Bob Dylan’s favourite songs 2: Shadows

By Tony Attwood

I started off this new series, suggested by Aaron, with “Death of an Unpopular Poet” and since reaction back to myself was fairly positive, here is the second piece.  However I would add that for the most part I am not familiar with the songs Bob put on his favourites’ list, so I am coming to most of them afresh at the moment of writing.

For the second song we have Gordon Lightfoot with ‘Shadows’.

As with the first song in the series we have a composition with a melody of the type that Bob would never have written, and with a regularly repeated chorus, which is far from being Bob’s favourite device.   So all in all a very non-Dylan piece of music.

And I have to admit I personally have a problem with the organ’s four-note phrase repeated over and over again.  For me (and as ever it is just my own thoughts on the matter, coming to a recording for the first time) it gets in the way of everything else.

But I suspect the melody attracted Bob, which obviously you can hear in the recording above.  And the lyrics…. well, I thought it might be helpful to print some of them out.

Won't you reach out, love and touch me
Let me hold you for awhile?
I been all around the world
Oh, how I long to see you smile
There's a shadow on the moon
And the waters here below
Do not shine the way they should
And I love you just in case you didn't know
Let it go
Let it happen like it happened once before

There’s no denying there is a good set of images with the challenge of what the “it” is in “let it go”.   Indeed as the song moves on, it is clear it is a lost love song, the type of song Bob doesn’t write much.  He writes about old relationships, but often with a sense of pleasure that it is over – sometimes even utter disdain – after all you can’t get more of a put down than “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend”.

So this is  lost love song with a really pleasing melody and the simple question, “Is it me or is it you?”  There are some fine images of course, such s the “shadow of a dream” and the self-doubt (which composers often have problems within the lost love songs.  Indeed “Is it me or is it you, Or the shadow of a dream?” is perfectly ok as a line in my view, but I am not really convinced Is it wrong to be in love?” 

Gordon Lightfoot was part of the folk-pop round of performers in the 1960s and 70s, and considered as one ofthe greats of Canadian songwriting.  His brother once said, “His name is synonymous with timeless songs about trains and shipwrecks, rivers and highways, lovers and loneliness,” which to a degree sounds like some of Dylan’s favourite themes.

As for his best known composition, surely it is Early Morning Rain…

… which would undoubtedly be in my personal list of songs I wish I had written – although that of course is utterly irrelevant.

But more to the point the songs of Canada’s greatest have been recorded by everyone from Elvis to Jerry Lee, from Bob to Judy Collins.

In fact Bob once said, “I can’t think of any Gordon Lightfoot song I don’t like. Everytime I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever…. Lightfoot became a mentor for a long time. I think he probably still is to this day”.

If you want more Gordon Lightfoot, just leave the link above running.

Anyway, my not being totally drawn to Shadows is undoubtedly my failing, as I am sure you have already realised.  The man is synonymous with brilliant songwriting, and Bob’s not that bad a judge.



  1. Reminds me of a song by Kevin Johnson (Rock and Roll you gave me all the best years of my life fame) called ‘Kedron Brook’.

  2. Terry Jacks wrote and recorded Rock and Roll I Gave you all the Best Years of my Life.

    Jim Snook

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