Song of the Day #629: ‘If Not For You’ – Bob Dylan

Just four months after Self Portrait left Bob Dylan’s fan and the critical community scratching their collective heads, he released an album that pretty much quieted the storm. New Morning was a simple, warm album that marked the return of Dylan as a songwriter and, even more important, the return of Dylan’s trademark voice.

For all of the complaints about Dylan’s lack of vocal ability, it’s funny how a couple albums of his much smoother country croon had people longing for the nasally whine.

New Morning is a decidedly modest success when viewed alongside Dylan’s 60s output and the great albums yet to come in the 70s. But at the time it was a breath of fresh air and a sign that he hadn’t gone completely off the rails. Funny how one bad album was able to make his entire following that uneasy.

‘If Not For You,’ New Morning‘s opening track, is its best known. It was later covered by George Harrison and (separately) Olivia Newton John, who had a minor hit with it.

For a guy known for his political and abstract lyrics, Dylan wrote his share of straight-up love songs. And they’re all damn good, with this one no exception.

If not for you,
Babe, I couldn’t find the door,
Couldn’t even see the floor,
I’d be sad and blue,
If not for you.

If not for you,
Babe, I’d lay awake all night,
Wait for the mornin’ light
To shine in through,
But it would not be new,
If not for you.

If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all,
I’d be lost if not for you,
And you know it’s true.

If not for you
My sky would fall,
Rain would gather too.
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all,
Oh! what would I do
If not for you.

If not for you,
Winter would have no spring,
Couldn’t hear the robin sing,
I just wouldn’t have a clue,
Anyway it wouldn’t ring true,
If not for you.

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #629: ‘If Not For You’ – Bob Dylan

  1. Amy says:

    Ha – I first read the last line of your blog post as “with this one exception” and was so curious why you would choose to feature the one song you thought was a poor example of Dylan’s love songs. I read the lyrics, agreed they were a bit superficial, started playing the song, was enjoying it, then finally went back and read again what you had written. Then I learned that, in fact, you find this song “NO exception” to his ability to craft a straight-up love song.

    How important one little word can be.

    I find this song to be a bit less effective than you do, but I do like the music and am pleased to hear Dylan’s nasally whine back in fine form.

  2. dana says:

    Ah, thank goodness the Kermit voice is gone. This SOTD is rather light fare, but pleasant enough. Not sure I really have heard it before, though I could hear Harrison covering it.

  3. rt.packard says:

    New Morning is one of my all-time favorite Dylan albums. It’s just a great record to jam on, while sitting on the front porch during Spring or Summer. So many of the songs are amazing — “Day of the Locusts” and “Went to See the Gypsy” are among my fave cuts.

    “If Not For You”, though, is such a wonderful song. The first mixtape I made for my girlfriend had that song featured prominently (and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” as well). I can say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it helped cement the wonderful relationship I am in now.

    As for “Self Portrait” — while Dylan’s country voice was its own beast, I think it still has merit. I’m too young to remember it coming out, but listening to it now, it just seems to fit. I’m not sure what I’m saying here, I just feel like Bobby is more the sum of all the parts, rather than any one moment in his career. “Self Portrait” then is just as important as “Blonde on Blonde” but in a completely different way. For instance, would “New Morning” or even “Desire” hold so much esteem if it weren’t for “Self Portrait’s” horrible reception? Would Dylan have even made those later records?

    Also, I just really like the cover art — I’ve got the album sleeve framed on my wall, because I think it looks too cool — that shoddy watercolor painting is too funny.

    Great post though — and an amazing blog!

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