Why does Bob Dylan so like “Spanish is the Loving Tongue”

By Tony Attwood

This article comes from the series “Why does Dylan like” – you can find other articles from this series in the index.

“Spanish Is The Loving Tongue” by Billy Simon and Charles Badger Clark appeared on the album “Dylan” released in 1973 and then in a different version as the B side to “Watching The River Flow” when that was released as a single.  There are further versions, as you’ll appreciate if you stay with me through this article.

But first here is the “Dylan” version

The song, which has been recorded time and time again by numerous artists, is based on the poem “A Border Affair” written by Charles Badger Clark in 1907.   Clark is often spoken of as a “cowboy poet” due to the fact that he travelled through the American West, and is also described as the Poet Laureate of South Dakota – a title he gained in 1937.

Clark was born in 1883 the son of a Methodist preacher.  He himself started training for the ministry as a young man, but did not complete his training.  Instead he went travelling  but illness afflicted much of his life.   His poems were first published in 1917, and he continued to write poetry for most of his remaining years – he died in 1957.

Before Dylan made “Spanish is the loving tongue” popular to a wider audience Clark was known for “Lead my America” and “A Cowboy’s Prayer”, although many others before Dylan had realised the potential of the song.

The music for “Loving Tongue” was written in 1925 and among those who have recorded it we find  Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, and Marianne Faithfull.   Here’s Judy Collins…

The song was originally called “A Border Affair” and deals with love in a time of racial and class divisions, and it has continued its appeal perhaps because its hero doesn’t look much like a lover, and doesn’t have the job of a lover.   It is not an idealised love poem but a much more down to earth piece of realism.

These are, I think, the original lyrics…

Spanish is the loving tongue,
Soft as music, light as spray:
‘Twas a girl I learned it from,
Living down Sonora way.
I don’t look much like a lover,
Yet I say her love words over,
Often when I’m all alone —
“Mi amor, mi corazón.”

Nights when she knew where I’d ride
She would listen for my spurs,
Fling the big door open wide,
Raise them laughin’ eyes of hers;
And my heart would nigh stop beating
When I heard her tender greeting,
Whispered soft for me alone —
“Mi amor, mi corazón.”

Moonlight in the patio,
Old Senora nodding near,
Me and Juana talking low
So the Madre couldn’t hear;
How those hours would go a-flyin’!
And too soon I’d hear her sighin’
In her little sorry tone —
“Adios, mi corazón!”

But one time I had to fly
For a foolish gamblin’ fight,
And we said a swift goodbye
In that black unlucky night.
When I’d loosed her arms from clingin’
With her words the hoofs kept ringin’
As I galloped north alone —
“Adios, mi corazón!”

Never seen her since that night —
I can’t cross the Line, you know.
She was “Mex” and I was white;
Like as not it’s better so.
Yet I’ve always sort of missed her
Since that last wild night I kissed her;
Left her heart and lost my own —
“Adios, mi corazón!”

Broke her heart, lost my own,
“Adios, mi corazón!”

Among many other reasons why the song is so popular, it has the perfect title which is so easy to remember, and yet doesn’t exactly explain itself.  But it sets us up for a song that  is sentimental, but also poignant in a way that few songs achieve – which I think also explains why this is such a highly regarded song.  Clearly Bob is not the only person who adores this song – and part of that must be the possibilties that arise from the melody along with the elegance of the lyrics.

Here is the “B” side version

Here’s a recording of what I think was the only live performance Dylan gave of the song, in May 1976.

And here is the version fromthe Bootleg Series 10 – Another Self Portrait

Dylan’s affection for the song is not really much different from that of many other performers – it is a song that has moving lyrics and a poignant melody – one of the songs that just demands to be sung, and which allows multiple approaches to the delivery of the lyurics within the confines of the melody.

It is one of those extraordinary songs that simply works at all levels and gives the performer endless possibilities.

What else is here?

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.

There is an alphabetic index to the 550+ Dylan compositions reviewed on the site which you will find it here.  There are also 500+ other articles on different issues relating to Dylan.  The other subject areas are also shown at the top under the picture.

We also have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook which mostly relates to Bob Dylan today.  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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Why does Bob Dylan so like “Spanish is the Loving Tongue”

  1. Rus Krause says:

    Wow! Thanks for such a complete history of my favorite song, which I learned as a street singer in Paris in the mid ’60s and have sung ever since. I never heard a recorded version until recently, great to learn that so many others love it too.

Leave a Reply

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