Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Songs of BOB DYLAN - Part 3

There probably isn't a better send-up of a BOB DYLAN song than the FOUR SEASONS / WONDER WHO? version of DON'T THINK TWICE, released in 1965.

DYLAN recorded the song on his first charted LP, THE FREEWHEELIN' BOB DYLAN, and the song had already been a hit for PETER, PAUL AND MARY in 1963, going all the way to #9.

FRANKIE VALLI and the boys also hit The Top Ten with their campy version, recorded in fun under the pseudonym THE WONDER WHO? (It became their 11th Top Ten Hit!) Another WONDER WHO? single released the following year, ON THE GOOD SHIP LOLLIPOP (yes, the SHIRLEY TEMPLE song!), failed to charm anyone, and it died a quick death at #87.

If THE WONDER WHO? version of BOB DYLAN's tune DON'T THINK TWICE poked a little fun at the master songwriter, then THE BOX TOPS' version of I SHALL BE RELEASED was damn-near a religious experience! (Actually, there'd be quite a fuss in the early '80's when DYLAN announced that he'd found religion ... but this was 1969 and THE BOX TOPS were coming off a string of hits that included the chart-topper THE LETTER and the Top 40 Hits NEON RAINBOW, CRY LIKE A BABY, CHOO CHOO TRAIN, I MET HER IN CHURCH and SWEET CREAM LADIES, FORWARD MARCH. In fact, I SHALL BE RELEASED was their first single NOT to make The Top 40, stopping at #67.)

It sounded like one of the hymns you'd sing in church on Sundays, but had enough of a pop feel that you couldn't help but sing along ... in fact, it was covered by just about everybody at the time. DYLAN's version first showed up on his GREATEST HITS, VOLUME 2 LP, released in 1971, but he later re-recorded the track with THE BAND for his BEFORE THE FLOOD album in 1974.

THE BOX TOPS gave this one a blue-eyed soul feel ... and it really should have been a bigger hit.  (It is also one of my VERY favorite tracks by these guys!)

In late 1970, GEORGE HARRISON released his version of a beautiful BOB DYLAN tune called IF NOT FOR YOU. (DYLAN had first cut the song for his NEW MORNING LP, released the month before.)

BOB and GEORGE had been friends since THE BEATLES days. (It is said that BOB DYLAN was responsible for introducing THE BEATLES to both more introspective lyrics and marijuana.) In fact, HARRISON had stock-piled quite a few songs from THE BEATLES days, and these became the bulk of his first real solo LP, ALL THINGS MUST PASS, which topped the charts for seven weeks in early 1971, the first solo BEATLE album to do so. (With an allotment of only one or two songs per album, GEORGE's songwriting career was somewhat stifled by the presence of a songwriting team as prolific as LENNON-McCARTNEY!)
DYLAN also cowrote another song for the album with HARRISON called I'D HAVE YOU ANYTIME (it ended up being the lead track on the LP). The following year, GEORGE asked DYLAN if he would perform at THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH. At first reluctant, HARRISON said, "C'mon ... you can sing BLOWIN' IN THE WIND" to which DYLAN reportedly replied, "Why, are you going to sing I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND?" DYLAN eventually gave in and, in fact, sang SEVERAL songs that night, including JUST LIKE A WOMAN, A HARD RAIN'S GONNA FALL and the requested BLOWIN' IN THE WIND. (GEORGE never did do I WANT TO HOLD YOUR HAND, however!)

When it came time to form THE TRAVELING WILBURYS in 1988, the pair teamed up again (along with JEFF LYNNE, TOM PETTY and ROY ORBISON) and put out a pair of EXCELLENT albums.

Six months after HARRISON released IF NOT FOR YOU on his ALL THINGS MUST PASS album, it was quite a surprise to hear some young upstart from down under singing that tune ... but OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN launched her American career with a beautiful cover and it went all the way to #23 on the US National Charts. (Here in Chicago it went to #2!)

Done up with quite a country flavor, OLIVIA started churning out a string of country / pop hits. LET ME BE THERE, IF YOU LOVE ME (which is actually the same song with different lyrics I think), I HONESTLY LOVE YOU, PLEASE MR. PLEASE and HAVE YOU NEVER BEEN MELLOW all followed it into The Top Ten, winning her all kinds of country artist awards (and alienating country traditionalists and purists in the process.) How could a girl who wasn't even from this country be winning all these country music awards?!?!? (Actually, if you think about it, if country music comes from the south, how much further south than Australia can you go?!?!?)

Today we give you BOTH versions of a beautiful BOB DYLAN song ... along with a special surprise bonus. Close your eyes and see if you can figure out who's singing DYLAN's I'LL BE YOUR BABY TONIGHT ... this just might be my favorite version of this song. (DYLAN first cut it on his JOHN WESLEY HARDING album in 1968.)  I can listen to this one all day long!

RICK NELSON had been a BOB DYLAN fan for many years. In fact, he covered a number of DYLAN tunes during the "country / rock" phase of his career, including LOVE MINUS ZERO/NO LIMIT, IF YOU GOTTA GO, GO NOW, his own version of the previously featured I SHALL BE RELEASED, WALKIN' DOWN THE LINE, JUST LIKE A WOMAN and the Top 40 "comeback" Hit SHE BELONGS TO ME, released in 1969 by RICK NELSON AND THE STONE CANYON BAND.

NELSON hadn't had a single make the National Top 40 since THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU hit #19 in 1964 ... so SHE BELONGS TO ME was a welcome comeback in late-1969. It eventually topped out at #30 and, a couple years later, RICK had one of the biggest hits of his career when his self-penned GARDEN PARTY went all the way to #3. Despite recording some excellent tracks well into the early '80's, he found himself once again ignored by radio, forcing him to take up life on the road for up to 250 dates per year in order to earn a living. He died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve, 1985, enroute to a gig in DeKalb, Texas.

One of the artists we gave the "triple play" treatment to last year was Great Britain's MANFRED MANN. In fact, we featured their version of the BOB DYLAN song THE MIGHTY QUINN as part of that feature. (RICK NELSON's SHE BELONGS TO ME was also covered some time ago in FORGOTTEN HITS ... but these are GREAT examples of DYLAN songs that became big hits for other artists, so we just HAD to include them again.)

Not unlike THE BYRDS (who kicked off this series) or even RICK NELSON (as explained above), MANFRED MANN made quite a career out of covering DYLAN tunes. In the mid-'70's, they did a couple of songs written by a guy many people were saying was the "new DYLAN" ... their Number One Hit BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (as well as SPIRIT IN THE NIGHT) were both written by BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (who we gave a similar artist spotlight to last year!)

MANFRED MANN hit the British Charts with DYLAN covers of IF YOU GOTTA GO, GO NOW and JUST LIKE A WOMAN and, as late as 1979, recorded BOB's YOU ANGEL YOU (with mild success.) Today, we give you their best known DYLAN track, THE MIGHTY QUINN, along with RICK NELSON's excellent reading of SHE BELONGS TO ME. Enjoy!

DIDJAKNOW?: It's reported that some pressings of MANFRED MANN's hit THE MIGHTY QUINN showed the title of the song as QUINN THE ESKIMO ... but I've never seen one. MOST copies that I've seen show the "official" title as: THE MIGHTY QUINN (QUINN THE ESKIMO) ... what does YOUR 45 say?!?!?

BTW:  Any idea who sang that countrified, haunting version of I'LL BE YOUR BABY TONIGHT? Well, that was none other than funny man RAY STEVENS, in a much more serious, mellow mood. It was released back in 1970, when STEVENS tried a more serious turn, releasing stuff like EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL, UNWIND and AMERICA, COMMUNICATE WITH ME. This one never charted, but always was a favorite of mine. (The B-Side was his version of THE BEATLES' classic THE FOOL ON THE HILL, another serious reading.) It's a pretty far cry from his novelty hit I NEED YOUR HELP, BARRY MANILOW, a tune we featured a few weeks back.