Song of the Day #563: ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ – Bob Dylan

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan contains several early classics, including ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ ‘Masters of War’ and ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ But for my money the best song on the album is today’s SOTD, ‘Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.’

This song is such a fabulous combination of scathing lyrics and melancholy music… it’s hard to know what to feel when you listen to it. I mean, if you just read the song without playing it, you might expect the finished product to sound like some sort of tirade — not unlike Dylan’s future hit ‘Positively 4th Street.’

“You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on.”
“It ain’t no use in calling out my name, like you never done before.”
“I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul.”
“You just kinda wasted my precious time.”

This wasn’t a healthy breakup. He’s pissed.

But then you listen… and it sounds like the saddest thing you’ve ever heard. All of that anger is transformed into resignation by the gentle picking of Dylan’s acoustic guitar.

The melancholy of the sound is certainly what wins out over the anger in the lyrics, as evidenced by the use of this song over the end credits of episodes of the two best shows on television:

The season finale of Season One of Mad Men depicted Don Draper, guilty and wistful and hoping to join his family for a weekend retreat, coming home just in time and basking in a moment of familial bliss… only to have the moment revealed as his fantasy. He instead emerges into an empty house, his wife and children long gone, and slumps onto the stairs as this song starts playing. (Clip available here)

And in the current season of Friday Night Lights, following the death of his father in Iraq, Matt Saracen finally summons the courage to leave Dillon and Dylan’s song plays over a montage concluding with his car on a lonely stretch of highway heading toward an uncertain future. (No clip available, unfortunately)

Great TV. Great music.

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It’ll never do somehow
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
But I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never done before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you any more
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’, walkin’ down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

So long, honey babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #563: ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Amy says:

    It’s interesting that I don’t find the lyrics angry at all. I read the same melancholy and resignation in the lyrics as you cite belonging to the music alone. When you quote the lyrics that precede the one line you do quote –

    “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
    You could have done better but I don’t mind
    You just kinda wasted my precious time”

    the essential “kinda” becomes even more obviouslly important. He’s not singing with irony; the relationship wasn’t horrible. It came to a natural end, and it’s time for him to – literally – move on. In retrospect, now knowing that the relationship was a sort of space holder, he can recognize that time was “wasted,” but that certainly wasn’t something either of them could know at the time. Which is why he tries to let them both off the hook with the suggestion they “don’t think twice,” and be assured instead that “it’s all right.”

    Because I read/hear the song that way, I found it the perfect an poignant choice to accompany Matt’s journey out of Dillon. It seems, however, like a very odd choice to accompany the discovery of a husband and father that his family has left him. Perhaps, the director liked the irony of a lyric suggesting the choice was made by the unencumbered man, when in reality it was made by the woman (and her children) who encumbered him.

    Regardless, it’s a wonderful song.

  2. Amy says:

    Oh, and I’ve always loved this version by the great Ricky Koole:

    Her interpretation does play up the anger you hear in the lyrics, so I guess the performance of the lyrics matters as much as the words themselves.

  3. Dana says:

    As I said yesterday, this is one of the better known classics from Freewheelin’ and it is a great one. I “kinda” agree with Amy that the lyrics are not so much angry as melancholy, and they fit the music quite well.

    As for Amy’s post, it’s nice to hear Koole covering Dylan, as her original songs, particularly those from her 2nd album, are clearly inspired by artists like Dylan..

  4. Clay says:

    I completely feel the “don’t think twice, it’s alright” line is ironic, as are many of the songs lyrics… “you just kinda wasted my precious time” isn’t him sharing the blame, it’s him being bitingly sarcastic.

    Of course, like the best songs, this one can be read in many ways.

  5. Clay says:

    As for the TV shows, I don’t think the lyrics particularly apply to either situation… I believe the song was picked for its mood more than anything. Matt wouldn’t address this song to anybody he was leaving behind in Dillon. If anything, it might apply to the city itself.

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