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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Who Did It Better? It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Who Did It Better? 
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

There was a time when if Bob Dylan wrote a song, everybody wanted to put their stamp on it. The first half of the 1960's found the world enthralled by the sound of folk music. It's earnest, forthright poetics a breath of fresh air and a welcome respite from the quaint, jingle/slogan-istic pop music of the time.

Bob Dylan  wrote It's All Over Now, Baby Blue in January 1965 and finished recording it on January 15, 1965, while working on his Bringing It All Back Home album. Recalling this period, Dylan said:

"I had carried that song around in my head for a long time and I remember that when I was writing it, I'd remembered a Gene Vincent song. It had always been one of my favorites, Baby Blue; 'When first I met my baby/she said how do you do/she looked into my eyes and said/my name is Baby Blue.' It was one of the songs I used to sing back in high school. Of course, I was singing about a different 'Baby Blue."

So, who is 'Baby Blue'.

There are a number of theories, all pure conjecture, since Dylan has never named the subject. Given their relationship at the time, many assumed it was about Joan Baez. However, it should be noted that Baez has brown eyes. Other possible candidates include a couple of Dylan's inner circle. David Blue is a longtime friend of Dylan. He can be seen wearing a trench coat on the cover of The Band's The Basement Tapes album. Another possibility is folksinger, Paul Clayton, a Dylan devotee who may have gotten a little too close to the object of his devotion. Biographers have noted that Clayton's use of amphetamines' put a strain on the friendship. The most viable answer? Dylan himself. In Baez's beautiful opus, Diamonds and Rust, she refers to Dylan as having "eyes bluer than robin's eggs".

But whomever the song refers to, it was a hot ticket in the eyes of various record company executives, with a number of established acts wanting to parlay it into their next hit.

Joan Baez recorded a version in 1965, for her album Farewell, Angelina. It was released as a single in Austria, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.

The Belfast band Them, featuring iconic singer/songwriter Van Morrison, recorded the song in 1965 for their album, Them Again. It was released as a single in January of 1966 in the UK and April of 1966 in the U.S. Later, it was released as single in Denmark and then Germany.

The Byrds initially planned to release It's All Over Now, Baby Blue in 1965, as a follow-up to their previous Bob Dylan hits, Mr. Tambourine Man and All I Really Want to Do.  The band's first attempted to record the song was on June 28, 1965. However, the results - an irreverent, Mersey swing inspired take on the song, was deemed uncommercial and it remained in the vaults for 22 years, 

A second attempt took place during August 1965. However, the band wasn't happy with this version either and quickly abandoned the idea of releasing the song as their third single. Instead, they threw their support behind Turn! Turn! Turn!. The Byrds' second version of the song has never seen the light of day. But that was not the end of the bands interest in the song.

Roger McGuinn began tinkering with the song during the July 22, 1969  recording sessions for the band's Ballad of Easy Rider album. Initially released on October 29, 1969, as part of the album, Baby Blue would end up as the B-side of the band's December 1969 single, Jesus Is Just Alright.   

Well, that's all the history. Let's get to it, shall we?

The Song: It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

The Competitors: Bob Dylan vs. Joan Baez vs. Them vs. The Byrds

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Bob Dylan

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Joan Baez

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - Them

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Byrds

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Oddly enough, Bob Dylan is never my first choice to sing a Bob Dylan song. His singing style is... singular. Unique, to say the least. In my lifetime, I have known two individuals who were so enamored with the man, that his every burp was declared a revelation. I am not of that camp. His harmonica playing? Atmospheric, yes... but also frequently annoying. Historically, I realize that he helped create the archetype termed 'the folksinger' (although there were many before him) and, at the time, his sound was considered innovative. However, his whining, nasal sneer of a voice and lack of a traditional musical tone has always rendered him, for me, a taste I've never quite acquired. Much later, when backed by an electronically-juiced band and modern production techniques, I would come to appreciate him a bit more, though, even then, he remained, for me, something best taken in small doses. 

And the song? Well, in his hands, it sounds like so many of his other songs. Other than the couplet containing the title of the song? I don't find it very moving or unique. A feeling of bittersweet regret is evident, but his version fails to paint a distinctive picture. This sounds to me like what one would consider a cliché of a Bob Dylan song.

Joan's version brings the song's melody to life. And I do like it a bit better than Dylan's version. 

I have a confession to make. I do believe my issue with folk music has something to do with my having been introduced to so much of it via the Catholic Church. You see, there was a time period when 'Jesus Freaks' roamed the planet - young, committed souls who thought they could use an acoustic guitar as a means of converting others. Singing nuns and bible-thumping hippies with a John Denver-like veneer dished out copious amounts of  dogma in spoonfuls of folk-spun musical confections, such as Up, Up With People. Yes, there was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be one of them, one of them! This proved to be a very effective, cult-like brainwashing technique, creating in me a lifelong need to 'belong'. 

Needless to say, on this side of things, it has left a bad taste in my mouth and could explain my lack of love for anything that smacks of folk music. This is particularly true when it comes to the trilling sounds of a female soprano folk singer. I think it fair to say that Baez is not everyone's cup of herbal tea. Her lower alto range feels underdeveloped and muddled, while she has a tendency to push way to hard when using her upper range. So, while I have found some of her performances to be quite lovely, this one brings to mind visions of singing nuns. 

Okay, so, my ears perk up in delight from moment one of Them's (their?) version. I adore the reedy/flute-like sound of that electric keyboard that pings in the back ground and then takes over at the bridge. In fact, I like the whole almost-spooky feeling of their take on this. Van Morrison's vocals? An acquired taste, but I find this early-in-career performance to be akin to what Mick Jagger was doing at the time - a well-punctuated, pugilistic articulation of sorts. I love the way Morrison tries to open up the song near the very end and fails a bit. It's endearing. 

Hmm. The Byrds. A different direction. Very druggy, draggy. I love the tasteful country-influenced guitar licks in the background. This warmth is augmented considerably once the electric keyboard becomes more prominent in the mix. Adds a lot of atmosphere and shape. The harmonies feel like a wall of sound and overly complicated. Note by note, this is not a complex song (emotionally, it is, indeed), so the vocal ensemble strikes me as over-the-top and unsuitable. The whole thing sounds like someone playing an Eagles song (Lyin' Eyes) with their finger on the turntable. If they had increased the tempo dramatically, rendering it more driven and brighter, I think this would have worked. But as is? Oh, no, dears. It sounds like you're all stoned out of your GD gourds.

The Verdict:


No contest. And yes, this is in light of my already-copped-to distaste for folk music. I simply prefer a more concrete, electrically-motored sound when it comes to my pop music. I like Them's version of this song. It has great atmosphere. The vocals? A tad dated. 

The song itself? Well, I know a lot of people who consider this a classic, and maybe I need to sit with it awhile longer to glean its depths and mysteries. But, at this juncture, I don't think much of it. I do like the slight chorus, especially when repeated twice. However, as good-bye songs go, telling someone to pick up their blanket and be elsewhere? Doesn't leave a lot of room for interpretation or hidden meanings, now does it? And, yes... that is a cursory and somewhat dismissive reading on my part. 

I would be totally interested in hearing The Eagle's do this song back in 1975. The Byrds had a great idea. I just think they were a bit too much under-the-influence to bring it completely to life.

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Well, that's my take on it. Disagree? Let me know what you think. I love to hear your point of view. That's the beauty of music... everybody has the potential to hear something different.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section. 

And, as always... thanks for reading!

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue - The Byrds
(This is the 1965 version)


anne marie in philly said...

joan baez. and a VERY young van morrison there with THEM.

Mistress Maddie said...

I will go with the Byrds. Being a fan, there's not much they do I don't like.

whkattk said...

I never cared for Dylan's all. His lyrics, though....

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Yes. Them.
I have never heard of the band but I love the sound! It kinda reminds me a little of Kingsmen ( I love Louie Louie). I'm totally into the sound of that era.
I do have Dylan's two greatest hits records and I've listened to them, but yes, he's kinda nasal and whiny. Joan Baez? Have never really payed attention to her. She does sound like one of those singing nuns though (catholic boy here, too).
I thought The Byrds were going to sound different! They usually rock. And I love some stoner music, but not this one.
Them it is.


Jimmy said...

You're still in era. Joan Baez would be a nothing without Bob Dylan. BTW, it is said that 1965 was the year Bob Dylan died as he went to an electric guitar. He went silent after that due to outrage of the beatniks.

Perhaps, you could dissect early to commercial Judy Collins. That would be interesting to have your take on that.