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

Words and music Bob Dylan
Released on Highway 61 Revisited (1965), in different studio versions on The Bootleg Series 1-3 (1991) and No Direction Home (2005), and in a live version on Live 1975 (2002)
Tabbed by Eyolf Østrem


Original album version

Capo 1st fret (original key Ab major)

The G - C/g - G (320003 - 3x2013 - 320003) pattern goes through the whole song. One could play just a sustained G as well. The change of this pattern that I've indicated in lines 2 and 4 is mainly to get an approximation to what the second guitar plays there. Likewise, in the last line there seems to be very little activity - maybe there should be just a G all through it.

In later years, the song has been played as a slow, electric blues.


Intro and recurring riff:

      G     C/g   G     C/g
  .   :     .     .     .
|---|---------3-------------3-|-
|---|---------1-------------1-|-
|---|-------0---0-----------0-|- etc.
|---|-0---0-2---2-0---0-2---2-|-
|-0-|-2---2-x---x-2---2-x---x-|-
|-0-|-3---3-3---3-3---3-3---3-|-
        G         C/g        G    C/g
Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby,
G7      C/g    G      C/g G C/g G
  Can't buy a  thrill.
      C/g       G   C/g G    C/g
Well, I've been up all night,
G              C/g    G
Leanin' on the window sill.
      G    G7(/f)
Well, if I die
   C/e        D    Dsus4 D
On top of the hill
    G  C/g     G   C/g
And if I don't make it,
G    C/g     G C/g G
 You know my baby  will.

Don't the moon look good, mama,
Shinin' through the trees?
Don't the brakeman look good, mama,
Flagging down the "Double E"?
Don't the sun look good
Goin' down over the sea?
Don't my gal look fine
When she's comin' after me?

Now the wintertime is coming,
The windows are filled with frost.
I went to tell everybody,
But I could not get across.
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don't wanna be your boss.
Don't say I never warned you
When your train gets lost.

No Direction Home version

Well, I ride on a mailtrain, mama,
Can't buy no thrill.
I've been up all night, baby,
Leanin' on the window sill.
But if I die
On top of the hill
And if I don't make it,
You know my baby  will.

Ah, don't the sun look good, baby,
Coming down through the trees?
Don't the ghost child look good, mama,
Sittin' on this mad-man's knee?
Don't the moon look good
Goin' down over the sea?
Don't my gal look fine
When she's runnin' after me?

Well I just been to the baggage room
where the engineer he's been tossed
Oh, I stamped on 40 compasses,
God knows what they cost
Well, I wanna be your lover, baby,
I don't wanna be your boss.
And I can't help it
if this train gets lost.

Bootleg Series version

Uptempo electric blues with Dylan at the piano (presumably – it sounds like him, and none of the guitars do). The most appropriate way to play it on a guitar would be with a capo on the 4th fret (or with barré chords), as in the following tab.

The accompaniment figure would then be:

  E           E6            E7          E6
|-------------------------|--------------------------|
|-------------------------|--------------------------|
|-------------------------|--------------------------|
|-------------------------|--------------------------|
|-2-----2-----4-----4-----|-5-----5-----4-----4------|
|-0-----0-----0-----0-----|-0-----0-----0-----0------|

The solo guitar plays this little lick at the end of each two-bar period (during the E-E6-E7-E6, that is):

     (E6)          (E)
      .     .       :     .
------------------|------------
------------------|------------
------------------|------------
---b8r6---4-------|------------
------------6---4-|-6----------
------------------|------------

(b8r6 means that the string is struck in bent position, two semitones, as if played on the 8th fret, then released to normal position, on the 6th fret).

        E         E6         E7    E6
Well, I ride on a mailtrain, baby,
E E6    E7      E6     |: E E6 E7 E6 :|
  Can't buy no thrill.
               E     E6      E7     E6
Yes, I've been up all night, baby
E       E6    E7 E6  |: E E6 E7 E6 :|
Leanin' on the   window sill.
         E    E7/d
Yes, but if I die
   A/c#       B
On top of the hill
      E E6     E7      E6
And if I don't make it,
E E6       E7 E6       |: E E6 E7 E6 :| x4
  You know my baby will.

Bangla Desh Concert version

Great (almost) solo acoustic version, played at the Concert for Bangla Desh, Aug 1, 1971 (Us release Dec 20, 1971)

Chords:

G/d      xx043x
Eo'      xx032x
D7       xx021x
G/d(iii) xx0433 (half-bar chord)
D7(iii)  xx0535
G7/f     120003

Intro and recurring riff:         "Can't buy a thrill" figure:

  G     C/g G       C/g G         G/d         Eo'   D7
  :     .     .     .             :     .     .     .
|-3---3-3---3-3---3-3---3-|     |-------------------------|-3---       the bass plays an
|-0---0-1---0-0---0-1---0-|     |-3---3-3---3-2-----1-----|-0---       ascending d-e-f#-g here)
|-0---0-0---0-0---0-0---0-|     |-4---4-4---4-3-----2-----|-0---
|-0---0-2---0-0---0-2---0-|     |-0-----------0-----0-----|-0--- etc.
|-2---2-----2-2---2-----2-|     |-------------------------|-2---
|-3---3-3---3-3---3-3---3-|     |-------------------------|-3---
                                        can't buy   a       thrill
"Top of the hill" figure:

  G           G7/f        C/e           D           G/d(iii)      D7(iii)     D
  :     .     .     .     .     .       :     .     .     .       :     .     .     .
|-3-----------3-----------0-----------|-2---2-2---2-3---3-3---3-|-5-5-5-5---5-2---2-2---2-|
|-0-----------0-----------1-----------|-3---3-3---3-3---3-3---3-|-3-3-3-3---3-3---3-3---3-|
|-0-----------0-----------0-----------|-2---2-2---2-4---4-4---4-|-5-3-5-5---5-2---2-2---2-|
|-0-----------0-----------2-----------|-0---0-0---0-0---0-0---0-|-0---0-0---0-0---0-0---0-|
|-2-----------2-----------3-----------|---------------------------------------------------|
|-3-----------1-----------0-----------|---------------------------------------------------|
  If  I       die      on top   of the  hill

        G
Well, I ride a mailtrain, baby,
G/d     Eo' D7 G
  Can't buy a  thrill.
                G
Well, I've been up all night,
G/d            Eo' D7 G
Leanin' on the window sill.
      G    G7/f
Well, if I die
   C/e        D    G/d(iii)  D7(iii)  D
On top of the hill
       G
And if I don't make it,
             G/d D7    G
 You know my baby   will.

A variant for the “can't buy a thrill” figure in subsequent verses is:

|-7---7-7---7-6---6-5---5-|-3--
|-------------------------|-0--
|-7---7-7---7-6---6-5---5-|-0-- etc.
|-0---0-0---0-0---0-0---0-|-0--
|-------------------------|-2--
|-------------------------|-3--

Rolling Thunder Revue version

See the Bangla Desh version for intro and recurring riff and for the basic outline of the “top of the hill” figure.

        G
Well, I ride a mailtrain, baby,
G       C   C G
  Can't buy a thrill.
                G
Well, I've been up all night,
G              C  C   G
Leanin' on the window sill.
      G    G7/f  *)                              *) could be played G7sus4/f (xx3013)
Well, if I die                                      or plain F instead
   C/e        D    G/d(iii)  D7(iii)  D
On top of the hill
       G
And if I don't make it,
            C C  G
You know my baby will.