An underrated song from an icon of American music. So strap yourself to a tree with roots, and I’ll tell you why you should sing this song to your kids.
Kind: Awake Baby
Reasons it’s good: It has simple lyrics, simple melody. It’s a fantastic song. Traditional kids songs aspire to be this whimsical.
Other considerations: it’s easy to sing and if you forget the words, you can just make stuff up because the lyrics are fun and nonsensical. An example from our abode: “baby fork and baby spoon, went for a run by the light of the moon, gone all night, back by noon, you ain’t going nowhere.” One downside to the song is the challenge of remembering the order of the verses, the same problem I experience with Frosty the Snowman and American Pie by Don McClean.
Stuff about the song: The Byrds were the first to release a version of the song, followed later by appearances on Bob Dylan Greatest Hits Vol II (yep first released on a greatest hits, stuck on disc 2, track 11) and then later on The Bands’ Basement Tapes. It’s been covered by several people, so if you have a problem with Dylan’s delivery (I don’t want to hear about it) you can find a version more pleasing to your aesthetic.
Here’s a good cover by Justin Townes Earl and the Jayhawks:
What does the song mean? Some sources propose it’s about one last romance before getting married. To me, it’s so obviously Bob being silly, and that’s the way I like him best. Tony Attwood of Untold Dylan seems to sum it up well when he suggests “It’s just a guy having a bit of fun.” Yes.
Also interesting about this song, is the presence of a chorus.
Whoo-ee! Ride me high
Tomorrow’s the day
My bride’s gonna come
Oh, oh, are we gonna fly
Down in the easy chair!
Within the Dylan catalog it’s rare to find a chorus. Usually, if there’s a hint of refrain, it’s no more than a line or two (a la “it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there” or “your leopard skin pillbox hat”).
I’ve seen Bob play You Ain’t Goin Nowhere at least three times, it’s always a welcome surprise. According to bobdylan.com, a site that keeps immaculate records of set lists, this particular song has been played live 108 times. That sounds like a lot, except that he’s played Tangled up in Blue 1358 times and All along the Watchtower a staggering 2186 times. The man is ALWAYS touring. With that as perspective, hearing You Ain’t Going Nowhere live is kinda rare.
Other tot rockers from Bob: To make you feel my love (sleepy baby), Corrina Corrina (sleepy baby), Winterlude (sleepy baby), Forever Young (sleepy and awake baby versions available), New Pony (awake baby)
Similar songs to consider: Hoodoo Voodoo by Billy Bragg & Wilco
It’s subtle, but it’s everywhere. Unless you regularly listen to Bob Dylan or the Byrds, you might not know this song. Regardless, it’s not hard to find references to it on the interwebs.
Do it for the kids.