Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Commentary

Don’t think Twice is classic Dylan. It has everything the sophisticated listener wants: meaningful lyrics, memorable melody, intricate guitar playing, a heartfelt vocal. Tim Riley, in his book Hard Rain, put it well:

To hear him sing Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right is at once to be stung by the harshness to which the relationship’s closing scene has driven the singer and at the same time to respond to the ruefulness couched in the guitar figures, which reassemble all the hurt into an undertow of forgiveness, regret, and remembrance.

This song has been covered by many. Most of them, at least the ones I’ve heard, sing it like they were giving a soon-to-be ex-lover a sweet kiss of goodbye. For me, this approach is a bit wrongheaded. While there is certainly a touch of forgiveness in the lyric, there is more than a touch of anger and resentment. In fact, the song contains several of Dylan’s trademark killer put-downs.

You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
……
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
……

And my favorite…

But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare-thee-well

And these lines that describe the hurt of unrequited love.

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That 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

Dylan took the tune for Don’t Think Twice from his friend Paul Clayton’s arrangement of the traditional Scarlet Ribbons for Her Hair. Clayton was a well-known folk revivalist around the Greenwich Village scene in the early sixties. The lyrics Clayton put to the song, which have their roots in the traditional Who’s Gonna Buy Your Chickens When I’m Gone, are similar to Don’t Think Twice.

It ain’t no use to sit and sigh now, darlin,
And it ain’t no use to sit and cry now,
T’ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, darlin,
Just wonder who’s gonna buy you ribbons when I’m gone.
So times on the railroad gettin’ hard, babe,
I woke up last night and saw it snow,
Remember what you said to me last summer
When you saw me walkin’ down that road.
So I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road,
You’re the one that made me travel on,
But still I can’t help wonderin’ on my way,
Who’s gonna buy you ribbons when I’m gone?

Many felt at the time that Dylan should have at least acknowledged Clayton’s contribution. The music was in the public domain, so in a strictly legal sense, it was free game. Furthermore, the changes Dylan made to the song were significant, and made the song much better. Still, at least to me, he cuts it pretty close.

It didn’t bother Clayton too much. They remained friends even though their record companies sued each other over the issue.

Clayton committed suicide by pulling an electric heater into the bathtub with himself. Jeez.

A obscure British rockabilly group did a pretty good cover.

 

 

I like Jerry Reed’s take quite a bit,  nails it.


Lyrics

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
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
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That 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
Still 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 did 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’ all the way 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

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, 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

4 thoughts on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”

  1. Pingback: Bob Dylan Don't Think Twice, It's Alright | the Dylan Commentaries

  2. steve

    facebook thread on this topic.

     

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/edlis.cafe/permalink/202570099781530/

     

    the essential post:

     

    The short answer to Ed Lyrics’ original question:

    > Is it known when Paul Clayton discovered (published?) this song. and did it come with a tune? I’m curious how long it took for Dylan to then write his own version.

    Clayton’s song seems to be an amalgamation of two songs (tune and lyrics), whilst the Dylan use of the song is interesting… 

    ===

    Now for the longer answer…. 

    From ‘Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival’ by Bob Coltman.

    First – how Clayton wrote the song, “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons”:

    ‘By 1962, though, dog eat dog was becoming the new mood as folksingers vied for popularity. Gina Glaser, who had come up during the earlier, kinder era, saw the new trend developing even before she left for England. She speaks of “the competition, the backbiting, the nastiness. It was horrible.” Though not everyone saw it coming, events in that whirl would doom real folksong. The singers rising to the top of the seething heap would be those who featured not traditional numbers but originals, preferably of their own writing.

    ‘Paul saw that this new direction would be a key to staying in the game. “Gotta Travel On” had shown the way; now he had a new folk-based lyric, “Who’ll Buy You Ribbons (When I’m Gone).” It soon found modest popularity. He had put together this one, too, from folk sources. Stephen Wilson says he had “taken two different ideas. I know this from Clayton’s own lips. He slightly changed to tune to ‘Call Me Old Black Dog.’ The words were a song he picked up a sheet copy of in the University of Virginia library, called ‘Who’s Gonna Buy You Chickens When I’m Gone.’ He liked the idea of it.”

    ‘Paul brought the song into the mainstream by junking the chickens and substituting ribbons. His song, as copyrighted, was simple, brief and hooky in the music industry sense. 

    ‘If some of these lines remind you of a later folk rock hit, that’s no accident as we shall see.

    ‘”Who’ll Buy You Ribbons” is erroneously said to be based on a song from the early folk craze “Scarlet Ribbons (for Her Hair),” which had worn out turntables by the thousands in Harry Belafonte’s rendition. But it shares neither tune nor lyric with the Belafonte hit, only the ribbon theme and that was scarcely new; witness the perennial favorite “Oh, Dear, What Can The Matter Be?”…

    …’John Jacob Niles, too, had a ribbon song: “If I Had Ribbon Bow.” At best the “Scarlet Ribbons” suggestion is a red herring.

    ‘Paul also claimed he found “Who’s Gonna Buy You Chickens” on an Appalachian collecting trip. Evidence suggests he got the song from Marybird McAllister, though it does not appear on the Library of Congress’s title list of some 150 of her songs he taped between 1958 and 1961. On balance Wilson’s account is as close to definitive as we’re likely to get.’

    ===

    In terms of the Dylan appropriation and ‘Don’t Think Twice’, that all seemed to have happened around 1962.

    ‘Barry Kornfeld recalled how one [song] became the other: “I was with Paul one day, and Dylan wanders by and says, ‘Hey, man, that’s a great song. I’m gonna use that song.’ And he wrote a far better song, a more interesting song — ‘Don’t Think Twice.”

    ‘Paul’s best friend, Stephen Wilson, asserts of “Ribbons,” “Cute song, it had a very nice change, nice feeling in it. Paul said he went to see Dylan in New York and Dylan picked up the guitar and said, ‘Hey, Paul, I rewrote your song, what do you think about this?'” and played Paul “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” At first Paul was enthusiastic about “Twice.” But then Peter Paul and Mary turned it into a huge hit. For Paul, scratching for gigs to pay the rent and survive, it looked like the big fish that got away. Wilson recalls, “Royaltywise, it would have been a big producer if you owned half of it, and to a person who was dying of no money, half of the twenty or thirty or forty grand would have been a huge [windfall]”

    ‘Paul needed it badly – he would be dirt poor the rest of his life.’

    ===

    Coltman, Bob. Paul Clayton and the Folksong Revival. Lanham, Md: Scarecrow Press, 2008, 9780810861329: 132-133, 146-147.

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