Bob Dylan’s early songs of love and lost love

by Tony Attwood

This is part of a series about Dylan’s early compositions based around the type of music he was exploring in his early years.  If you missed the other parts you might like to revisit

The first stand out love or lost-love song that Bob Dylan recorded was not one of his own compositions but was an arrangement of the classic Corrina Corrina which dates back to 1928.

It had been re-worked many times before Bob recorded it for Freewheelin.  To my mind the outtake is better than the version we got on the LP.

But it is interesting that in this particular genre Dylan was not yet ready to write and record his own love or lost-love song.

And indeed when he did venture into the genre shortly after he was once again using a phrase from a song in the 1920s  Honey just allow me one more chance

So two songs, both with origins in the 1920s and both about lost love, rather that protestations of love.

And so the theme continued with Rocks and Gravel – a song which combines the blues and lost love.

And then the world changed because Bob wrote Quit your Lowdown Ways.   Quite probably he just saw it as another 12 bar blues although if you can dig out your copy of Bootleg 1-3 you’ll hear Bob having a great time singing the blues for all its worth.

But then Peter Paul and Mary recorded the song, and Bob had his first lost love hit:

And so Bob and the song about love (or lost love) came together, and now he was off.  Baby I’m in the mood for you (a song of absolute desire) came next and once again he was using inspiration from earlier days: in this case Jesse Fuller.   The outtakes from Freewheelin are no longer on the internet but we do have other versions…

So as we can see, in the space of a few months Dylan had got himself not only going into a new type of song, but also was finding all sorts of ways of expressing it.

Down the Highway  then comes along – one that is said to be about his own situation with his girlfriend – although with many of the traditional blues themes of travelling, gambling and so on.

But that is a mere introduction to the moment when Bob Dylan showed us all that of course he can do love songs… or at least lost love songs

This recording leads on to the live version, which I care less for but that’s just my opinion.  My point is that the preliminaries were now over and done.  Bob Dylan could write beautiful lost love songs.

There’s beauty in the silver, singin’ river
There’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky
But none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty
That I remember in my true love’s eyes
Yes, and only if my own true love was waitin’
Yes, and if I could hear her heart a-softly poundin’
Only if she was lyin’ by me
Then I’d lie in my bed once again

There is a stunning beauty in both the music and the lyrics of that song which in this genre takes Dylan’s work to a new high, in my opinion.

It was not until six or seven compositions later (we can never be sure of the exact order in which these works were written) that Dylan touched on lost love again in one of the most famous of his songs, “Don’t think twice”, but this time it was the singer who was moving on.

And what we have with “Don’t Think Twice” is not just lost love, but lost love combined with another favourite Dylan theme of moving on, and a certain amount of nastiness as well in that now oh so famous ending…

I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

And with those lines, if we are trying to see a set of connections within Bob Dylan’s work (which is what I am trying to do by working through the themes within Dylan’s early writing) it is lost love, moving from the “give me one more chance” approach of “Honey just allow me…” early in the year through to this real rejection of “you just kinda wasted my precious time.”

It’s hard to get much nastier than that.  It’s MY precious time that was wasted.  It is all about the singer.

And although “Long Time Gone” which was written a little earlier is not a lost love song, it does have the same self-centred anger within it as Don’t Think Twice…

I once loved a fair young maid
An’ I ain’t too big to tell
If she broke my heart a single time
She broke it ten or twelve
I walked and talked all by myself
I did not tell no one
I’m a long time a-comin’, babe
An’ I’ll be a long time gone

and later…

So you can have your beauty
It’s skin deep and it only lies
And you can have your youth
It’ll rot before your eyes
Just give to me my gravestone
With it clearly carved upon:
“I’s a long time a-comin’
An’ I’ll be a long time gone”

As 1962 rolled on so Bob Dylan continued to roll on with the lost love theme, with Kingsport Town giving us

The winter wind is a blowing strong
My hands have got no gloves
I wish to my soul I could see
The girl I'm a-thinking of.

But he wasn’t always that kind.  Hero Blues tells us

Yes, the gal I got
 I swear she’s the screaming end
 She wants me to be a hero
 So she can tell all her friends

And this turned out to be a prelude to “The Ballad of the Gliding Swan” although to be fair there is a little doubt as to whether it was Bob who wrote the lyrics.   But given the way the songs were going in the latter part of 1962 I’d say yes…

Tenderly William kissed his wife
Then he opened her head with a butcher knife

And so 1962, the first great year of Dylan the composer, ended, with the love songs hardly getting much of a look in, and lost love dominating.

To me, the next time Dylan wrote a love song was with Spanish Harlem Incident in 1964, up to then, and indeed beyond then, it was lost love all the way.

What else is on the site

You’ll find some notes about 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 all the 590 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

We also have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 2000 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, please do drop me a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article.  Email Tony@schools.co.uk

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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