I Threw It All Away is arguably one of two great songs on Nashville Skyline (Lay, Lady, Lay is the other). It’s probably not a coincidence this those two were written before the recording sessions for the album started; they were not written off-the-cuff like, for example, the much lesser Peggy Day.
I Threw It All Away is written in the same straightforward, no-nonsense language as the rest of the songs on the album. But it feels that Dylan has something specific to say, and his word choice and imagery (” Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand / And rivers that ran through every day“) drive his message home in a heart-felt, Robert Frost-like way.
Dylan sings it beautifully and his new vocal style matches the song. The tune itself is wonderful. I don’t believe Dylan uses a lot of musical bridges, but he does in this one, shifting to the key of F for the “Love is all there is” verse. I would assume this is done to emphasize that this verse is the key to the song’s theme. Well done. John Gibbens, the late author of The Nightingale’s Code, said it is “perhaps his most perfect pop song”.
I’m sure many have noticed the strong emphasis of the word “cruel” in the first verse. This is achieved, according to musicologist Wilfrid Mellers, by the shift from the tonic (C) chord to the super-tonic (D).
This song was chosen as the first single from the album. It’s interesting they didn’t choose Lay, Lady, Lay, which I guess shows how hard it is to pick singles. Dylan didn’t want to release Lay, Lady, Lay as a single at all. (Soundes, Down the Highway).
Bob Wilson provides a nice, organ part. I’m starting to think he’s the unsung hero of this album.
A clean-cut and freshly showered Dylan played it on the Johnny Cash show in 1969.
He performed it on Hard Rain.