This a-way that a-way. A Bob Dylan lost song that turns out to be… passing the time.

By Tony Attwood and Larry Fyffe

Actually I have pondered whose name to put first on this review.  Larry did the work I couldn’t even start in making a stab at with the lyrics and should be first in line for that effort.  But I didn’t want anyone thinking that the rather desultory review that follows is anyone’s view but mine (Tony).

This song comes from the New Haven CT soundcheck on 17 September 1978, so my earlier comments in relation to the article “Take it or leave it”, the lost Dylan song from 1978   apply.  Dylan seemed to be toying with two ideas: “the world is stuck, there is nothing to be done, that’s all there is” in this song and “life goes on, so it goes” in “You don’t love me no more” which ultimately then collided and combusted into “there is change and its coming big time” with “Slow Train” which emerged just a short while later.

“This a-way that a-way” really does seem to be at the end of the line of uncertainty.  The music itself is ok, to my mind, but sounds awfully close to a lot of other pieces of the same type – although Heylin calls it a “gorgeous tune” and it seems from his account that Dylan continued to use it in sounds checks right up to the one in which the rather slow “Slow Train” emerged for the first time.

There’s a link to the recording of “This a-way” below so you can decide – although I am sorry the quality is rather poor – but it is in the only recording I could find.

And here are the lyrics Larry came up with…

If I am an illusion,
It’s a waste of time
If I am an illusion
I’ll be gone in time
Let me go this way, let me go that
Better to move that way than steal like a cat
This a-way, that a-way
This a-way, that a-way
This a-way, that a-way
This a-way, that a-way

which I think works as well as anything else.

To hear the piece you need to revisit the New Haven soundcheck  and then scoot along to 3 minutes 34 seconds or thereabouts and up comes the song.  If you want to change the words, or complete them, great – please send them in.   I have seen a version of the lyrics on line but I really couldn’t believe that this was what Dylan was singing – hence our new version.

Larry also added the comment that “Many a grade B western movie contains the line, with a finger pointing, ‘they went that a-way’ when  lawman  asks which way are the outlaws headed, and continued…

“As I noted with the first song on the recording, the vocals without printed lyrics are never quite clear. I don’t think Dylan varies as much as I initially thought on hearing that initial song. Better that I had stuck with lyrics, especially seemingly repeated ones, that I was relatively sure of than sticking my neck out on a possible but unclear variation in  wording that I thought I detected. Ears can play tricks on you too!

“And, of course, printed lyrics are often incorrect as well.”

But this is not to knock Dylan.   That he never completed the lyrics and never revised the song shows it was part of the process which all composers go through, writing songs or melodies or lyrics or anything else as a way of preparing for the main fare that was about to come.

The song is worth preserving not just for the sake of completeness but because it is part of such a clear journey that led to an explosion of insight with Slow Train.

Dylan created two more songs – “One more ride” and “Legionnaire’s Disease” before “Slow Train” and after that the show really was on the road once more.

Or maybe I should say, the train was on the tracks (although that would perhaps be a little too obvious).

Think there’s something missing or wrong with this review?

You are of course always welcome to write a comment below, but if you’d like to go further, you could write an alternative review – we’ve already published quite a few of these.  We try to avoid publishing reviews and comments that are rude or just criticisms of what is written elsewhere – but if you have a positive take on this song or any other Dylan song, and would like it considered for publication, please do email

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

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1 Response to This a-way that a-way. A Bob Dylan lost song that turns out to be… passing the time.

  1. Jonathan Smith says:

    It might be the only thing I agree with Clinton Heylin on, but that melody gorgeous. 🙂

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