Bad Timing and “Dreaming My Dreams with You”

On Film / Features — Oct 21, 2014

As breakup songs go, “Dreaming My Dreams with You,” written by country stalwart Allen Reynolds, is a tear-jerking doozy. It first appeared on the 1975 Waylon Jennings album Dreaming My Dreams. And while it’s been covered pretty frequently, by singers male and female, there’s something about the sorrowful stoicism of the lyricsthe chorus goes “Someday I’ll get over you / I’ll live to see it all through / But I’ll always miss / Dreaming my dreams with you”—that makes it an exemplary male weepie.

One of the best versions of the tune is heard in an unexpected context, and as of this writing isn’t available on any record or streaming service. Performed by Billy Kinsley in a spare, understated arrangement, it comes up, on little cat feet, so to speak (the acoustic guitar chords fade in oh so subtly), during a largely wordless scene in Nicolas Roeg’s intense, disturbing 1980 erotic thriller Bad Timing. Theresa Russell’s character, the ravishing young Milena, has fallen for the clenched psychiatrist Alex (Art Garfunkel), an American living in Vienna. So she’s leaving her much older husband, Stefan (Denholm Elliott). The song plays over shots of Stefan and Milena exchanging pained looks, then making love for what we presume will be the last time and Milena surrendering her apartment key to Stefan, intercut with views of Alex waiting for her at a bridge checkpoint. The song’s near-mournful simplicity and sincerity counter and enhance the complex emotional exchanges at play in the visuals.

The soundtrack to Bad Timing is an eclectic affair (not unusual for a Roeg film; his 1971 Walkabout opens with fragments of modernist composer Karleinz Stockhausen’s electronic epic Hymnen); sounds, musical and otherwise, feel as if they’re drawn out of the atmospheres conjured by the characters’ varying moods. On the Criterion DVD of the movie, Roeg speaks explicitly of the music providing commentary for the attitudes of the characters. “I like it overheard, or in someone’s mind,” he says, as when Alex spies on Milena while the Who’s song “Who Are You” blares on the soundtrack. “You couldn’t have written it more accurately.”

Roeg rarely gives interviews these days, but, curious about the use of “Dreaming My Dreams with You,” I posed a question to him via an intermediary, filmmaker and critic David Thompson, who’s currently completing a documentary on the director. The answer I got was simple enough: Roeg had always liked the song and felt it applied well to the story of a couple for whom things might have worked out at a different time—another instance of the circumstance to which the film’s title alludes.

Billy Kinsley himself, contacted by e-mail, was even more forthcoming. Kinsley was a founding member of the Liverpool combo the Merseybeats, then the vocal duo the Merseys. And, yes, as the band names suggest, the combos were Liverpool contemporaries of the Beatles. (Kinsley tells me one of the things he’s up to these days is raising funds to put a statue of Brian Epstein in the Liverpool City Centre.) Kinsley was in fact commissioned to do the song especially for the movie. He wrote:

I first heard Waylon Jennings’ version of “Dreaming My Dreams” when a friend of mine, Alan Crowley, played it for me. Alan was a great songwriter, so I tended to listen to any song he liked. He was a big fan of Waylon from way back—I suppose it was because Waylon had played with Buddy Holly on his final tour. A couple of years later, I got a phone call from Richard Hartley, who had coproduced, with Tommy Boyce, my band Liverpool Express’s third album. Richard was working on the soundtrack for Nicolas Roeg’s latest movie and asked me to sing the song. They had approached Waylon for the rights, and according to Richard, he wanted “too much money” to license his recording. Nicolas wanted me to try to get the same mood as Waylon’s. I was reluctant at first, because I sing in a much higher register. When I told Richard that I doubted I could do it justice, he persuaded me to go into Olympic Studios in Barnes, South London, and try it. He didn’t tell me he’d booked Pete Kircher on drums and B. J. Cole on pedal steel for the session!

Cole was, at the time, a session player of high standing, and Kircher a former bandmate of Kinsley’s.

I played acoustic guitar, and sang it along with them backing me up. I think we did it in about four or five takes, and then, as I was overdubbing bass guitar, a forty-piece orchestra walked in!

The string arrangement is as understated, though, as Kinsley’s quiet, dignified vocal, which puts across a gentle sadness that sets the stage for the more volatile, unsettling emotions that follow.

Nicolas, whom I’d never met, then made his presence known, and told us he’d been listening to us from the control room, and congratulated us on an “absolutely wonderful performance.” When I saw the film, I realized the importance of the song, and how we’d had to create that mood and achieve what was in Nicolas’s mind. I’m very grateful to Richard for believing that I could do justice to a great song and sing it in the lowest key that I’ve sung in!

Over the years, as he’s pursued a solo career and reunited with the Merseybeats and Liverpool Express, Kinsley’s fans have become particularly enamored of his rendition of “Dreaming My Dreams with You.” As there was never a soundtrack album for Bad Timing, the song hasn’t been widely available. Kinsley says:

I don’t actually know why the song has never been released. The copy I have is a on a very rough cassette that Richard gave me, maybe so it couldn’t be pirated. I may rerecord it, as so many people have asked me about it over the years.

The song makes itself present in the poignant good-bye scene from Bad Timing: