Bob Dylan Cover Special: Them — “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, Ben E. King — “In the Midnight Hour/Lay Lady Lay”, Johnny Cash — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 19, 2021

Earlier this year, Chris Willman noted perceptively in Variety that:

How is it that the most idiosyncratic major songwriter of our lifetimes also came to be the most covered? Bob Dylan may be full of songs that are personal, peculiar and sometimes inscrutable, but if anything, that’s made them even more of a magnet for any vocal interpreter or kindred-spirit singer-songwriter who ever saw a Dylan original that was tangled up in wordplay and saw it as a nut to crack. On paper, his material should be daunting — but on Spotify, you can find user-generated playlists of covers of Dylan tunes that actually extend to more than 4,000 recordings . . . . [M]usicians [believe they possess] the beautiful presumption to know what was in Dylan’s always mysterious, always revelatory heart when they interpreted these tunes . . . or [don’t even care] if they [think they can] make them even prettier.

The results — often forgetable, often misguided, sometimes excruciating, and once in a blue moon revelatory. This last category has some famous examples: Bob and his career (along with the rest of us) owe a debt of gratitude to the Byrds for “Mr. Tambourine Man,” to Jimi Hendrix for “All Along the Watchtower,” to Manfred Mann for “Quinn the Eskimo,” and to the Band for “I Shall Be Released.” But sometimes the revelations still need to be more broadly revealed.

253) Them — “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

Them’s rendition of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” is one of those blue moon moments. Clinton Heylin has called it “that genuine rarity, a Dylan cover to match the original.”

Van Morrison has had a long fascination with Dylan:

I think I heard The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in a record shop in Smith Street. And I just thought it was just incredible that this guy’s not singing about “moon in June” and he’s getting away with it. . . . The subject matter wasn’t pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up.

Clinton Heylin, Can You Feel the Silence?: Van Morrison: A New Biography 134-35 (2003)..

As to “Baby Blue”:

Morrison’s record producer . . . Bert Berns, encouraged him to find models for his songs, so he bought Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album in March 1965. One of the songs on the album held a unique fascination for Morrison and he soon started performing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in small clubs and pubs as a solo artist (without Them).

Only on Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” does Van truly shatter all the limits on his special powers. . . . Played very fast, Van’s voice virtually fighting for control over the band, “Baby Blue” emerges as music that is both dramatic and terrifying.

Greil Marcus, Review of Astral Weeks, Rolling Stone, March 1, 1969.

Marcus has also said that “[a]s they listened to Them, people who already knew the song by heart weren’t certain they had ever heard it before.”

Steven Gaydos:

Perhaps the only rock and roll artist of the ’60s who can match Bob Dylan in the fields of longevity, complexity, soulfulness and songwriting productivity, Van Morrison the singer also has a way of uncapping Dylan’s frantic, vulnerable, fearfulness that no other interpreter has ever done. When Van does Bob, all the human tragedy of vanquished dreams, unfulfilled desires and bitter disappointments come to life.

Perhaps it’s because Van himself is so adept at wordplay that reaches into the mystic, to coin a phrase, but when Van sings “Blue” the song’s urgency is vibrant, the desire to move on clearly a life or death proposition.

254) Ben E. King — “In the Midnight Hour/Lay Lady Lay”

Wax Poetics says that:

The record finds the former Drifter delivering an uncharacteristically loose, but truly gorgeous, set of almost psychedelic country-soul. King would never release another record like this, so enjoy.

Don Heckman wrote in the New York Times on August 2, 1970 that:

An interesting trend seems to he developing in which black artists finally are turning the tables on an old music industry practice — the making of “covers.” In the past, “covers” usually consisted of note‐for‐note simulations by white performers of recordings that originally were made by black singers and musicians. Lately, however, performers like Ike & Tina Turner, Isaac Hayes, and now Ben E. King, have been producing their own versions of tunes originally written and recorded by such white stars as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Typically, black performers haven’t been content to simply imitate: at times their versions are even superior to the originals. Ben E. King, late of the Drifters and best known for his early sixties hit “Spanish Harlem,” adds another wrinkle to the process in his first release for the new Maxwell label. Three familiar pieces, Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” Lennon & McCartney’s “Come Together” and Bobby Russell’s “Little Green Apples” are considerably enlivened by their mixture with Wilson Pickett’s “In The Midnight Hour” (with “Lay Lady Lay”), Rudy Clark’s “If You’ve Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody” (with “Come Together”) and Paul Vance’ “She Lets Her Hair Down” (with “Apples”). Surprisingly, the blend heightens the effectiveness of all the tunes. . . . The consistency with which King finds vigorously original interpretations of such familiar material is, for a performer rarely identified with such songs, remarkable. If this is the current style in “covers,” we can be happy that something new and creative has come out of the cynical past.

255) Johnny Cash — “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”

Chris Morris wrote recently in Variety that:

Cash was one of the first major supporters and interpreters of his friend and label mate’s music – to the extent that he lifted the melody of this song wholesale for his own composition “Understand Your Man,” released in 1964. But the Man in Black finally got around to cutting his own solid, boom-chicka-booming version of the original tune, issued as a single later that year and included as one of the three Dylan compositions heard on the 1965 album “Orange Blossom Special.”

At Newport Folk Festival (‘64). Cash let the audience know that “I don’t drink any more. I don’t drink any less, but I don’t drink any more.”

Here is “Understand Your Man”:

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