Going to Acapulco: Bob Dylan’s masterpiece changed and changed again.

by Tony Attwood

“Going to Acapulco” is one of those songs in which the official lyrics don’t match the lyrics that we hear.  It is most annoying when that happens – but here it is the result of re-writes and re-writes across the years.

The song came to fame in the 2007 movie Im Not There – that’s the one with six actors portraying different aspects of Bob Dylan’s personality – was not a great success at the box office.  But the soundtrack is something that did resonate with quite a few fans with over 30 Dylan compositions being covered by those in the film.

And for many people, I think, Jim James rendition of “Going to Acapulco,” backed by Calexico is one of the highlights – perhaps the highlight.  It is certainly worth seeing, with its visual reference back to the “whiteface” Bob wore in the 1975/76 Rolling Thunder tour.

If you love this clip as much as I do, you’re going to have a lovely three minutes.  The sound (at least on my system) doesn’t come out very well, but I thought you might like to see this little extract from the movie too, in case you haven’t seen it.

There is a much clearer version of the music without the movie below.

Here it is in the film…

 

Well, sometime you know when the well breaks down
I just go pump on it some
Rose Marie, she likes to go to big places
And just set there waitin’ for me to come

Goin’ to Acapulco–goin’ on the run
Goin’ down to see fat gut–goin’ to have some fun
Yeah–goin’ to have some fun

And a much clearer version of the music

This song is a perfect example of how Dylan makes brilliant music out of such simple chordal basis.

This is the chord sequence with the unexpected changes in bold…

G D
I’m going down to Rose Marie’s
C G
She never does me wrong.
G D
She puts it to me plain as day
C G
And gives it to me for a song.
G G7
It’s a wicked life but what the hell
C Am
Everybody’s got to eat
G D
And I’m just the same as anyone else
C Am
When it comes to scratching for my meals
G C
Goin’ to Acapulco
G F
Goin’ on the run.
G C
Goin’ down to see soft gut
G Am
Goin’ to have some fun.

 

It is the sudden insertion of the A minor (Am) and the F chords that I have put in bold that really keep the listener alert to what is happening.

There is a fair degree of uncertainty about the date of composition of the song, not least because despite its elegance and originality it didn’t appear in the earlier copyright lists of songs from the Basement Tapes era.  I’m putting it in the list of 1960s songs around the Don’t ya tell Henry time, but I could be quite wrong.

It does seem like the re-writing of two verses came in 1975 when the song was being considered for release – but was then put away again although there was a further bit of re-writing in 1985 to give slight changes such as

If the wheel don’t drop and the train don’t stop
I’m bound to meet the sun

I have no idea what that means, but I think it really sounds good.

There is a review on the internet that says that the song is about a prostitute.  And maybe it is, but I am not too sure that working through such meanings on a song like this really gets us too far.  Dylan has made it quite clear in interviews that he never really expected a lot of these songs to ever see the light of day or the sound emanating from the record player, and so he was able to write anything he wanted without considering its implications or indeed without much thought of t he quality.

 

If you are not particularly familiar with Dylan’s version from Bootleg Vol 11 and turn to it after listening to the movie version above it is quite a surprise how different it is.

Personally I really don’t think the accompaniment is at all right on the Bootleg version, but these guys were knocking the songs out very quickly so that is completely understandable, but listening now from the luxury of sitting in my study in rural Northamptonshire looking out at the trees and the mist, I really could kill that organist for having no concept of what the song was all about.

That is not to say I know what it is about, but I am sure as hell that this is not a place for lots of twiddly bits (to use the technical musical term).

But as I say the guys were knocking these songs out one after another, and thankfully it was resurrected for the movie.  Having come back to it again I’d place it on the list of “lost” masterpieces – but that would be me thinking of the movie version rather than Dylan’s own rendition.

There are worse ways of getting there
And I ain’t complainin’ none
If the clouds don’t drop and the train don’t stop
I’m bound to meet the sun

Indeed.


What else is on the site

1: Over 400 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 all 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 recently started to produce 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 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

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5 Responses to Going to Acapulco: Bob Dylan’s masterpiece changed and changed again.

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    If the wheel(clouds) don’t drop, and the train don’t stop
    I’m bound to meet the sun….

    With a lttle luck, he’ll be there when the sun’s shining if the weather holds and travel time is not in any way interupted

  2. hans altena says:

    A lot of what you say about this song hits the mark again, but Garth Hudson really takes the music to a higher level here, as he is wont to do… Yet tastes differ….

  3. Chris W says:

    I’ve always admired the way that Dylan delivers this song and adds another dimension to the lyrics. He manages to sound as miserable as hell – rather than upbeat as many other singers would probably chose to deliver this type of song – and in fairly desperate need of ‘some fun’. I also get the sense that it may be some time before the singer will get to see Rose Marie again, if he ever does. There’s a sense of looking back on happier days – ‘lost times are not found again’ – in this song for me.

  4. Hugo Riesenfeld says:

    Somebody wrote that these lines could be about refusing a marijuana cigarette:

    Now, if someone offers me a joke
    I just say no thanks
    I try to tell it like it is
    And keep away from pranks

    That’s logical but ironic, considering Robbie Robertson referred to the movie “Reefer Madness” when discussing the Basement Tapes sessions.

    Tangent: I remember being astonished to learn that a song as lyrically hackneyed as “Long-Distance Operator” had been written before the motorcycle accident. I wonder if that’s true of any other songs from this period.

  5. bokhara says:

    This is one of the most beautiful and evocative of basement songs. Regarding the “official” lyrics for many of the basement sessions, I don’t even consider them official. I just consider them wrong. I assumed they were just transcribed wrong or Bob when he went to copyright them on Dwarf Music just wrote down anything. I think for the most part they are inferior to the original songs as written, composed, played/sung that summer. In some instances the lyrics are nothing like what is sung. Acapulco is one of these cases. Sign on the Cross is another example where the “official” lyrics are in some stanzas nothing like hat beautiful song.

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