“Buckets of Rain”; the meanings behind the music and the words.

By Tony Attwood

Buckets of Rain” was the last but one song to be written for Blood on the Tracks and appears last on the album.  In a constructional sense I am reminded to John Wesley Harding which ends with Down Along the Cove and I’ll be your Baby Tonight, two songs which really don’t have too much (if anything) to do with the rest of the album).  Here on Blood on the Tracks, we get a plaintive reflective love song, and a 12 bar blues.

But there is more, for Dylan does like to throw in something different at the end, and this song certainly is different from what has gone before.  Indeed Dylan treats it as different.  He once played it as an opener at a concert on November 18 1990 but that was that – it was different enough to leave alone otherwise.

But maybe he became fully aware that the song’s music comes pretty much directly from Bottle of Wine by Tom Paxton, a very well known song in folk circles which opens…

Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine
When you gonna let me get sober?
Let me alone, let me go home
Let me go back to start over

Ramblin’ around this dirty old town
Singin’ for nickels and dimes
Times getting tough, I ain’t got enough
To buy a little bottle of wine

It is indeed possible to write a whole piece without realising that the song is lifted from elsewhere.  It is only when someone plucks up the courage to tell you…

“Bottle of Wine” is today treated as a rather quaint song which everyone can join in, the irony of the folk club (generally) where everyone sings along being held in a pub being lost despite verses like

Pain in my head and bugs in my bed
Pants are so old that they shine
Out on the street tell the people I meet
“Won’tcha buy me a bottle of wine?”

being completely lost on those who engage in such activity.   It is desperate stuff made to sound jolly.

Dylan of course took the music elsewhere with a lighter shade of lyric, with lines like

Like your smile and your fingertips

and then wakes us up suddenly with

Everything about you is bringing me misery.

Indeed the first verse spells out the contrast very clearly…

Buckets of rain
Buckets of tears
Got all them buckets comin’ out of my ears
Buckets of moonbeams in my hand
You got all the love
Honey baby, I can stand

So instead of the desperation of the alcoholic we have the man who sees the world passing by and accepts it, changing himself as each situation demands, and thus losing himself in the world around him.

I been meek
And hard like an oak
I seen pretty people disappear like smoke
Friends will arrive, friends will disappear
If you want me
Honey baby, I’ll be here

But always we have this two way affair of delight and anguish

I like your smile
And your fingertips
Like the way that you move your lips
I like the cool way you look at me
Everything about you is bringing me misery

Quite what the red wagon and bike have to do with anything I am not sure but the ending is upbeat.

I like the way you love me strong and slow
I’m takin’ you with me
Honey baby, when I go

In a sense it is a summation of much that has gone before – the two sides of a love affair, the love, the despair, the ups and downs and ultimately as it is all over, the determination to pick oneself up again and move on.   This time, unlike the time he thought about missing the new woman when she left, he’s taking charge.  It is HIM, the singer, who is taking the woman when HE leaves.  He’s back on track.  It’s a summing up.  Time to move on.

“Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must,” isn’t much to say but it is something after all the turmoil.  After all, not everyone makes it through such a dark night.

There is that plaintive last line though, “can’t you tell” as if after all this he still can’t read people aright.  But that too is how it goes.  Nothing shakes your faith in people like a divorce.

Musically, the song is another one which is recorded with opening tuning – which means the guitar is retuned away from the normal tuning of the strings.  It gives a different flavour to the sound, and a chance once more to play with those odd chords that we have noted on the way through the album.

As I say, Dylan was left with just one song to write for the album, “Meet me in the morning” and it is interesting to see that he wrote the complex and long songs first, ending with the two simple pieces – a song based on “Bottle of Wine” – a simple piece of folk if ever there was one – and the other a standard 12 bar blues.

By the end of his writing surge in 1974, all the large complex work had gone.  He was tidying up the bits and pieces in his head, and wrote music to fit.

So with this song, musically the year was almost over, and with one more composition the whole album could be considered done and dusted.  All that was left was to select the order of tracks on the LP.

Index of all the songs on the site

Dylan’s opening lines: an index

How Dylan writes songs, and other articles.


  1. Thanks for these great interpretations, Tony. Just a quick suggestion about “little red wagon, little red bike.” It reminds me of a very short but great poem by William Carlos Williams which goes something like: “So much depends on a little red wheelbarrow in the rain”. That’s it. Given that it has the rain, the colour, and the little child’s toy and as you say Dylan is so well read, I think he is referencing this poem. But more importantly I think it just evokes a slightly sad but sweet image of children’s toys left out in the rain…

  2. Thank you. I just turned 76 and can barely remember song titles, let alone lyrics, but i’m still doing this song, and reading this appreciation has been very helpful.

  3. Maybe a contrast to the directness and easiness of the Rolling Stones, Monkey Man?

  4. Could little red wagon, little red bike be a reference for his son, Dylan?

  5. Who gives a crap about “bottle of wine”? That’s a drunken sing along song that this has no resemblance of.The guitar playing all those great harmonic chords is fabulous. The question is Who played them? We know he went back to Minnesota . Give us the name please.

  6. About the little red wagon and little red bike: both are childrens’s toys that you ride. Elsewhere in Blood on the Tracks, his lover/ex has red hair. So I think he’s saying he’s left another red riding toy outside in the rain. As for “ain’t no monkey,” monkeys ride bikes in the circus, and they’re also well-known for their non-stop fornication. “Ride” can mean more than one thing.

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