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Love Minus Zero/No Limit

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"Love Minus Zero/No Limit"
Song by Bob Dylan
from the album Bringing It All Back Home
ReleasedMarch 22, 1965 (1965-03-22)
RecordedJanuary 14, 1965
StudioColumbia Recording Studios, New York City
GenreFolk rock
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)Tom Wilson
Bringing It All Back Home track listing
Audio sample
"Love Minus Zero/No Limit"

"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" (read "Love Minus Zero over No Limit") is a song written by Bob Dylan for his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home, released in 1965 (see 1965 in music). The song was originally written as a tribute to Dylan's future wife Sara Lownds. Its main musical hook is a series of three descending chords, while its lyrics articulate Dylan's feelings for his lover, and how she brings a needed zen-like calm to his chaotic world. The song uses surreal imagery, some of which recalls Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" and the biblical Book of Daniel. The style of the lyrics is reminiscent of William Blake's poem "The Sick Rose".

Dylan has performed "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" live on several of his tours. Since its initial appearance on Bringing It All Back Home, live versions of the song have been released on a number of Dylan's albums, including Bob Dylan at Budokan, MTV Unplugged (European versions), and The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue, as well as on the reissued Concert for Bangladesh album by George Harrison & Friends. Live video performances have been included on the Concert for Bangladesh and Other Side of the Mirror: Live at Newport Folk Festival 1963–1965 DVD releases.

Artists who have covered "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" include Ricky Nelson, Buck Owens, The Turtles, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and Baby Gramps. Eric Clapton played it at Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.

Composition and recording[edit]

The version of the song that appears on Bringing It All Back Home was recorded on January 14, 1965 and was produced by Tom Wilson.[1] This version was recorded by the full rock band that Dylan used to accompany him on the songs that appeared on side one of the album, and features a prominent electric guitar part played by Bruce Langhorne.[1][2][3] However, like the other love song on side one, "She Belongs to Me", "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" was recorded a day earlier in various acoustic configurations, and one of these takes was a strong contender to be included on the album.[1] The January 13, 1965 recordings and a first take from January 14 were released on the 6-disc and 18-disc versions of The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 in 2015.[4]

The song is tuneful, with a prominent series of three descending diatonic chords providing the main hook.[5][6] The music is soothing, so that the love expressed seems tranquil even when images such as cloaks and daggers and trembling bridges are evoked by the lyrics.[7] The tune and rhythm have a Latin feel and the lyrical rhyming pattern varies from verse to verse.[5][8] For example, in the first verse, the first and second lines rhyme, the fourth and eighth lines rhyme, and the sixth and seventh lines rhyme, but the third and fifth lines are unrhymed.[8] But in the second verse, the first three lines rhyme.[8] Throughout the song, the rhymes are sometimes approximate; for example "another" is rhymed with "bother" and "trembles" is rhymed with "rambles."[8]


"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" was written as a tribute to Dylan's future wife Sara Lownds.[1][9][10] The lyrics reflect her Zen-like detachment through a series of opposites, for example, that she "speaks like silence" and is both "like ice" and "like fire".[1][10] Another famous line from the song also captures this dichotomy: "She knows there's no success like failure, and that failure's no success at all."[1][11]

The first verse of the song has the singer infatuated with the woman, admiring her inner strength.[10] The three remaining verses reflect the inauthentic chaos that the singer has to deal with in the outside world, from which the lover's Zen-like calm provides needed refuge.[10] The final image is of the lover being like some raven at the singer's window with a broken wing. This image recalls Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven", but is also a symbol of the lover's vulnerability in spite of her strength.[10] The broken wing may also be a reference to the woman's need for shelter, or else to a flaw in her.[12] The style of the song's lyrics are comparable to William Blake's poem, "The Sick Rose", in their economy of language and use of a detached tone to express the narrator's intense emotional experience.[13][14] The song's surreal images anticipate the psychedelic songs Dylan would later write.[6]

Some of the song's images evoke prophecies from the Biblical Book of Daniel.[15] For example, the line:

Statues made of matchsticks
Crumble into one another[11]

is reminiscent of Daniel's prophecy that Nebuchadnezzar would build a statue of precious metals only to see it crumble like "chaff".[15] Another line in the song states that people "Draw conclusions on the wall."[8] Drawing conclusions on the wall rather than from the wall evokes the story from the Book of Daniel where a hand writes on a wall the words "MENE MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN," warning that the Neo-Babylonian Empire was about to end.[8]

One interpretation of the lover in this song, as well as that which features in "She Belongs to Me", is that she is Dylan's muse.[16] In each song, the inaccessibility of the lover/muse can be interpreted as Dylan's acknowledgment of his own limitations—limitations that he attempts to overcome in writing the songs.[16] In this interpretation, the final raven image sitting at the window can be viewed as a symbol of the muse's inaccessibility, and the raven's broken wing a symbol of its wildness.[16] A related interpretation is that the song reflects an artist's "self-awareness through isolation."[7] The line "She knows there's no success like failure, and that failure's no success at all" can be seen as a reflection of the isolation of the American writer.[7]

The original title of the song was "Dime Store", which originates from the line "In the dime stores and bus stations..."[1] The official title "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" is, according to Dylan, a fraction with "Love Minus Zero" on the top and "No Limit" on the bottom, and this is how the title appeared on early pressings of the Bringing It All Back Home LP.[1][13] Therefore, the correct pronunciation of the song's title is "Love Minus Zero over No Limit".[17] This has been interpreted as "absolutely unlimited love."[13] The title is also based on gambling terminology that would mean that all love is a risk.[13]

Performances and recordings[edit]

Dylan has frequently performed the song in concert since the time it was written, nearly always acoustically.[1] He performed it occasionally in concert during 1965 and 1966, but more frequently during the Rolling Thunder Revue tours from 1974 through 1976.[13] Dylan also played it at The Concert for Bangladesh, during the first of the two August 1, 1971 benefit concerts organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to help provide relief for refugees in Bangladesh.[7] Dylan has also been playing the song live throughout the Never Ending Tour that began in 1988.[13]

In addition to its appearance on Bringing It All Back Home, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" has been included on several Dylan live and compilation albums. In the 1970s, it was included on the compilation Masterpieces and on the live Bob Dylan at Budokan album, recorded in 1978.[5] Other live performances have been included on Live 1962-1966: Rare Performances From The Copyright Collections (recorded in May 1965), the 2005 reissue of the Concert for Bangladesh album, The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue (recorded December 1975), and the European versions of MTV Unplugged (recorded November 1994).[5] Footage of Dylan playing the song is included on the 2005 DVD of the Concert for Bangladesh film and in The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at Newport Folk Festival 1963–1965, a film by Murray Lerner showing Dylan's performances at the Newport Folk Festival.[5] A snippet from an impromptu performance of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" is also included in the film Dont Look Back.[5]

The song was also included on the Rhino/Starbucks compilation album This is Us: Songs from Where You Live.[5]

Cover versions[edit]

The song was covered several times in 1965, including a version by The Turtles on their album It Ain't Me Babe and a version by The Walker Brothers on their album Take It Easy with The Walker Brothers.[18][19] Los Angeles band The Leaves covered the song on their 1966 album Hey Joe and Joan Baez included it[11] on her 1968 album of Dylan covers Any Day Now.[19] A version by singer/songwriter Turley Richards became a minor hit in 1970 (US #84).[citation needed] It was also covered in 1993 by Judy Collins on Judy Collins Sings Dylan... Just Like a Woman.[19] Eric Clapton covered the song during Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.[19] Other musicians who have covered the song include Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne, Ricky Nelson, Buck Owens, Bridget St. John, Eliza Gilkyson, and Les Fradkin.[19]


In a 2005 reader's poll for Mojo magazine, "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" was listed as the #20 all-time greatest Bob Dylan song, and a similar poll of artists ranked the song #32.[20] In 2002, Uncut magazine listed it as the #23 all-time greatest Bob Dylan song.[21] Australian music critic Toby Creswell included the song in his book 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Heylin, C. (2009). Revolution in the Air. Chicago Review Press. pp. 224–226. ISBN 978-1-55652-843-9.
  2. ^ Gray, M. (2008). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia: Revised and Updated Edition. Continuum. pp. 395–396. ISBN 978-0-8264-2974-2.
  3. ^ "Bruce Langhorne". allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-22.
  4. ^ "Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12". Retrieved 2015-11-22.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Love Minus Zero/No Limit". allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  6. ^ a b Mellers, W. (1984). A Darker Shade of Pale. Oxford University Press. p. 136. ISBN 0-19-503622-0.
  7. ^ a b c d Shelton, R. (1986). No Direction Home. Da Capo Press. pp. 272–273, 421. ISBN 0-306-80782-3.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Ricks, C. (2003). Dylan's Visions of Sin. HarperCollins. pp. 287–302. ISBN 0-06-059924-3.
  9. ^ a b Creswell, T. (2006). 1001 Songs: The Great Songs of All Time and the Artists, Stories and Secrets Behind Them. Da Capo Press. p. 803. ISBN 978-1-56025-915-2.
  10. ^ a b c d e Gill, A. (1998). Don't Think Twice, It's All Right. Thunder's Mouth Press. pp. 71–72. ISBN 1-56025-185-9.
  11. ^ a b c Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 32 - Ballad in Plain D: An introduction to the Bob Dylan era. [Part 2]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  12. ^ Varesi, A. (2002). The Bob Dylan Albums. Guernica. pp. 50–51. ISBN 1-55071-139-3.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Trager, O. (2004). Keys to the Rain. Billboard Books. pp. 402–403. ISBN 0-8230-7974-0.
  14. ^ Gray, M. (2000). Song and Dance Man III. Continuum. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0-8264-5150-0.
  15. ^ a b Rogovov, S. (2009). Bob Dylan: Prophet, Mystic, Poet. Scribner. pp. 80–81. ISBN 978-1-4165-5915-3.
  16. ^ a b c Hinchey, J. (2002). Like a Complete Unknown. Stealing Home Press. pp. 81–85. ISBN 0-9723592-0-6.
  17. ^ Ricks, C. B. (2003). Dylan's Visions of Sin. Viking Press. p. 289. ISBN 978-0-670-80133-6.
  18. ^ "It Ain't Me Babe". allmusic. Retrieved 2010-09-09.
  19. ^ a b c d e "Love Minus Zero/No Limit covers". allmusic. Archived from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  20. ^ "100 Greatest Dylan Songs". Mojo. November 2005. Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  21. ^ "Uncut – Top 40 Dylan Tracks". Uncut. June 2002. Retrieved 2009-07-24.

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