“LOVE MINUS ZERO/NO LIMIT” (1965)
Bringing it All Back Home shocked the folkie world of 1965. Dylan was their hero, and for his fifth album, he had gone electric. The first side opened with “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” with an electric guitar and full rhythm section, just like a rock and roller.
Toward the end of side one, sandwiched between two similarly rocking arrangements, came one of the prettiest, most positive love songs he would ever write. If “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” was a snotty kiss-off, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” shows off the pure joy of what love can do. In this case, love can provide a deep and abiding peace that shelters its partners. As he would do later in “Shelter From the Storm,” Dylan here marvels at how powerful such a fragile thing can truly be. “My love, she speaks like silence – without ideals or violence – She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful – Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire…”
Subsequent verses detail the hurly-burly and pettiness that make up everyday life, only to end with “my love’s” overriding wisdom about such things. “She knows there’s no success like failure – And that failure is no success at all.” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” has proven much more difficult to cover for reasons that elude me.
Jackson Browne, The Turtles, Buck Owens, and Chrissie Hynde have all tried and none has done much with it. It’s almost as if they don’t know how to tackle a straight love song from a writer of Dylan’s reputation.
But if you want to hear a proper cover, check out jazz singer Sheilah Glover’s straightforward version from 2006. Glover emphasizes the beauty of the melody, something that often gets overlooked as performers seem intent on doing an existential battle with the Nobel Laureate’s lyrics. The lyrics here are indeed elliptical and thought-provoking, but the music – the music is pure joy.