“Straight A’s in Love” by Bob Dylan; and who was Johnny Appleseed?

By Tony Attwood

Updated 8 May with the Andy and David Williams version of the song added with a copy of the lyrics from their recording.  Many thanks to David Thoburn.

The song title “Straight A’s in love” (rather amusingly transmuted into “Straight as in love” by Heylin, which would give it a totally different meaning) was used by Johnny Cash.

Here’s the song recorded by Bob Dylan in February 1985.

and for comparison the Johnny Cash song from 1956 which is pure 1956 Cash – you only have to hear the first five seconds to know who, what, how and when.

And now thanks to David Thoburn we have another version of the Dylan song to contemplate:

So having got that out of the way, let’s try and place it

This is a difficult period as Dylan wrote the lyrics to a number of songs around then which (as with “Well well well”) were then completed later.  It is also a period when Dylan seemed to be searching around for a new voice or a new direction.  I think quite a few people would not consider the songs before this, to be in the greatest part of his canon of literary works.

Anyway, this is a fairly straightforward rock piece which has never been played in public.  And where Heylin does get it right I think is by suggesting Bob had the title in his mind and then wrote around it.

What makes it all more confusing however is that a number of the lyrics sites, which simply take the lyrics of songs and then surround them by adverts, reveal their true colours by putting up the Cash lyrics and claiming the song is by Dylan.   The official Dylan site doesn’t help us by having nothing at all – although it has a blank page given over to the song.

Here are the real lyrics

You ain’t so good in arithmetic, baby 
You don’t know how to count 
When it comes to spending money 
It’s never the right amount 

But baby, you know, two and two is four 
Baby, that’ll be the day, 
But in love, crazy love, you get straight A’s 

In history, you don’t do too well 
You don’t know how to read 
You could confuse Geronimo 
With Johnny Appleseed* 

And if you don’t know who Thomas Edison is, 
Well, baby, that’s OK, 
But in love, crazy love, you get straight A’s 

You could fall right off the honour roll 
You wouldn’t need a shove 
But you graduate with honours 
From the school of love, well …. 

You aren’t doing too well in geography 
Baby, you can never read a map 
And if you hear that teacher starts talking  
It’s a time to take a nap 

You thought that England is in Spain 
Baby, that’s OK 
But in love, crazy love, you get straight A’s

And below is a scan of the lyrics from the record sleeve of the vinyl version of the Williams Brothers album. This seems to be exactly how they sing it (until they start repeating lines for the last half of the song). Definitely minor differences from what Dylan sings.  Provided by David Thoburn

In true rock n roll tradition (but doing something Bob never normally does) we then get repeats of the earlier lyrics with very slight modifications and that’s that.  One or two of the lyrics are not clear so as ever I’ve done my best – and it is noticeable that the line before the teaching taking a nap seems to be slightly different each time – but that’s the best I can do.  If you hear it clearly please correct me.

So the piece is undoubtedly written and recorded as a tribute to the rock n roll of earlier times that Bob so much admires, and taken in that spirit, it really is great fun.   Indeed it’s a shame it has got lost.

I just wonder, now that the bootlegs have pretty much been done, will the record company start putting together the whole of the Dylan catalogue including songs like these, in the order they were written?  I know that one or two people from On High have looked at our list of songs on this site, (because they have been kind enough to get in touch) so it is a possibility.   Let’s hope songs like this are indeed included if it comes to pass.

*I’m going to take it everyone knows about Geronimo (leader of the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache) and Eddison (the great inventor whose work included the original phonograph, the movie camera, and the long lasting light bulb), but since I had no idea about Johnny Appleseed (I plead ignorance on the grounds of being English) here’s a quick summary.

He was properly named John Chapman and lived from 1774 to 1845 and was a pioneer of conservation, and a missionary for the Swedenborian New Church who became a legend within his life for his generosity of spirit and the importance he placed on apples.

It’s amazing what can be learned from writing reviews.

What else is on the site

You’ll find an index to our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to the 500+ songs reviewed is now on a new page of its own.  You will find it here.

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

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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8 Responses to “Straight A’s in Love” by Bob Dylan; and who was Johnny Appleseed?

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Swedenborgian Church – after Emanuel Swedenborg who influences William Blake who influences Bob Dylan

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    See: (Untold) Bob Dylan: Mixed Up Confusion

  3. David Lewis says:

    I always wondered if it relates to this old Cliff Richard song D in Love:

    You get A, in Biology.
    You get A, in Psychology.
    You’re a whizz,
    In your Science Class
    In a Quiz, you’re a Chinch to Pass,
    But when you’re out with me,
    Baby, you get D, D in Love.

  4. David Thoburn says:

    From the Smithsonian website about Johnny Appleseed: The apples that Chapman brought to the frontier were completely distinct from the apples available at any modern grocery store or farmers’ market, and they weren’t primarily used for eating—they were used to make America’s beverage-of-choice at the time, hard apple cider.
    Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263/

  5. David Thoburn says:

    Twin brothers Andrew Williams and David Williams (born February 22, 1959 in Henderson, Nevada, USA), nephews of singer Andy Williams, from Henderson, Nevada, recorded as the Williams Brothers in the 1990s. On their 1987 album “Two Stories” they covered Dylan’s “Straight A’s in Love.”

  6. Michael Lane says:

    Somewhere in the Disney film catalogue, there was a film about Johnny Appleseed. I only saw the trailer as a kid, sometime in 1950s. It may have been a re-release then. Seem to associate it with ‘The Great Train Robbery’- maybe trailer with that. I’m English but we were all expected to cheer along with the American rebels. which we duly did. Think I’ll look up Disney – Appleseed. To check. Best.

  7. Michael Lane says:

    Checked. Now the Disney was released in 1948, which hits the possibility that Dylan saw it as a kid, or there was the vibe about the movie then , which he latched onto. Since he absorbs everything, particularly then, it may be a natural reference for him.

  8. TonyAttwood says:

    Many thanks for that info Michael

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