"Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You" / Bob Dylan
I guess I am at heart more of a country-music lover than I'd like to admit: My favorite Bob Dylan album has always been Nashville Skyline. Go figure. I guess Dylan purists were outraged when this album came out in 1969, but I didn't discover it until 1976, when I was living in England and missed the USA. What better cure for those homesick blues than a country-rock album with honky-tonk piano and pedal steel guitar? Up till then, I just didn't get Bob Dylan; more important, I never found Bob Dylan sexy. And then I heard Nashville Skyline and I perked right up. Mr. Dylan -- my, my!
I acknowledge that Bob Dylan's a great songwriter, but only a handful of his songs have ever wormed into my heart. Brilliant as his lyrics are, I'm put off by his persona most of the time, whether it's a fervent evangeliser, a hectoring preacher, a snarky social critic, or a tormented existentialist. I just don't want to spend extra time with any of those guys, and that prevents me from delving into his other albums. Feel free to tell me about the great songs I'm missing -- but life is too short, and I'm happy enough with Nashville Skyline.
Maybe it was that near-fatal motorcycle accident in 1966 that mellowed Dylan in time for Nashville Skyline (if so, the effect must have worn off later). Whatever happened, here he seems humanized and open-hearted and, oh, I don't know, even loveable.
Bob actually tried to sing on this album, and lo and behold, he found more melody in his nasal twang than ever before (or since). His crooning on "I Threw It All Away" is downright wistful; "Lay, Lady, Lay" has a delicate, husky sincerity that makes me shiver every time. (Am I not right, ladies?).
But I have a special place in my heart for "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You." With that easygoing loping tempo, the tossed-off piano trills, the upsliding guitar, it's got a certain self-effacing charm I'm always a sucker for. It begins with a helpless shrug of abandon: "Throw my ticket out the window / Throw my suitcase out there too / Throw my troubles out the door / I don't need them anymore / 'Cause tonight I'll be staying here with you." These lyrics aren't all that different from the folksongs Dylan started out with, and yet the syncopated arrangement, the lilting melody, the singing style puts an entirely different spin on it -- the way Bob tenderly flutters on "you" at the end of the line makes my heart skip a beat.
This is a song about carnal desire, make no mistake about it. And as the song's narrator sweetly wheedles his way into the woman's good graces -- "And my love comes on so strong / And I've waited all day long / For tonight, when I'll be staying here with you" -- I feel my own resistance just melting. Who can ever resist that sort of shambling charmer? He's no sleazeball; in fact in the bridge he seems downright polite: "Is it really any wonder / The love that a stranger may receive / You cast your spell and I went under / That's why it's so difficult to leave." Shoot, he's just trying to be gracious about accepting her hospitality. (Kinda like the guy in "Lay, Lady, Lay" -- "his clothes are dirty but his hands are clean / And you're the best thing that he's ever seen.")
But there's no mistaking what's gonna happen tonight, and the final verse is almost giddy with abandon. "If there's a poor boy on the street / Then let him have my seat / 'Cause tonight I'll be staying here with you." You sure will, honey. Only, just let me hit the replay button again, okay?