It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry

Album: Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
  • In this song, Dylan mixes lyrics of his own with lyrics from old Blues songs by the likes of Charlie Patton, Brownie McGhee and Leroy Carr. At face value, it seems to be expressing a sense of world-weariness, but some fans argue that, if you look hard enough, you will discover that it is actually about sexual frustration and is full of innuendo!
  • The title is suggesting life is fundamentally sad. While it takes a lot to make us laugh, it takes something as simple and as mundane as a train (and its consequent associations, such as lovers leaving town) to make us cry.
  • There is an alternative version of this song called "Phantom Engineer." It is faster, and has slightly different lyrics. It can be found on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3.
  • On July 25, 1965, Dylan performed this song at Newport Folk Festival as part of his controversial electric set. The folk fans in the crowd were angry that Dylan was playing with an amplified band at a strictly acoustic festival and booed throughout the performance. Dylan would not return to the festival until 2002.
  • Steely Dan took the title of their 1972 debut album, Can't Buy a Thrill from this song's opening lines: "Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby, can't buy a thrill." Walter Becker of Steely Dan told Mojo magazine that he'd never met Dylan, but agreed with actor Jack Nicholson's comment "to the effect that, as long as he is alive, Bob Dylan will be the greatest living songwriter."
  • Highway 61 Revisited is named after US Route 61, which connects Dylan's birthplace in Minnesota to southern cities such as St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans - all of which are famed for their musical heritage.
Please sign in or register to post comments.

Comments: 4

  • Doug from Mountain Lakes, NjSuper Session is a real resource of cool music with production values that rival todays. It Takes a lot to Laugh...... is exceptional and if you have not heard it, make the effort.
  • Christy from Morristown, TnThis is slowly becoming my favorite song off of Highway 61 Revisited. However, in 2008 I had the chance to see Levon Helm Band do it in concert and liked their cover even more than the original. It was that good!
  • Jerry from Brooklyn, NyThis is a good, old-style blues riff done to perfection!
  • Lester from New York City, NyAl Kooper & friends cover this on 'Super Session'
see more comments

dUg Pinnick of King's XSongwriter Interviews

dUg dIgs into his King's X metal classics and his many side projects, including the one with Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam.

Ralph Casale - Session ProSongwriter Interviews

A top New York studio musician, Ralph played guitar on many '60s hits, including "Lightnin' Strikes," "A Lover's Concerto" and "I Am A Rock."

Amanda PalmerSongwriter Interviews

Call us crazy, but we like it when an artist comes around who doesn't mesh with the status quo.

Chris IsaakSongwriter Interviews

Chris tells the story of "Wicked Game," talks milkshakes and moonpies at Sun Records, and explains why women always get their way.

Waiting For The Break of Day: Three Classic Songs About All-NightersSong Writing

These Three famous songs actually describe how they were written - late into the evening.

Stand By Me: The Perfect Song-Movie CombinationSong Writing

In 1986, a Stephen King novella was made into a movie, with a classic song serving as title, soundtrack and tone.