Ye Playboys and Playgirls: if you’ve never heard this Dylan song, now’s the time

by Tony Attwood

This is the utter simplicity of a Broadside ballad taken to its ultimate level – and for me it really works, and I for one am so glad that we still have the recording of Bob and Pete Seeger singing this song.

It works because the simplicity of the message of defiance is all that is needed to convey the message.  It works because it is utterly memorable.  And it works for me because it reminds me of those heady days when just speaking one’s defiance of the world around us felt like it was enough to make change.  We were going to win!  We just knew it!!!

I really am transported back to those heady days.

If you don’t know the song, there is a link to a recording of it at the end of this little piece, but I hope that if you flip down to that now, you might come back and read the rest of my ramblings… just in case you find something of interest therein.

The opening verse sets out the whole of the song’s structure…

Oh, ye playboys and playgirls
Ain’t a-gonna run my world
Ain’t a-gonna run my world
Ain’t a-gonna run my world
Ye playboys and playgirls
Ain’t a-gonna run my world
Not now or no other time

After that the structure is set so with the second verse we get

You fallout shelter sellers
Can’t get in my door
Can’t get in my door
Can’t get in my door
You fallout shelter sellers
Can’t get in my door
Not now or no other time

and so on.

The third verse opens

Your Jim Crow ground
Can’t turn me around

and follows the same format, but for non-American readers I am going to explain this.  (I know this is a bit like me explaining the meaning of “Turn again Whittington” to an English audience, but I did try mentioning “Jim Crow” to a few well-educated and knowledgeable friends and their response ranged from baffled to uncertain.)

So, from an English perspective…

Up to the 1960s many of the states in the USA used what became known as the Jim Crow laws to enforce segregation between black and white members of society.

Jim Crow was the name of a fictional character portrayed in the early part of the 19th century by the white actor Thomas Dartmouth “Daddy” Rice.  His performance as an uneducated black slave (Jim Crow) were utterly demeaning and racist, and became very popular with white audiences.  And so “Jim Crow” became the standard disparaging generic name for black citizens.

We have to remember that at the time Dylan wrote this song, in many states the laws forbade intermarriage and ordered business owners and public institutions to keep their black and white clientele separated.   As an example the laws of Alabama also required that female nurses should not be asked to work in rooms in which black men were placed.   Bus stations were required to be segregated, and have separate ticket windows while trains and restaurants were segregated.  People of different colour were also forbidden from playing pool or billiards together.

So, that is the Jim Crowe ground.   Bob Dylan continues

The laughter in the lynch mob
Ain’t a-gonna do no more
Ain’t a-gonna do no more
Ain’t a-gonna do no more
The laughter in the lynch mob
Ain’t a-gonna do no more
Not now or no other time

And then he takes his anti-war stance

You insane tongues of war talk
Ain’t a-gonna guide my road

Followed by

You red baiters and race haters
Ain’t a-gonna hang around here

before finally concluding

Ye playboys and playgirls
Ain’t a-gonna own my world
Ain’t a-gonna own my world
Ain’t a-gonna own my world
Ye playboys and playgirls
Ain’t a-gonna own my world
Not now or no other time

I find it a simple, but none the less highly enjoyable and important song, and it is particularly interesting to see how it sits among the songs Dylan was writing at this time in that most productive year of 1962…

“Train a travellin” is itself a call to stand up and protest about what is going on around you, while “Walking down the line” uses a musical style and approach that is very similar to “Playboys” but to reflect on the singer’s own condition

My money comes and goes
My money comes and goes
My money comes and goes
And rolls and flows and rolls and flows
Through the holes in the pockets in my clothes

Then comes “Playboys” and the anti-racism stance within that is then extended with “Oxford Town”.   Musically and lyrically it was a really interesting time for Bob Dylan the songwriter.

Here’s the recording

And one of a number of alternative versions that exist, this from The Auld Toon Band

 

What else is on the site

1: Over 460 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

 

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2 Responses to Ye Playboys and Playgirls: if you’ve never heard this Dylan song, now’s the time

  1. Dave Arnold says:

    Hi Tony
    I remember Carolyn Hester singing this on the BBC in the 60s. She added a verse
    “Ringo just got married now he won’t marry me, he won’t marry me
    Not now or no other time”
    Keep up the good work

  2. TonyAttwood says:

    Dave – I love that extra verse – fits perfectly.

    Tony

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