Bob Dylan, arguably one of the best songwriters of all time has this undeniable ability to string words together that are drenched in pain, humour and poetry- he leaves them up to dry and we watch them in awe. He does this while somehow integrating political statements and odes to Woody Guthrie. He grasps entire lifespans in four-minute songs with his guitar gently wailing alongside. He doesn’t expose himself either, he remains strong and invulnerable which is arguably the opposite of popular contemporary music. He paints visuals of characters that resemble somebody we all know, he breaks your heart and then sews it back together. However, there is one thing Bob Dylan never did which only came to my attention one distinct evening shared amongst some hyper-aware musical masterminds. He never wrote a love song. Yes, he wrote songs about women, heartache and closure but never a ballad about eternal devotion and unmanageable pain without it. Let us tread through examples, shall we?
It Ain’t Me Babe –An explanation of what one may be looking for in an ideal relationship “Someone to die for you and more but it ain’t me babe you’re looking for” Romantic? Not really, self-aware? Absolutely
Don’t think twice it’s all right- A reflection of a relationship that ended poorly, particularly as a result of her actions. “ I ain’t saying you treated me unkind, you could have done better but I don’t mind” This is a single sentence that grasps years of unnecessary vengeful thinking.
Just like a woman- “ And she aches just like a woman but she breaks just like a little girl” An unflattering yet blatantly honest portrayal of a woman deluded she is more mature than she is.
Boots Of Spanish Leather- “ I’m sure your love is not with me but the country to where you’re going”. A story about his true love that explains his understanding of her need to be intangible to him and fonder of leather than love.
All I Really Wanna Do- “ I ain’t looking to fight with you, frighten you or tighten you. Drag you down or drain you down, chain you down or bring you down, all I really wanna do is baby be friends with you”. A ballad that decompresses common yet unfortunate behaviour in romantic relationships that Dylan declares he will never perform, as he is solely interested in partaking in a meaningful friendship.
Lay Lady Lay- This beautiful lullaby has all the qualities of a good old fashioned love song even though it’s about his dog.
I believe this is significant as so many other songwriters, particularly active in the sixties and seventies belt lyrics suggesting love is ceaseless, life is rotten without it and there are no exceptions to this. Examples of this style include Any Kind of Love by Otis Redding- “Any kind of love you want and I’ll be with you”, You Don’t Need A Million Dollars by Joe Cocker “You’re everything that I need” and Ain’t too Proud to Beg by The Temptations ” I know you want to leave me but I refuse to let you go”. Although these lyrics are sweet they also suggest we are dependent, unyielding and rather plaintive in regards to romance. This way of saccharine songwriting suggests we don’t require further effort, skills or other relationships in our lives once we find love. As people we have inevitably been heartbroken, disenchanted by the often-monotonous nature of relationships or simply just fall out love. These experiences help us become people of texture and maturity. To this day, no one tells the truth in the form of powerful and genuine poetry quite like Dylan, and that’s the real love song.