If You Gotta Go, Go Now. Dylan being light-hearted and spooky

By Tony Attwood

If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is not by any means a great Dylan song, but it is of interest if the analyses of what was happening at the time are to be believed.

The Beatles were on the up having had their first hit in 1962 (Love me do) and by the time “If you gotta go” was written were up to A Hard Day’s Night.

The suggestion that Dylan thought he ought to have a top ten hit might seem laughable today – as if he would think about such things! – but in the early days of his career, he probably did consider such matters.  And of course he got one – “Like a Rolling Stone” – a top 10 hit unlike anything that had gone before.

But what is so interesting is that Dylan got his top 10 hit in one sense by doing what the Beatles had done (taking popular song to its ultimate limits) but not doing it in the way the Beatles had done.

Prior to the Beatles most charting popular songs were based around three or four chords of the type that every would-be guitarist learned to play.  E, A and B7 for example.  You learn those in the first few weeks of learning to play.

By the time of Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles had gone to another planet, for that song opens with a crashing Fadded9 (which 99% of rock guitarists would have to look up in a book of chords before getting right) and for good measure through in an opening line of Cadd9 and Dm7.  It sounds like nothing that had gone before.

In “Like a Rolling Stone” Dylan stuck to the chords that everyone who played rock, pop and blues would know, but took the lyrics (not the chords and melody) onto another planet.

But if “If you gotta go” was a trial run for all this, is does nothing to match either the Beatles nor his own subsequent bravado with the form.  It’s bouncy, conventional and three chords.   Indeed the only challenge is the line “or else you gotta stay all night” which I suppose might well have occupied the BBC committee on acceptable lyric content for a while, had it got into the charts.

Eventually however, “If you gotta go” did indeed become a hit – although not for Dylan.  Manfred Mann recorded it and got it to number 2 in the UK in 1965, the Manfreds having had a number of hits already, most notably “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”.

And in the light of all that we know now, it is interesting to note now that this song which to me at least seems very pop-ish and slight and nothing like the other Dylan songs of the time was recorded as an acoustic song for Bringing it all back home.

To get a feel of what was going on before it became a full pop song try this version which is followed immediately by Love Minus Zero.

After that there were apparently several attempts to rescue the acoustic recordings with overdubbing from other musicians.  The 7th take of the series was issued on the The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991

Then in one of the more odd twists in British folk rock Fairport Convention recorded the song in French, “Si Tu Dois Partir” – for reasons that have never been clear, in 1969.   Fairport (in case you don’t know the name) has been and to a large degree still is an extraordinarily important band in English folk rock, but this was their only single success.  Indeed one particular link to note here is that David Pegg was part of Fairport at the time, and went on later to form The Dylan Project, which tours regularly in the UK and draws a very dedicated and positive audience.

As for the meaning of the lyrics, they are simply saying, “come on make up your mind.”  The singer is not being macho or demanding, just saying how he feels and asking the lady to stay – if she wants to.

But if you got to go
It’s all right
But if you got to go, go now
Or else you gotta stay all night

And he’s being a trifle funny

It ain’t that I’m questionin’ you
To take part in any quiz
It’s just that I ain’t got no watch
An’ you keep askin’ me what time it is

While reassuring her that he really is a decent sort of chap who will pay heed to her wishes.

I am just a poor boy, baby
Lookin’ to connect
But I certainly don’t want you thinkin’
That I ain’t got any respect

And he says it all with a spot of humour

It ain’t that I’m wantin’
Anything you never gave before
It’s just that I’ll be sleepin’ soon
It’ll be too dark for you to find the door

It’s very light and sweet, a fun song of not much consequence.  And in a very real way rather odd that this should be followed up with Farewell Angelina.  That one man could write both songs within a few months of each other is, well, rather spooky.

Alphabetical Index to all the songs on the site (complete)

Index to the songs in chronological order (still being developed)



  1. Interesting article. Glad you mentioned Fairport’s off the wall version in French. However, founding member Ashley Hutchins was the bass player at the time that the song was recorded. Pegg did not join until several albums later. He spent some time as a member of Jethro Tull, as you probably know.

  2. Bob Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go” is on the vinyl Trade Mark of Quality bootleg “Stealin'” released in 1973.

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