Stop Now (1978): Two versions, no Springs

Stop Now (1978)

by Jochen Markhorst

Dylan is not the only songwriter who admires T.S. Eliot. Recognition and appreciation are widely displayed in the music world. Genesis, Bowie, Arcade Fire, Lou Reed, Tori Amos, Manic Street Preachers … just a few examples of artists who quote, paraphrase or mention Eliot in their lyrics.

Neil Tennant, from the famous pop duo Pet Shop Boys, publicly declares that the lyrics of their first hit “West End Girls” are inspired by The Waste Land, and with that he refers to the style; the changing narrative perspectives and the collage-like insertion of alienating references (the opening lines are from an old gangster film with James Cagney, “from Lake Geneva to Finland Station” is Lenin’s train journey towards the Russian Revolution).

In the liner notes of the 2001 re-release of their debut album Please (1986), the other half of the duo, keyboard player Chris Lowe, shifts the attention to the music, and especially to the background singer: “Helena Springs has got one of my favourite female backing voices of all time.” Singer Neil Tennant adds: “She’s got a fantastic, magisterial voice.”

Ah. That is where Helena Springs did go. In this hit, she only has a small supporting role (those two hollow, somewhat gothic lines How much do you need and How far have you been), but the men ask her for more songs and even write a song with her. “A New Life”, the B-side to their world hit with Dusty Springfield, “What Have I Done To Deserve This?”

For her solo album New Love, she changes the lyrics and title to “A New Love”, but that is equally unsuccessful. Some attention in the British press, though, where she usually expresses her respect for teacher Dylan. Like in the Melody Maker of October 27, 1984:

“Dylan basically taught me how to write a song. The first song I wrote by myself was Boy, Want You Down On Your Knees. Bob loved it and made me write more. Dylan’s an incredible teacher. You might think he wouldn’t be but he’s so patient, so easy and has an ear that’s unreal. Dylan taught me how to write rock and roll.”

When she was traveling as a background singer with Dylan, 1978 and 1979, she wrote “a lot of stuff” together with Dylan, of which a few songs were recorded. How much is still floating around is unknown. “It just kept flowing, we didn’t stop writing.”

On the Rundown Rehearsal Tapes bootleg there are a few, Eric Clapton records “If I Don’t Be There By Morning” and “Walk Out In The Rain”, The Searchers score a hit with “Coming From The Heart”… by and by, some songs see the light of day.

Fan sites are intrigued, Dylanologists interested. Not like it is the Holy Grail, but still. With some uncertainties, one comes up to twenty-one titles, from half of them the title is the only thing that is known.

One of the twenty-one titles is “Stop Now”. Two recordings of the song end up on that Rundown Rehearsals bootleg. A slow, rather enthusiastic version, supposedly recorded on 8 June ’78, and a faster, tighter and more serious version from a month earlier, 2 May 1978. Incidentally, Michael Krogsgaard, who is generally well informed, and with him Olof Björner, think that both versions were recorded on May 1, during the fifth Street Legal session.

A remarkable comment on “Stop Now” in The Copyright Files creates some clarity with regard to that – otherwise unimportant – date, but causes confusion on another point:

With this document, signed by Helena Springs, the songwriter transferred and assigned to Special Rider Music “all her right, title and interest,” including the copyright, to the song “by Helena Springs and Bob Dylan….”
The data for the transaction are:
Assignment
By Helena Springs & Bob Dylan.
P1: Helena Springs
P2: Special Rider Music

On “execution date” 2 May, so one day after the likely recording date, Helena signs a legal document in which she transfers “all her right, title and interest”, including copyright, and grants them to Dylan’s music publisher Special Rider Music. At the U.S. Copyright Office, however, the song is still registered in the name of both (document number V1702P386), and this amendment is not mentioned.

But it is conceivable that the song was wrongly attributed to Springs. In every respect, it does indeed seem like a song Dylan would effortlessly dash off; atypical text fragments or melody lines, such as in “Coming From The Heart” and “More Than Flesh In Blood”, “Stop Now” does not have – it really is one of those archetypal Dylan finger exercises, something like “Stepchild”, or “Seven Days” .

Musically anyway. A regular twelve-bar blues in an everyday stop-and-go arrangement, a nice but not surprising bridge, melody lines that follow traditional blues licks … all pleasant and swinging, but ‘composition’ is a big word and a second ‘composer’ on such a workpiece only gets in the way.

The same applies to the lyrics. Similar horny ambiguities as in “New Pony”, a promiscuous protagonist and the idiom of old blues heroes such as Blind Willie McTell and Arthur Crudup. The opening echoes Elvis (“Mean Woman Blues”, I got a woman, mean as she can be versus “Stop Now” I have a woman, fine as she can be), but harmonica virtuoso Sonny Boy Williamson II seems to be the direct source of inspiration. His “Stop Now Baby” (1954) has practically the same chorus.

Dylan turns

You better stop now
You better stop now
Stop now baby
Darling before it’s too late

…into:

You have better
Stop now, stop now,
Stop now, stop now,
Before it’s too late.

Almost identical. No coincidence; Dylan’s love for Sonny Boy Williamson II has been adequately documented, as has Dylan’s tendency to cherrypick from Sonny Boy’s work.

The stop-and-go run-up to the choruses Dylan copies from “Don’t Start Me Talkin”, the classic he also plays with The Plugz in David Lettermans show, 1984. In Chronicles he fabulizes that Sonny Boy once gave him a harmonica lesson (“Boy, you play too fast”), in Theme Time Radio Hour, radio maker Dylan plays no less than eight times a song of his, and later works are littered with references; “Your Funeral And My Trial” in “Cry A While”, for example, and in “Spirit On The Water” the Nobel Prize winner quotes from both “Black Gal Blues” and “Sugar Mama Blues”.

No, the lyrics neither give cause to think that the talented, charming Helena has been involved – this really is the work of a seasoned bluesman (m/f).

In the 80s, Helena Springs continues her career in England, but not as a solo artist. As a background singer, she accompanies half the premier division. She can be seen and heard behind Bowie during Live Aid, with Bette Midler during a television special and she tours with Elton John.

Also because her daughter Nina is getting too old by now for a traveling life, Helena slowly withdraws from the music scene towards the end of the 1980s and takes a different path. Thanks to Nina, she notices there are only white Barbie dolls on the market. In 1994 Helena, under her real name Lisandrello, launches the company Hamilton Design Systeme, which sells the coloured Candi Dolls with reasonable success.

Daughter Nina Lisandrello is just as pretty as her mother and broke through as an actress (Beauty And The Beast, Law & Order, NCIS), so Helena still catches, at least indirectly, some reflected shine from the spotlight.

No such luck for “Stop Now”. The song, according to Clinton Heylin at one time nominated for Street Legal, but scrapped in favour of “New Pony”, has completely faded away and is now buried under the dust of the years.

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