Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. This is a fabulous song by Bob Dylan, one that marks his transition from folk music to rock. After discussing Dylan’s original song, we will review a version by the group Them, with lead singer Van Morrison, plus a cover by Richie Havens.
Bob Dylan and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue:
The song It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue was one of the songs on Dylan’s great 1965 masterpiece album Bringing It All Back Home. The cover of that album is shown below.
Until this time, Bob Dylan was a major figure in folk music, known for his protest anthems such as Blowin’ in the Wind. As a fan of folk music in general, and Bob Dylan in particular, the material on Bringing It All Back Home was absolutely shocking in a number of different ways.
First, Dylan had switched from his old milieu — acoustic guitar and harmonica — to electric rock. Second, several songs on his new album contained lyrics that were either extremely personal, or even cryptic. The lyrics were also harsh, or even deeply cynical.
Below is a photo of Bob Dylan with an acoustic Gibson guitar and harmonica. He is recording his debut album Bob Dylan at Columbia Records’ New York studios in November 1961.
So, Bringing It All Back Home introduced a new Dylan. His ability to stack visual images one on top of another was undiminished, and he continued to combine haunting melodies with piercing lyrics.
However, Dylan’s new songs would no longer provide comfort for those of us taking part in civil rights or anti-war actions. In fact, several of Dylan’s new songs appeared to mock such people. For example, I have always maintained that the nasty comments in the song She Belongs To Me refer quite directly to Joan Baez, who provided unwavering support for Dylan, at a time when her fame was at a peak and Dylan’s career just beginning.
The song It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue refers to a mysterious but devastating event that has dramatically upended people’s lives. The result of this catastrophe is that the populace needs to relocate and begin over again.
You must leave now
Take what you need you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep
You better grab it fast
Yonder stands your orphan with his gun
Crying like a fire in the sun
Look out, the saints are coming through
And it’s all over now, baby blue
The highway is for gamblers
Better use your sense
Take what you have gathered
The empty handed painter from your streets
Is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
This sky, too, is folding under you
And it’s all over now, baby blue
To my mind, this is one of the most impressive collections of visual imagery in all of Dylan’s songs. The song ends with the invocation, “Strike another match, go start anew, and it’s all over now, baby blue.”
Here is the audio of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.
On the song Subterranean Homesick Blues, Dylan smacks the listener upside the head with a hard rocking beat. However, this song (and also Mr. Tambourine Man) makes a much more subtle transition to electric music. This tune features just Dylan on acoustic guitar and harmonica, accompanied by William Lee on electric bass. I find It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue to be incredibly powerful; the visual images are simply stacked one on top of another, producing an overwhelming sense of dislocation.
Take yourself back to January 15, 1965, when Bob Dylan went into the studio to tape sessions for the Bringing It All Back Home album. On that day, working with producer Tom Wilson, Dylan recorded this song together with Mr. Tambourine Man, Gates of Eden, and It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). Can you imagine cutting four such great songs on a single day?
However, It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue received a different treatment from the other three songs. Dylan had incorporated those other tunes into his live performances for some time, and as a result had a good sense of the arrangements he wanted for those songs.
Dylan had cut preliminary versions of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue over the past two days, but it appears that he wanted to record it fairly quickly, while it was still fresh in his mind. This was also the final song on the album.
The following video shows a fascinating bit of rock music history. In 1965, Bob Dylan embarked on a European tour which was chronicled in D.E. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back. In this clip from that film, Bob Dylan encounters the British folk-singer Donovan, and they play new tunes for each other.
Donovan, a renowned singer-songwriter and a legitimate superstar, plays a song for the assembled group. It’s quite a decent tune; however, it is a completely standard folk song, with familiar chord patterns and simple rhymes.
After Donovan has finished playing, Dylan breaks into a couple of verses from It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. The effect must have been shattering – the lyrics are raw and shocking, and entirely new for this genre.
If I were Donovan, I think that upon hearing Dylan’s song I would probably have retired and started another career. With these new songs, it is clear that Dylan has headed out into uncharted waters, and that he is about to take the entire field of rock music on a yet unfinished journey.
Not surprisingly, there has been tremendous speculation about Dylan’s intent on this song. Is it directed toward a particular person? Several have suggested that it might refer to Dylan’s romantic relationship with Joan Baez, which had recently ended. Others have guessed that the song may refer to other people, for example a fellow folksinger such as David Blue or Paul Clayton.
It has also been suggested the song may be Dylan’s way of saying goodbye to his folk music fans as he starts on his rock music voyage of discovery. Personally, I am uninterested in this speculation. The song is so powerful that it stands on its own, an all-time classic Dylan musical poem.
Them and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue:
The rock group Them came out of Belfast, North Ireland in the early 60s. It was the first rock group joined by Van Morrison before he embarked on a solo career.
Van Morrison had listened intently to his father’s extensive collection of American rhythm and blues records. Morrison had exquisite taste in R&B music, and diligently crafted a distinctive blues vocal style for himself. In 1964 he became co-owner of an R&B club in Belfast, and assembled a band to perform there.
Morrison brought in Ronnie Milling on drums, Billy Henderson on guitar, Alan Henderson on bass. At a later time they added Peter Bardens on keyboards, and the group were named Them after the title of a 50s horror movie.
Here is a photo of the Belfast, Ireland rock group Them in 1965. From L: Peter Bardens, Billy Harrison, Van Morrison, Alan Henderson.
Morrison himself sang lead vocals, and played harmonica and tenor sax with the group. The group Them developed a devoted following in Belfast for their garage-band sound. They (Them?) became famous for their improvisational sets and for extended versions of their most popular songs, which could last as long as half an hour in concerts.
In summer 1964, the band Them released the song Gloria, which became the group’s biggest hit, and established the band as part of the British Invasion. The group next hooked up with American producer Bert Berns. In March 1965 they released the song Here Comes The Night, which reached #2 on the U.K. pop charts and #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 list in the U.S.
Their cover of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue was released in the U.S. in April 1966. Although it was critically acclaimed, the song was not a commercial success.
Here is the audio of the group Them with It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.
In my opinion, this is a spectacular version of Dylan’s great classic tune. Peter Barden’s work on keyboards is particularly impressive, and Van Morrison’s vocals are really stunning. The net result is a haunting R&B version of this song.
It’s great to see such a talented artist as Van Morrison give his take on the Dylan tune, especially since it was recorded only a year after Dylan released his original version.
After leaving Them and going solo in 1967, Van Morrison has become one of the greatest blues singers in history. Over the past fifty years, he has released some of the most powerful soul albums of all time. Masterpieces such as Astral Weeks and Moondance are chock full of beautiful, haunting songs. I can listen to his two Greatest Hits albums over and over without becoming bored.
Morrison still performs It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue in live concerts. Here he is in a live performance of the Dylan classic.
Van Morrison has wonderful technique and great creativity, and here he does not disappoint. Backed by a jazz orchestra, including keyboards, horns and a double bass (that seems to be having trouble staying in tune), Morrison produces a powerful blues version of this song.
Van Morrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, although he skipped the induction ceremony. You can read a detailed discussion of his work and music in his Rock and Roll Hall bio. He was also knighted in 2015, so now you may address him as Sir George Ivan Morrison, OBE.
I regret that I have never seen Van Morrison in live performance. However, one of my friends saw him in concert when he was having a particularly difficult time with stage fright; as a result, Morrison performed the entire set with his back to the audience.
Morrison’s stage fright is sufficiently severe that he has occasionally had to cancel performances. We send along advice to Van Morrison from our Australian friends – “No worries, mate!”
Richie Havens and It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue:
We previously encountered Richie Havens in our blog post on the Crosby, Stills and Nash song Teach Your Children, and also for his cover of the Beatles’ song Here Comes The Sun. We will briefly review Havens’ life and career here.
Richie Havens was a prominent folk-singer, songwriter and political activist. He was the oldest of nine children born in Brooklyn to a Native American father and a mother of West Indian descent.
Below is a photo of Richie Havens performing in 1972.
Havens’ paternal grandparents had a fascinating history. They were both members of the Blackfoot tribe. They toured the U.S. as members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. However, they quit the touring company once they reached New York City, and the family eventually settled in Brooklyn.
Richie gravitated to the Greenwich Village beatnik scene. Initially, he participated in poetry readings. Wouldn’t it have been fun to walk into a Village coffee bar in the 60s, and find Richie Havens declaiming poetry! Anyway, Havens soon gravitated to folk music. He attracted a significant following in New York folk circles and was signed by super-manager Albert Grossman, who also managed artists such as Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary.
In the late 1960s, Richie Havens was not widely known outside East Coast folk music circles. However, that all changed dramatically after his performance at Woodstock in 1969. Havens was the first performer during the Woodstock Festival.
He was scheduled to perform a short set; however, the crowds were so enormous that they blocked all roads leading into the festival. When other musicians were caught in massive traffic jams, the organizers asked Richie to prolong his set until the next performers could arrive.
Not only did Richie Havens perform for three hours at Woodstock, but his live performance was one of the highlights of the Woodstock movie. His electrifying appearance at Woodstock made Havens into an international celebrity, and he enjoyed a long and notable career thereafter.
Richie Havens developed a unique playing style, which led him to be very creative in his music. He taught himself an “open-tuning” guitar-playing style. By re-tuning the strings on his guitar, he was able to play a number of chords by simply strumming the guitar and sliding his thumb up and down the neck of his instrument.
His eccentric technique meant that Havens’ music was almost never a direct copy of another tune. Virtually every one of his songs displays a creative and analytic approach to the music.
Here is Richie Havens’ version of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.
Isn’t this a terrific cover of this song? Havens slows down the tempo considerably, and turns it into a jazz-infused ballad. In addition to some interesting acoustic guitar licks, he adds violins and even a harp accompaniment.
The result is that the apocalyptic sense of doom remains, but is now tempered by Havens’ heartfelt vocals. I really enjoy this cover, which brings Richie Haven’s thoughtful arrangements to one of Bob Dylan’s masterpieces.
In addition to his musical prowess, Richie Havens was also a political activist. He was energetic in organizing for environmental issues, in fact he founded an oceanographic children’s museum located on City Island in the Bronx. In addition, Richie performed at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, and he was a headliner at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1999.
In April 2013, Richie Havens died of a heart attack at his home in New Jersey. He was 72 years old. He will be remembered as a cerebral and vibrant singer-songwriter.