The lyrics and the music: “Yonder Comes Sin”

“The lyrics and the music” is a series which tries to find out what happens when one reviews a Dylan song not primarily as a set of lyrics, but as a piece of music which includes lyrics.   A list of previous articles in the series is given at the end.

By Tony Attwood

Before writing “Yonder Comes Sin” Bob wrote

Three extraordinary, and possibly sensational songs, I think you might agree, which show Bob really doing his old thing of giving us remarkable lyrics which touch on a multiplicity of ideas and worlds without actually telling us any particular story.

Then along comes along “Yonder Comes Sin” of which we have but one incomplete recording…

Now I have written about this before, and as we know it is a song that Bob obviously rejected.  So what brings me back to it in this series which focuses on the music of Dylan, rather than the words?

Quite simply it is the incredibly joyful bounce and fun within the music, contrasting so utterly with the title line of “Yonder Comes Sin”.  Is the music the sin?   Is everything we enjoy a sin; and thus to be rejected?   I have absolutely no idea, but I am so delighted Bob left us with at least gave us a recording of the first four of seven verses.

(If you want the full set of lyrics including the three “lost” verses that is here.)

But for now, all we have are the first four verses of the song in the only recording.   An incredible piece of music built out of a very simple base which absolutely takes my breath away.

At it’s heart, the song has a pattern of chords which is far from unique, but is unusual and is made particularly powerful by the rhythm with which it is always repeated.   To copy from the Dylan Chords site 

You wanna talk to me,
       C          G       A
you got many things to say

And that’s it.  We get the pattern four times

You wanna talk to meYou got many things to sayYou want the spirit to be speaking throughBut your lust for comfort get in the way

I can read it in your eyes, ohWhat your heart will not revealAnd that old evil burden has been draggin' you downBound to grind you 'neath the wheel

Now up to that point it is a great song, with an unusual rhythm worked around one of the less common chords sequences and a good melody over the top.  In fact the song has got pretty much everything.

But that’s not enough for Bob because then he does something that I am not sure I had ever heard before this point (although someone else may have done it).   He reverses what he and the chorus are doing.  He sings the repeated line while the chorus bounces along with the commentary.   A dead simple idea, but such a clever one.  Who else has done this?

Yonder comes sin(Walkin' like a man, talkin' like an angel)Yonder comes sin(Proud like a peacock, swift like an eagle)

And bouncing is the right word here: just listen to the delivery of the female chorus to those two lines in brackets.

And if we go back to the verse, although this is not Bob teasing out a gorgeous melody, he is certainly getting a lot out of the lyrics and melody, before the end of the verse with the declining “Yonder Comes Sin” at the end.

In fact such is the energy in the song I suspect most of us don’t really bother with the lyrics but actually get totally engrossed in the power and drive of the music.

Indeed, to take this point a step further, the fact that the song is just verse after verse, and that many of the lyrics are not immediately clear, doesn’t matter at all.    We know the ladies are putting in a counter commentary, and we know that sometimes the lyrics don’t quite fit (like the “tail spin” line) but Dylan uses his voice so well, that with the energy within the music, the overall sound carries us through.

Even when we get to the moment where Bob fluffs his line, it still doesn’t matter.

But now what really bemuses me is why no bands seem to have taken it up.  Although Dylan fans who follow every nuance of Bob’s career will know of this recording, millions more won’t and thus here is a really dynamic piece of music which could be a great part of any R&B band’s evening out.

Likewise if someone wanted to a do a Dylan cover album, putting this in would give any passing critic an extra something to talk about.

It is a fantastically fun bouncy piece of music which has one line that we can all make out (“Yonder Comes Sin”) so why not record it?   Or at least why not make it part of your evening’s performance?

In fact so entranced am I by the music of this song I still haven’t really taken in the lyrics at all.

And as Eyolf Østrem points out, “The copyrighted version also has different punchlines in each of the verses (can’t you take it on the chin, Pour me another glass of gin, Ain’t no room tonight at the inn, Sounding like a sweet violin)”.  What more fun do you want from a set of lyrics?

Bob not using such a fantastic piece of music is one thing; it is what he does.  But why no one else has picked up on it, I don’t know.    And really, I must stress again: it is not about the lyrics primarily, it is the fun and bounce of the music.  That’s where the heart and soul of this piece is.

The lyrics and the music: the series…


  1. Dylan, more than once, mocks St. Jerome’s concept of “original sin”. Jeremiah’s called the “weeping prophet” because prophet Jeremiah tries to warn the Israelites about the consequences of worshipping Baal ~ the fertility god, the icon of the flesh and sexual pleasure. For the most part, they do not heed the warning that comes from the stern Hebrew God; they carry on with their licentious ways – encouraged by Jezebel; accompanied by bouncy music.

    The spiritual/physical conflict ambiguously presented below:

    Jeremiah preached the repentance
    To those that would turn from hell
    But the critics all gave him such bad reviews
    Putting him down at the bottom of the well
    (Bob Dylan: Yonder Comes Sin)

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