Ain’t gonna grieve by Bob Dylan. A curious twist before the masterpiece.

By Tony Attwood

Looking back at the early songs that Dylan recorded claiming himself as composer it is amazing to think how he jumped from genre to genre and how he moved from songs that clearly are adaptations from older works through to songs that are still recognised as complete breakthroughs in songwriting, and are celebrated as masterpieces of contemporary compositions.

Take for example this sequence of writing from 1962.  As I have often said before the order shown here is not definitive, but as close as I can get using t he sources and information available.

There were actually four or five other songs written around this time, all of which pre-dated Hard Rain, and I shall shortly be taking at look at these – so that list might get a bit longer – but none of these really change the point; Hard Rain came out of nowhere.

But looking at the songs already reviewed here we have desire, comedy, despair, traditional blues, leaving… the whole range, ending (even if there are a few extras to put in first) with the utter masterpiece.

Which makes Ain’t gonna grieve even more interesting as the song that appears to have preceded the masterpiece.   Interesting because it is a short derivative piece that doesn’t really seem to say too much that wasn’t being said elsewhere.

The Whitmark recording lasts just one minute 27 seconds, and was probably written for Broadside magazine.   It is based on the spiritual “Ain’t gonna grieve my lord no more.”

There are many variants on the song. Here’ a popular alternative…

Oh, the Deacon went down to the cellar to pray,
He found a jug and he stayed all day,
Ain’t gonna grieve my Lord no more.
I ain’t a-gonna grieve my Lord no more.
I ain’t a-gonna grieve my lord no more.
Ain’t a-gonna grieve my Lord no more.
You can’t get to Heaven on roller skates,
You’ll roll right by them pearly gates.
You can’t get to Heaven on a rocking chair,
‘Cause the Lord don’t want no lazybones there.

Woody Guthrie also recorded the song with the copyright note “Words by Woody Guthrie, Music by Jeff Tweedy & Jay Bennett”.  Here is an extract from his version.

I long to fly away to heaven
Pass beyond that shining door
See my master and my savior
High away to heaven soar

I have made myself my promise
Never again to grieve my lord
I will live his gospel story
Sweetest story ever told

Ain’ta gonna grieve my lord no more
Ain’ta gonna grieve my lord no more
Ain’ta gonna grieve my lord any more, not any more.

Dylan went elsewhere with his version – if you don’t have the Whitmark album it is on Spotify – at least it is in the UK and as the lyrics show, he took matters in a slightly different way

Well, I ain’t a-gonna grieve no more, no more
Ain’t a-gonna grieve no more, no more
Ain’t a-gonna grieve no more, no more
And ain’t a-gonna grieve no more

Brown and blue and white and black
All one color on the one-way track
We got this far and ain’t a-goin’ back
And I ain’t a-gonna grieve no more

Thus what was a spiritual now becomes a civil rights piece.  A clever twist.  But it was a passing notion, because with the next song the world caught fire.

What else is on the site

1: Over 450 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. The Woody Guthrie lyrics may have been written while Guthrie was alive but Tweedy is the leader of Wilco and Bennett was his multi-instrumentalist, now deceased. These credits are likley related to the Mermaid Avenue project which concerned itself with bringing old Guthrie lyrics that didn’t have music to life. Billy Bragg worked in partnership with Wilco to create a large number of recordings, this was at the request of Nora Guthrie, reportedly after Dylan turned down the project.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *