A Dylan Cover a Day: Not Dark Yet – by and large the ladies have it

By Tony Attwood

Not Dark Yet was for me, the moment I first heard it, (and has remained ever since), one of the very greatest of all the Dylan songs.   I recall even in my original review noting how pivotal it was to Time Out Of Mind, and that was before I saw the Time magazine review which called it ‘the moody album’s center.’

I was also knocked out by the way Dylan expanded the structure of the song musically – if that is something you might be interested in, the article Jochen and I put together might help explain a little what makes it sound so different from your everyday song.

For me, it is a masterpiece of such stunning magnitude that even now, years later, I find it hard to put into words everything that there is in this song, and in Dylan’s arrangement on the album.  Treat this article therefore as a trivial introduction to the ultimate work of the master.

All of which made me wonder what others have done with it.   And to my delight, working through the catalogue there are some reinterpretations worthy of the song.

Lucinda Williams

Much depends on how the arranger and performers choose to arrange the performance, for the opening tells us both where we are, and if this isn’t just someone else playing around with a masterpiece.

Changes can be made by subtle shifts of emphasis and melody, along with tiny changes to the rhythm, and that is what we find here as each subtle change gives a new insight into what is being said.

And perhaps, dear reader, I should add, if you are reading this when you are aged 60 or less, come back when you are in your mid-70s and listen again and reflect further on your life and what it has meant.

Dave Gahan Soulsavers

A totally different concept as we hear from the musical introduction.  The rhythm is given a greater emphasis, which doesn’t prepare us for the caressing gentleness of the vocals – it gives the perfect impression of the individual awash in a never-ending, raging sea of emotions, which is exactly as I hear and feel it.

Just listen to the line “I don’t see why I should even care”.  The accent moves from “I” in “I should” and instead falls on “why”.  The meaning changes, new images appear.  That’s how it goes all the way through.  Brilliant.

Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer

Extra emphasis on the percussion which contrasts with the vocals which change gently and then suddenly add oh-so-perfect harmonies.    And a perfect pause between the verses without any attempt to do something different… all that it needs is to hold what we have, and that is what it gives.

And those harmonies, oh how they develop in the second verse, leaving the electric piano to cast a total contrast with regimental-style percussion.

You’ll notice how there is nothing sacred with the key in which the song was originally performed – each performer is finding his/her own pitch for the message to be delivered.

And what I love about these arrangements is that both the instrumentalists and the vocalists amend the song to suit the nature of the message they have found in the song.

I particularly value this version as soon after hearing the songs I wrote a piano arrangement of the song but was utterly dissatisfied with what I achieved, and felt frustrated which put me in my place.  What you hear here is what I was trying to do on the piano, and failing completely.  If you have the time, play it once and just focus on the piano part.

If you want to make music express what is in the lyrics, that is how you do it.

Mary Ann Redmond

A perfect voice to work out a re-imagination of this song – and when I feel I can drag myself away from the vocals, suddenly a line of harmonies comes in.  Maybe if I’d been mixing this I’d have taken the drums down a little, but although that sounds better in my imagination, that’s not a guarantee that it would have worked.  It just feels like it could.

The Frisian version

A really interesting contrast with the Mary Ann Redmond version above.   And because I can listen to the sound of the lyrics without understanding them I can take in the whole of the song, as a piece of music without thinking about the words.

And my goodness it is so utterly beautiful and moving, simply as music.

Robert Křesťan

From the little I know of such things this must be in Czech and again I do love listening to the song without understanding the lyrics, as it gives new insights into just what Dylan was able to do with just four chords and a melody.

You’ve probably had enough by now, but if you want more try Jochen’s article on the song’s greatest recordings.

But just in case you can’t be bothered with that, here’s one track from that article, one that would have been central to my little piece today if Jochen hadn’t got there first.   A perfect choice to round this off.   If after all this, you are not crying your eyes out, then, well…. I just don’t know….  Severa Gjurin….

The Dylan Cover a Day series


  1. I was born here, and I’ll die here
    Against my will
    (Bob Dylan: It’s Not Dark Yet)

    Alludes to:

    Let not your heart convince you
    That the grave is your escape
    For against your will, you are formed
    Against your will, you are born
    Against your will, you live
    Against your will, you die

  2. The artist/narrator in the poem below indeed considers death a means to escape from a life of torment:

    To cease upon the midnight with no pain
    (John Keats: Ode To A Nightingale)

    But demurs because a beautiful piece of art brings it’s creator immortality; it becomes a joy forever.

  3. The deception that the members of the Sound School of Dylanology advance -that the message contained in the lyrics of the song matters little – does not hold water because, though sung in another language, the original English words are still in the memory of the English listener , still heard in the listener’s head.

    Nor can the sorrowful ‘essence’ of the song’s beauty be ignored in an English rendering thereof worth listening to that’s accompanied by a different arrangement of music ~ unless, I suppose, it’s dismembered into some kind of burlesque.

  4. A thing of beauty is a joy forever
    Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothiness
    (John Keats: Endymion)

    The printed song lyrics give:

    Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain
    (Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet)

  5. Dylan is said by some listeners to sing:

    Behind every beautiful face, there’s some kind of pain.

    Perhaps an allusion to:

    And mark in every face I meet
    Marks of weakness, marks of woe
    (William Blake: London)

  6. Fortunately I have a good grasp of the Germanic languages, and could easily translate the song about “Dylan And His Fries” as I sang along:

    Well, I’ve been to supper, and I ate all the flies
    I swallowed the liver with a spoonful of lye
    Well, I didn’t eat the cat, but I had his fleas
    I asked the pretty waitress for some more please
    She brought me over a stuffed teddy bear
    I ain’t full yet, but I’m getting there

  7. My Czech ain’t so good, but this’ll give a sense of the song as a whole:

    The shepherd’s asleep under the hay
    It’s too hot for the sheep, they’re running away
    I’ve still got the shears that the gypsy didn’t steal
    And I have a sock that has no heel
    There’s not enough wool yet to make two to wear
    I don’t give a darn, I’m knitting a pair

  8. In any event, all those countless people who read books containing lyrics by Bob Dylan – with no knowledge that there’s atmospheric music that goes with most- are going to be in for a big shock.

    When they give a listen, both the words and the listener will be bought to life for sure.

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