The lyrics and the music: Don’t think twice it’s all right.

by Tony Attwood

There is something very curious about Dylan’s music in “Don’t think twice”, and that is that this is a very sad song – and indeed a very bitter song.  He’s leaving, and he is not even saying farewell, for he is getting up in the night and sneaking out.  And he’s not doing the courteous “it’s not you it’s just me” line, indeed he’s giving no explanation – because he says to the lady, “you’re the reason”.

So it’s a very sad situation indeed.   And yet the song is taken at speed.  Indeed it is easy to forget just how fast Dylan takes the song in the original recording, which is why I’ve put the link above.

Now normally we associate sad songs with two things: one is a slow speed and the other is a melody and accompaniment that we can immediately associate with a feeling of mourning.    But “Don’t think twice” has none of this.   It reflects the singer getting up and charging off down the long and lonesome road.  He’s sneaking out – and fast.

The singer does, by verse two get to thinking that staying with her could have been better:

But I wish there was somethin' you would do or sayTo try and make me change my mind and stay

but this has not happened and now it is far too late, so he’s off.   And that music keeps on moving along at a fair old pace.   And even in the third verse, he’s not finished lashing out with the blame making it clear beyond any doubt how it was ALL totally her fault.

I give her my heart but she wanted my soul

And notice now, by this point, he is not singing to the lady personally; he’s reduced her to the third person, and that music just keeps moving on at its own speed.  He’s not shuffling down the road, he is really moving on.  You can’t really do faster faster faster in popular music – there is not enough space – so he’s doing the next best thing.  It is all quite fast, and the music has an emphasis on moving, all the time.

And so it moves on and on until those absolutely total killers for the final lines

You just kinda wasted my precious timeBut don't think twice, it's all right

Everything in the lyrics suggests that the music should be mournful and sad, but it is not – and we accept it as this, we go along with it, because our identification is totally with him – with the singer.  We are with him walking away.

Now of course it is easy for us, for we have no knowledge of their past as a couple, only his word for it.  So we accept it, we go with him, and we too are looking forward to the new adventure.  We don’t think of the tedious long walk to wherever he is going, we don’t think it might be raining or cold…  No we go with him, and we do that primarily because the music continues to move at speed.  We move with him, not because he is moving on, but because the music carries is along.  If we think of the details at all, it is to hold our breath and hope he gets out before she wakes up.

Thus, a slower song would not have worked – Dylan’s music at speed reflects the urgency in his words.   It’s a perfect combination.  And it shows once more that from the very start Dylan had an innate awareness of how music and lyrics should work together.

The lyrics and the music: the series…

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