not easy to kick someone out (of your home, I guess), and that it’s unpleasant task. Sometimes, he says, someone wants you to give something up, and even if they cry about it, “it’s too much to ask.”

I think that’s as good a summary as one can do.

So, is this plagiarism?  The answer in most countries is no – or at least no in the sense of being a breach of the copyright acts of the country.  I can only speak in detail for the UK but under the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988 it probably isn’t in terms of the lyrics, because not enough is quoted.  In terms of the music however, that is awfully close, and I wouldn’t want to defend a case if the estate of Lombardo and Young decided to try it out in court.

What Dylan doesn’t do, and what could have precluded any worries at all, is acknowledge sources.  Had he done so everyone might have been happier since it would have sent a lot of people off to buy the original.

It is fairly obvious from the intro to realise this is not really a Dylan song, since the chords used are totally non-Dylan.  Just like we can tell from the opening second of Wheel’s on Fire that Dylan did not compose this on his own, because of the second chord in the verse, so we know the same is true here.  Dylan doesn’t do augmented.  Or at least not with such panache.

So what are we left with?  A simple opening of happy summer days…

Down over the window
Comes the dazzling sunlit rays
Through the back alleys—through the blinds
Another one of them endless days

Honey bees are buzzin’
Leaves begin to stir
I’m in love with my second cousin
I tell myself I could be happy forever with her

The interesting thing here is that this is so non-Dylan, just as the chords are.  Remember this is the album with Mississippi on it – ok that was written some time before but even so, it is a masterpiece of Dylan.  And this is just… well, not as good as Crosby and the original.

I keep listening for footsteps
But I ain’t hearing any
From the boat I fish for bullheads
I catch a lot, sometimes too many

This is a village life idyll, with a bit of the sharp end…

The old men round here, sometimes they get
On bad terms with the younger men
But old, young, age don’t carry weight
It doesn’t matter in the end

One of the boss’ hangers-on
Comes to call at times you least expect
Try to bully you—strong-arm you—inspire you with fear
It has the opposite effect

And a spot of home spun philosophy

They say times are hard, if you don’t believe it
You can just follow your nose
It don’t bother me—times are hard everywhere
We’ll just have to see how it goes

OK if it is true, it is rather nice at times, as with…

My old man, he’s like some feudal lord
Got more lives than a cat
Never seen him quarrel with my mother even once
Things come alive or they fall flat

And then it just goes over the edge.  Maybe Mark Knopfler was on the scene playing old Dire Straits songs…

Romeo, he said to Juliet, “You got a poor complexion
It doesn’t give your appearance a very youthful touch!”
Juliet said back to Romeo, “Why don’t you just shove off
If it bothers you so much”

Or in Mr K’s version:

Juliet says hey it’s Romeo you nearly gimme a heart attack
He’s underneath the window she’s singing hey la my boyfriend’s back
You shouldn’t come around here singing up at people like that
Anyway what you gonna do about it?

In the end we are left craving if not for Shakespeare (whose stories were of course often borrowed from Hollingshed) then at least for Dire Straits’ resolution…

When you can fall for chains of silver you can fall for chains of gold
You can fall for pretty strangers and the promises they hold
You promised me everything you yeah promised me thick and thin
Now you just say oh Romeo yeah you know I used to have a scene with him

Doesn’t that make your heart ache?  But here we get the fall beyond the edge which is then is fallen over…

If you ever try to interfere with me or cross my path again
You do so at the peril of your own life
I’m not quite as cool or forgiving as I sound
I’ve seen enough heartaches and strife

Dylan, who has just nicked another song, is threatening?  Well, not really, it comes from the source book.

I had ’em once though, I suppose, to go along
With all the ring-dancin’ Christmas carols on all of the Christmas eves
I left all my dreams and hopes
Buried under tobacco leaves

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas?   Who knows

When told about Dylan’s use of his lines the original author of the text said he was honoured.  I guess I would be too.  Trouble is, I’ve never written anything good enough to be nicked by Dylan.

Bing Crosby recorded his version on January 21, 1932 and released it on Brunswick record number 6248.

Here’s Bob on stage, seemingly referring to the lyrics as he sings – very unusual for him.

You might also be interested to read

What else is on the site

1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs.  There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.

2: The Chronology.  We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums.  The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site.  We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year.     The index to the chronologies is here.

3: Bob Dylan’s themes.  We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions.  There is an index here.

4:   The Discussion Group    We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook.  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

5:  Bob Dylan’s creativity.   We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further.  The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.

6: You might also like: A classification of Bob Dylan’s songs and partial Index to Dylan’s Best Opening Lines and our articles on various writers’ lists of Dylan’s ten greatest songs.

And please do note   The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews


  1. Tony, you write „Trouble is, I‘ve never written anything good enough to be nicked by Dylan.“ – ah, you‘re so modest here, almost as decent as very british. Fact is, you are a good writer, as good as you‘ve been to us in your Untold writings on this site. As for Dylan, he‘s good, too, as he‘d pluck anything off anyone if it fancies him for a purpose. You don‘t have to honour him for that now.

  2. ” i am a thief of thoughts”. 11 outlined epitaphs.

    “Every poet is a thief”. Bono, from U2.

  3. Always had a sneaking suspicion that “Floater” might have been written for slide man Bucky Baxter. Just a wild guess though really

  4. Juliet was gentle with Romeo, in comparison to how Dylan was with those who accused him of plagiarism

  5. Only genuine deep thinker can be bothered by ignorance.
    Bob Dylan is not a Sir , he is a Lord on the philosophic Litterature’s Field.
    However his musical style doesn’t leave any doubt about authenticity.

  6. If you guys think this is plagiarism you’re gonna be really shocked to learn that folk musicians have been writing songs based on the same eight hundred phrases and about as many melodies for thousands of years. Dylan is a rooted man, re-starting the synthetic folk tradition the way it was practiced through all human history up until the violence of recording and copyright.

  7. I love Dylan. I love Crosby. I only wish Dylan was as upfront about the Crosby influence (here and on Modern Times) as he has been about his recent Sinatra fascination….

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