Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #80: Baby, Let Me Follow You Down

“Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” is the third-highest ranked song from Bob Dylan’s eponymous debut. Of all the 11 folk standards recorded on the album, this song may be the most indicative of Dylan’s later self-penned songs. For one, the song is much more relaxed than a lot of the other tracks on this album. He doesn’t rush through any parts with his guitar, or strain his voice to make it sound unnatural, or force anything into the melody. Instead, the song features a subdued confidence, something that would become a trademark of Dylan’s later folk recordings.

The song also features evidence of Dylan’s strengths as a songwriter. Of course, Dylan didn’t write “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down”: As he announces at the opening of the song, Eric Von Schmidt, another popular staple of the East Coast folk music scene, had made it a key part of his act. The song actually goes even further back than Von Schmidt, though, dating at least as far as 1936 when it was recorded by Walter Coleman and called, “Mama Let Me Lay On You”—as usual with folk songs, tracing the origins of this one is like trying to map your family’s genealogy. On the album, Dylan would credit Von Schmidt with the writing of this particular incarnation of the song. So while the song wasn’t written by Dylan, it had a clear impact on his later writing, particularly the lyrics.

People often wonder what makes Dylan’s lyrics so special, and there are a lot of possible answers. One, though, is on display in this song. Dylan knows how to take a simple but unconventional phrase, like “Baby, let me follow you down,” and invest it with all sorts of implications. This song is really just a repetition of that line, along with the slightly different follow-up, “well, I’ll do anything in this god-almighty world if you just let me follow you down.” And yet that simplicity is compelling.

For one, the line “follow you down” is not all that common—it’s like “baby, let me keep on loving you,” or, “baby, let me stay here with you,” or even the line it becomes in the second verse, “let me come home with you”—and so the sentiment it expresses is not cut-and-dry. It does mean “Can I come home with you?” but the expression is odd enough, while remaining basically simple, to indicate complexities beneath the surface. Dylan would become very good at employing idiosyncratic language to make a complex emotional point seem deceptively simple. Although he didn’t write “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down,” you can hear in the way he sings that titular line that he grasps the levels hidden in its simplicity.    

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Shawn on August 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM

    Oh my, who are you? This is so damn well-written.

    Reply

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