The Band, “It Makes No Difference”

Written by September 29th, 2013 at 9:49 am

The Band
Since their first three albums were so unassailably great and they had a hiatus of four years in the 70’s wherein they recorded no original material, The Band sometimes gets labeled as an act whose later music is lacking compared to their early stuff. That view neglects the brilliant work that the quintet delivered on Northern Lights-Southern Cross in 1975, a swan song of sorts for the original five members (1977’s Islands was no more than a contract-filler) that gracefully melded all of the unique and disparate elements that made them so unique.

There was, however, one new twist on the proceedings. On past albums, chief songwriter Robbie Robertson never bothered too much with traditional love-gone-wrong songs, preferring to stick to character-driven stories or penetrating explorations of American history. He finally relented on Northern Lights-Southern Cross with “It Makes No Difference” and he ended up with one of the most devastatingly beautiful heartbreakers in rock and roll history.

“I thought about the song in terms of saying that time heals all wounds,” Robertson told interviewer Robert Palmer at the time of the song’s release. “Except in some cases, and this was one of those cases.” Yet writing the song was only half the battle with The Band. With three brilliant singers available, choosing between Richard Manuel, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko was never an easy task, although you really couldn’t go wrong.

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Danko got the call, and his emotional performance, all wavering notes and reckless abandon, is the uncanny embodiment of a man driven to the end of his tether by his love’s absence. He gets interpretive assistance from his Band-mates, who give a typically intuitive performance. Garth Hudson’s stately but sad saxophone sounds like it has accepted defeat, while Robertson’s delirious guitar isn’t ready to give up just yet.

Robertson’s metaphors and similes are simple yet effective in showing the narrator’s inner torment. In the bridge, the imagery gets direr, all empty halls and stampeding cattle. As the song closes out, Danko uncorks his final lines with desperation dripping off every word: “Well I love you so much and it’s all I can do/Just to keep myself from telling you.” At that point, he is ironically joined by his good buddies Helm and Manuel on sympathetic harmony for the coup de grace: “That I never felt so alone before.”

Nobody did melancholic grandeur better than The Band, and there’s no topic more suited to that treatment than lost love, so it would have been an upset if “It Makes No Difference” hadn’t turned out so fine. Either you’ve been there before, in which case Robertson’s eloquent anguish will seem achingly familiar, or you haven’t, in which case Danko’s fearless vocal will act as a public service announcement on the merits of holding on to a good thing for dear life.

Click here to read the lyrics.

  • http://www.carelesshearts.com pnkimball

    “a public service announcement on the merits of holding on to a good thing for dear life.” Man, that’s a great line, and a particularly apt summary of this song’s power.

  • indrag13

    What an excellent rendition, The Band would be proud of this!

  • Guy Hobbs

    At first reading the lyrics might seem a bit weak and forced but then you add a powerful haunting voice that can really sing and skilled musicians weaving a masterful arrangement and the Band made this song come alive.

  • PhilT Listener

    I also love this line with similar sentiment (and sung beautifully) from Don Henley in NY Minute:

    When you find somebody you love in life
    You better hang on tooth and nail,
    The wolf is always at the door.

  • PhilT Listener

    Rick Danko was one of the nicest guys in Rock I ever met.

    I met him at the Capitol Theater in Passaic NJ.

    The Band and The Allman Brothers were playing the closing night of that wonderful Venue. I met Dicky Betts before when he was solo touring in the early 70′s, so I went down to Passaic and got backstage after running into Dicky again that night.

    I was backstage eating some good food and enjoying the company of many musicians I came to respect over the years.

    About a year later I went to the Lone Star Cafe in NYC to see Rick Danko play a solo show. It was packed. I waited by the back door and when Rick showed up I said hello. He remembered me from the Capitol show and invited me in. I went up to the dressing room a bit later and ran into Bernie Taupin and Steve Forbert up there singing some Gospel tune with Rick. During the show he called them up on stage to sing with him. It was an amazing night I will never forget.

    I’m sure if there is a Rock and Roll Heaven, Rick and Levon are holding the rhythm section together, and singing angelic leads and harmonies.

    Thanks for the post on It Makes No Difference. That song, and Stage Fright, show off the fine vocal qualities of Rick, “singing just like a bird”.

  • Jim Bush

    Wow!

  • Eric Chanin

    I never met Rick. But I did meet Levon and Richard. Levon was very outgoing. Richard was very timid and quiet. It was also not long before his leaving us.

  • http://njnnetwork.com/ Stephen Pate

    It’s a great song except that false sounding line in the bridge about stampeding cattle.
    “Since you’ve gone it’s a losing battle
    Stampeding cattle they rattle the walls”

  • Jimmy James Page

    Yeah i hear you. Robbie must’ve really wanted that internal rhyme.
    Rick’s vocal performance makes the song for me!

  • Make Do Mercantile

    ohmygod – it’s just soo damn good, what a band – gawd dammit I miss them and the woman singing with My Morning Jacket – is soul provoking – I love her!

  • hdogg48

    The late great Solomon Burke also had a great cover version
    of this masterpiece song about love lost forever.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uD9ycBrZB9g&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Not the great live performances like the Band at The Last Waltz,
    or My Morning Jacket, but I always thought that this tune begged
    for an R & B cover, and King Solomon certainly delivered
    the goods.

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