“Take it or leave it”, the lost Dylan song from 1978 which starts the journey to “Slow Train”

By Tony Attwood

This is another of the songs from the New Haven soundcheck which then never seemed to turn up again but which, in my view, was part of something much more important: the journey Dylan was making from hopelessness to a new hope.

Heylin actually casts doubt on whether this really is a Dylan original or not just the cover or a country song – noting that he was putting a lot of such songs into soundchecks around this time.   Heylin also notes that the song turned up later in another soundcheck, and indeed he is quite right: there were several other soundcheck songs of this type.

But even if this is a half remembered old “cowboy song” as Heylin has it, it is still part of the transition.  A performer like Dylan does not play (especially in sound checks) songs he profoundly feels apart from.

Dylan’s saying (I think) that this is me, and I see no way out, and if you don’t want me as I am then off you can go, because I can’t see what to do.  If you do want to see me like this, fine let’s carry on.

As a way of dealing with a problematic relationship – indeed as a way of dealing with any relationship, it doesn’t actually give out a very positive message.    But for me it was the preface to all that happened next.

Here’s the recording…


Interestingly “You don’t love me no more” is dealing with the same sort of romantic troubles, but in a much more upbeat manner, and is being positive about the end of the affair – “Down the road I go”.   Take it or leave it has a form of hopelessness about the whole situation.

I’m not at all comfortable by the lyrics that appear as a commentary on the site that I have given as a source above, and I wonder if all the lyrics were written or remembered at the time of this run through for the New Haven sound check.  Dylan is certainly able to make them up as he goes along.

Now that notion of the half complete or half remembered song might seem odd, but the construction of the song is very standard and any musicians (and Dylan wasn’t just using “any musicians”) could readily play along with the chord structure which is fairly standard for this type of song.  As a guitarist or a keyboard player, once you hear it, you know it.

But this is not me criticising the commentator who wrote the lyrics out – I couldn’t possibly manage that at all – it is just that I can’t believe it starts “Got your head in the gardening.”  My problem is that I just imagine what else it can possibly be.  If you can help, please do.

The instrumental break at the end of the song concludes the run through, and I am sure if Dylan was getting it ready for performance he’d have had a proper ending in place.

But there is more to this, because I think what we also have to remember with all the songs from this soundcheck era is that they led up to up Slow Train which emerged six weeks later.   Dylan may even have been writing out the basics of Slow Train at this time.

There is actually a low grade recording of the first or one of the first rehearsals of Slow Train on the internet.

It is a poor quality recording – but still a million thanks to whoever was there ready to record it.  If you skip forward a minute into the recording you can get a feel of what is going on.



Seen in the light of the emergence of Slow Train just a few weeks later “Take it or leave it” takes on a new context and meaning.   “Take it or leave it” is seemingly about the fact that it is all falling apart.   “Slow Train” is still about the inevitability of what is going to happen to him but now this is upgraded to the collapse of the whole of the United States of America.

Thus we get to the transformation of Dylan’s thought, from a shrug of the shoulders to his preparation to say something about it all.

I don’t care about ecology
I don’t care about astrology
But it sure do bother me to see my loved ones turning into puppets

The downbeat of “Take it or leave it” and the resignation of the style and approach contrasts so utterly with what he was doing within six weeks.

(Incidentally I know my version of those lyrics are different from the official ones, but that is how it sounds to me).

Dylan’s Slow Train is an absolute challenge to all those around, with lines such as

But the enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency
All nonbelievers and men stealers talkin’ in the name of religion

and it all arose within that extraordinary six week period.   Quite something.

From “Take it or leave it” to “Actually guys you don’t have much choice”.



  1. Recently, in Florence, he played this song live for the first time. Do you have any idea why, or what does it mean?

  2. No idea although it would be lovely to think that our meanders around in his abandoned songs has led to Bob considering them once again. I doubt that is true, but the notion made me smile

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