The subject matter of Dylan’s Basement Tapes songs. Part 3

by Tony Attwood

This series is analyzing in very simple terms, what Bob Dylan’s lyrics are about.  Simplicity is part of the key here since it allows us to try and link songs together into groups, and from that gather the central themes of Dylan’s writing, year by year.

There is a point in this, for many writers have analyzed Dylan with a view to proving he was writing about a particular topic or from a particular viewpoint much of the time.  I’m trying to give a simple meaning description to each song, and then look back for patterns.

In this article on the songs from the Complete Basement Tapes we come to the final collection of Basement Tapes songs.

Many of these songs which are grouped together in the final CD in the box set, are spontaneous,  improvised inventions with no real meaning and were never thought of as anything other than the guys having fun.  I’ve done my best to give each song a meaning, but I’ll fully admit that at the end I am on fairly shaky ground and other meanings (or no meaning at all) are probably just as valid as anything I might say.

Here is the list of songs from this final group with each one given a simple subject title.  The links, as ever, are to the reviews of the songs on this website.

  1. My Woman She’s a Leavin’.  (She’s in control)
  2. Mary Lou I love You Too (Love and leaving = life is a mess)
  3. What’s it gonna be when it comes up? (surreal lost love)
  4. It’s the flight of the Bumblebee (humour)
  5. All you have to do is dream (love / sex)
  6. Wild Wolf: (darkness, nothing, darkness = life is a mess)
  7. Gonna Get You Now (tangled up in a mess = life is a mess)
  8. Two dollars and 99 cents (everything’s cheap = life is a mess)
  9. Jelly Bean (the world is upside down = life is a mess)
  10. Any Time (Love – come to me any time)
  11. Down by the station (I’m lost)
  12. That’s the breaks (nothing lasts forever)
  13. Pretty Mary (I’m moving on)
  14. The King of France (humour)
  15. She’s on my mind again (lost love)
  16. On a rainy afternoon (passing time)
  17. I can’t come in with a broken heart (lost love)
  18. Next time on the Highway (moving on)
  19. Northern Claim (moving on)
  20. Love is only mine (moving on)
  21. Bring it on home (moving on)
  22. The Spanish Song (?)
  23. The Hidden Song (?)

Here are the themes from this final part of the box set grouped together and slightly simplified…

  • Humour 2
  • Life is a mess: 4
  • Lost love / being lost: 5
  • Love: 3
  • Moving on / Nothing lasts forever: 8
  • Woman is in control (Leadership): 3

So that is the end of analysing the Basement Tapes, and what has become clear is how although certain lyrical themes pop up all the way through, Bob Dylan was getting ideas and then exploring them through several songs before moving on again.

The whole process is of course to some degree a personal analysis, but in my view, it is still worth doing to give an indication of Dylan’s themes, even if we might disagree on the detail.

This is part of the Dylan in the 1960s series.  Other articles in the series include

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 594 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

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, links back to our reviews

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