(I Must) Love You Too Much: rejected not forgotten

(I Must) Love You Too Much (1978)

by Jochen Markhorst

 Will Freeman, the protagonist of Nick Hornby’s filmed novel About A Boy (1998), lives a luxurious, empty life in London and can afford it thanks to his father’s inheritance; Dad wrote the Christmas evergreen “Santa’s Super Sleigh”, and his son Will sees the annual royalties from it pouring in by buckets and barrels.

For the plot of book and film adaptation (2002, by the Weitz brothers, starring Hugh Grant) this fact is not too relevant; the Christmas hit is more like a MacGuffin to explain the financing of Freeman’s life. Yet it intrigues. Can an heir to a decades-old Christmas hit live off the royalties? In 2005, a reader of The Guardian wonders about that in a reader’s letter, and the answer comes a week later, November 9, from an experience expert in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, Greg Lake:

I can tell you from experience that it’s lovely to get the old royalty cheque around September every year, but on its own, the Christmas song money isn’t quite enough to buy my own island in the Caribbean.

Greg Lake scored a huge hit in 1975 with “I Believe In Father Christmas”, a song that at the time of his readers’ letter, thirty years later, is still one of the most popular Christmas hits in England, so he has a right to speak.

In February 2014, Greg is told he has pancreatic cancer with metastases. He can still process the bad news in his autobiography, which should have been published in 2012, but will eventually be published posthumously, six months after his death in December 2016. The book, Lucky Man (2017), is a pleasant, sympathetic autobiography, written by a pleasant, sympathetic musician without too much pretension, literary or otherwise. The title refers to Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s first big hit, the 1970 “Lucky Man”, a song Lake wrote as a teenager, and it refers to the moving closing line of the autobiography, written in the face of impending death: “I have been a lucky man.”

Entertaining and interesting enough, all of it, Lake’s memories of ELP, King Crimson, his solo work and his contributions to various occasional projects (such as The Who and Ringo Starr’s All Star Band), though especially interesting for the Dylan fan is his background story to “(I Must) Love You Too Much”.

“(I Must) Love You Too Much”, or “Love You Too Much”, or without brackets (there are several titles in circulation) is one of the “Helena Springs songs”, one of the songs Dylan writes in 1978 together with the young singer from his background choir. He doesn’t record it, but apparently Dylan attaches more importance to it than to “Walk Out In The Rain” and “If I Don’t Be There By Morning”: the song is played live twice, and used a few times at a sound check.

Those live performances are pretty fun. Power rock, propelled by Jerry Scheff’s thundering bass, sharp, Stones-like rhythm guitar and even a concrete riff in the middle-eight… it’s quite a boost. Dylan places the song well, at number 12, between “I Shall Be Released” and “Going, Going, Gone”, just before the break, and both times the end falters a bit (Dylan: “Thank you. We almost played that one right”), but still: both times it is a nice, solid rocker.

For Street Legal, the song is too late anyway. That album was released June 15, the first performance of “Love You Too Much” is September 24th; considering the mistakes while performing, the song hasn’t been rehearsed much yet and probably only recently written. The next album is the first evangelical record, Slow Train Coming, and of course the song doesn’t qualify for that, although on closer inspection a not too dramatic lyrical intervention could have made the song reli-proof. If the you is Christ, the lyrics would have the same, somewhat disparagingly complaining, tone as “I Believe In You”.

Anyway, Dylan rejects the song. But he doesn’t completely forget the song. Two years later, in 1980, Greg Lake calls in. Through an intermediary:

For my debut solo record, I wanted to pay tribute to Bob Dylan by recording one of his songs. I had always been a huge fan of Bob and his songwriting, and I felt that this was as good a time as any for me to pay my respects. The only thing was that I did not really want to do one of his big hits, but rather something less well known. Just purely by coincidence, Tommy Mohler, one of my tour managers at the time, used to work for Bob. He asked him if he had any unreleased material that I could record. Bob explained that he didn’t have any completed songs, but that he did have one song that was halfway written and that he would be more than happy for me to complete it. The title of the song was ‘Love You Too Much’. As a result, I share a co-writing credit with the legendary Bob Dylan (plus Helena Springs). Having finished the writing, I began to record the track at Abbey Road.

That recording is, as can be expected from Greg Lake, a smooth, flawless interpretation, performed by world-class hard rocking musicians, with the only drawback being the sterile 80s sound of the Miami Vice synthesizers. Its strong point is Gary Moore’s Formula 1 guitar solo, which also makes Greg Lake’s jaw drop:

“I asked him if he would like to come into the control room and take a listen to the track but he said that he would rather just play along in real time. […]. Gary’s track was done in one single pass having never heard the song before. To be honest, we were all absolutely floored by his performance.”

Greg asks him on the spot for his band, and Moore accepts. So he is standing next to Lake at the King Biscuit Flower Hour on November 5, 1981, when he plays another superlative of that studio part.

 

Lake has added and changed some lyrics, but hardly distinctive changes. The original text isn’t really a poetic masterpiece anyway – there’s not much to spoil about it. “(I Must) Love You Too Much” expresses in interchangeable verses the suffering of a loser in love with the wrong woman. His mother warns him, but in vain; he sure wishes he could leave her – but he loves her too much;

Well, my mama said the girl’s puttin’ you down
She’s gonna ruin my life
I must have loved you too much

…and variants thereof. Not surprising, and not too original either – in the blues canon dozens of variants of the same approach can be found, in any case. Arthur Crudup’s classic “Mean Frisco Blues”, for example, from which Dylan drew earlier, for the Basement gem “Santa Fe”;

Well, my mama, she done told me
And my papa told me too
A woman that gets in your face
Lord, she ain't no friend for you

Or Lead Belly’s equally influential “Fannin Street”;

My mama told me
“Women in Shreveport, son
Gonna be the death of you”

… more variants of the song in Dylan’s personal Top 10, the song which echoes in seven, eight Dylan songs, of Harold Arlen’s “Blues In The Night”, one of the many highlights on Sinatra’s Sings For Only The Lonely (1958):

My mama done tol' me, when I was in knee-pants
My mama done tol' me, “Son a woman'll sweet talk
And give ya the big eye, but when the sweet talkin's done
A woman's a two-face, a worrisome thing 
        who'll leave ya to sing the blues in the night”

 A third life gets “(I Must) Love You Too Much” in 1996, when The Band releases the peculiar album High On The Hog, after Jericho the second reunion album without Robbie Robertson, this time without really strong songs. The interpretation is not substantially different from Dylan’s original approach – funkier and tighter, but otherwise almost identical; also driven by a thunderous bass of presumably Rick Danko, a similar ladies’ choir (with Garth Hudson’s wife Maud), an identical tempo. However, “I Must Love You Too Much” is the most ferocious rocker of the otherwise mediocre, rather colourless album.

Richard Manuel’s replacement, ex-Beach Boy and “secret weapon of The Rolling Stones” (according to Ron Wood) Blondie Chaplin modestly participates in the background and donates one of the most beautiful songs on the album, “Where I Should Always Be”. Toe-curling lyrics, though. About a boy. In love with the wrong woman. No sustainable Christmas hit potential, unfortunately.

You might also enjoy “Unravelling the origins of Dylan’s rarely heard ‘I must love you too much’.”

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Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold.  His books are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

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1 Response to (I Must) Love You Too Much: rejected not forgotten

  1. Mark Bittner says:

    This is the best version. Butterfield and Danko live.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TurxPfohSm4

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