Songwriting Basics Section II – Analysis 36: The Last Thing on My Mind

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

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You’ve got to try a little kindness …

Possibly Tom Paxton’s most famous, and almost certainly his most-covered, song The Last Thing on My Mind was written in 1962 (and first recorded by Paxton in 1964), when Tom and Bob Dylan shared an apartment together at the Gaslight Cafe on MacDougal Street in New York.

There is a story that when Tom heard Dylan sing Don’t Think Twice he thought it was a rather cruel song, and Last Thing On My Mind was his reply to it.

It was perhaps intended to be what the woman “who just wasted my precious time” might have said.

There are similarities in the lyrics that seem to back this up, e.g.

  • TLToMM: “I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind” 
    DTTIAR: “I ain’t saying you treated me unkind, you could have done better but I don’t mind”
  • TLToMM: “Are you going away with no word of farewell?”
    DTTIAR: “Goodbye’s too good a word, so I’ll just say, fare thee well”

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The song has been recorded by more than 100 artists, and is still such a staple of folk & acoustic sessions that it’s not uncommon to find it used as a vehicle for parody – since everyone immediately recognises the original inspiration.

Tom Paxton himself is tickled by this and has been known to mention the following parody with relish:

Well I met this young girl at a folk club, like you do, like you do
So I bought her a drink and we chatted, wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you
And then after the show she invited me home
And she said we were two of a kind

Then she played me every record that Tom Paxton ever made
And you know that was the last thing on my mind . . .

The melody and structure are loosely based on the old sailors’ lament/shanty The Leaving of Liverpool.

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Lend an ear and an eye …

eye.gif The Last Thing on My Mind

© 1962 Tom Paxton

LTM.jpg

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Keeping regular … met.gif

The verse has a stress pattern of alternating 3- and 2-stress lines.

The metric foot used throughout the verse is the anapest (dah-dah-DUM) – with occasional added unstressed syllables that are quickly skipped over so as not to disturb the underlying rhythm.

Ll 1&3 have 3 anapests, while Ll 2&4 have 2:

“| It’s a les– |-son too late |for the learn’n |
Made of sand, |made of sand |
In the blink | of an eye’m |soul is turn’n |
In your hand, | in your hand |”

The chorus adds one extra stress per line, and mixes in 4th paeons (dah-dah-dah-DUM) with the anapests, plus 1 iamb (dah-DUM) in the final line:

“| Are you go– | -ing a-way |with no word |of fare-well |
Will there be |not a trace | left be-hind? |
Well, I could | have loved you bet– | -ter didn’t mean | to be un-kind |
You know |that was the last | thing on my mind |”

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Time to rhyme …

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The end-rhyme pattern in the verse is a completely regular

 

  • A  B  A  B
  • “learnin'” “sand”
    “turnin'” “hand”

while the chorus has the structure

  • C  D  D  D
  • “farewell”
    “behind” “unkind” “mind”

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The rising and the falling of the notes … rnf.gif

In accordance with the old folksong from which it loosely derives, the song throughout is firmly in the key of G major (Paxton plays it with G major chords, but varies the capo position according to the condition of his voice).

The melody has a range of a full 9th, from low G to high A – enough to make it interesting, but also easy to sing along with.

The pitch  is used to contrast the verse and chorus, with most of the higher notes occurring in the latter.

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The verdict? … gav.gif

The song accords well with my observations elsewhere as to the effectiveness of regularity in the stressmetric, and rhyme departments.

It has a pleasant, easily remembered and sung melody.

And, finally, I’m not going to argue with the tremendous success the song has had. 

It is, has been, and will probably continue to be, a hit!

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Next time, we’ll get the analytical scalpels out
on another of my recorded works!

I bet you can’t wait!

yay

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

 

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