One Too Many Mornings: the music and the lyrics


An index to the current series appearing on this website appears on the home page.    A list of the previous articles in this series appears at the end.


“The Lyrics and the Music” (or sometimes “the music and the lyrics) is a series by Tony Attwood 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.   An updated list of previous articles in the series is given at the end.

“One too many mornings” had an on-stage life from 1966 to 2005 notching up 237 performances.  It is thus the 74th most played song to date.  (As you will know from this site we have Dylan down as writing 628 songs that we know about, but in fact only 378 of these have ever been performed by Bob in concert, at least according to the official Bob Dylan site).

It is a song that I, like I guess all of us who have been following Dylan from the early days, know by heart.  But actually playing it here for the first time in quite a few years I was amazed by how soft and gentle this original recording is, and how plaintive is the harmonica playing.  Bob’s voice is totally in tune with the emotions.  There is a desperate sadness here for times passing.

The melody is simple: “Down the street the dogs are barking” is all sung on one note and the whole of that first line has only three notes in it.   The melody rises, and the appropriately falls back with the second line “And the night comes in a falling.”   Of course if you’ve been playing the track regularly over the years you’ll know all this – it is just striking me because (for whatever reason) I’ve not listened to this original for a while.

The fact is that the picked guitar part is as gentle and as plaintive as the lyrics.  What’s more evening sounds simple (although if you have never done it you’d be amazed how long it can take to get guitar picking like that absolutely right, unless you are born to it).

The melody too is restrictive – it just ranges over the first five notes of the scale – so if you are playing this in C major (the key it is recorded in in the “Times” version the only notes you are singing are C, D, E, F, G.  It is a song built entirely on five notes – which of course adds to the simplicity of the meaning.

And to make it even more it is built around just two chords (C major and G major).

But then, as you will probably know Bob then changed the music, including giving it a new melody and a completely new power.

Through this change of the chord sequence and melody the entire song changes from sadness and tiredness to one of anger at a life where things went wrong and an anger over wasted time.  Now when he turns his head back to the room where his love and he has laid he is frustrated and angry and how it could all have gone so wrong.

Thus in the original Bob is simply resigned and the music is simple, in keeping with this message.  But by the time of this electric version, he has moved from a view that this is how life goes where we are all blown along by the wind, to a vision that he is a thousand miles behind because of the decisions that he has made (rather than a thousand miles behind because he just let it all simply drift by).

The lyrics are the same but the transformation of the meaning is as monumental as it is dramatic.  It is once more a reminder of just how important it is to consider not just Bob’s lyrics but also the musical arrangement.  The meaning changes through the way the music is presented.

The songs reviewed from the music plus lyrics viewpoint…

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