The Band, “It Makes No Difference”


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.


    • 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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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”.

    • All very cool. One of the truly all time great tunes of our times. I had the chance to really talk with Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield & Poco, my roots, and he too was very accessible and right there, being real & warm. (BTW: Richie’s now a pastor in CO)

  3. Phil, below, has a wonderful recount…TY, Phil, very cool. But on a different note, this (fr The Band) is one of the best all time tunes; it has everything, including the haunting truth of where rock comes from and it’s 100% spot on. Like in my heart of hearts, we all know those stupid lists of the top 100 best numbers of all time are always saturated with the last 5 years, disproportionately so. My contribution here is to say: taken one at a time, Real top 100 of all time must have all the components that are present here. Or, in other words, exclude songs like this?

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