by Jochen Markhorst
The jingle-jangle sound of The Byrds’ world hit “Mr. Tambourine Man” is, obviously, largely due to Roger McGuinn’s guitar, the electric twelve-string Rickenbacker 360 Deluxe. It brings immortality to both McGuinn and the guitar and is considered in music history as one of the first pillars of the invention of folk rock.
How justified this is, is for music historians to decide, but McGuinn doesn’t record his 360/12 on the Dylan song until January 1965, so he’s certainly not the first to play the guitar on a hit. Rickenbacker is smart enough to give a prototype (the second copy, actually) to George Harrison almost a year earlier, in February ’64, when The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. In the television show the Beatle remains faithful to his Gretsch, but soon he parades and plays the Rickenbacker prominently in the successful film A Hard Day’s Night (1964), igniting enormous, worldwide popularity. Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, for example, is quick to strike. The Rick 360/12 already seems to be sounding on “Don’t Hurt My Little Sister” (June ’64), on Pet Sounds it certainly jingle-jangles (in “That’s Not Me”, among others), and the particular beauty of “California Girls” (April ’65) also owes more than a little to the twelve-string.
But Harrison is the first. After that brilliant marketing move by Rickenbacker in February, George takes the guitar to London, and a week later, 1 March 1964, “I Call Your Name” is embellished with it. The recording appears on the EP “Long Tall Sally” and on the US-release The Beatles’ Second Album. But the real splendour of the sound can be heard on the very first Beatles song on which Harrison uses the guitar.
The Beatles play three Sundays in a row at Ed Sullivan’s, the last time on Sunday 23 February. On Monday they fly back home, and on Tuesday 25 February they are back in the EMI studios. Lennon plays a new song for his mates. From the mouth of Tom Petty, we now know the origin of George’s intro, or at least his remembrance thereof:
“George Harrison and I were once in a car and the Beatles song “You Can’t Do That” came on, with that great riff in the beginning on the 12-string. He goes, ‘I came up with that.’ And I said, ‘Really? How?’ He said, ‘I was just standing there and thought, I’ve got to do something.’ That pretty much sums him up.”
Producer George Martin and Harrison himself apparently also hear the added value of the chiming, jangling Rickenbacker right away; the same day, the first takes of “I Should Have Known Better” are recorded – for the middle-eight and the short solo, the Rick is used again.
A year later, Wednesday evening 13 January 1965, Dylan is in Studio A at Columbia Recording Studio in New York from 7 to 10. It is the first recording session for Bringing It All Back Home, and Dylan does about half of the takes alone, with his guitar, harmonica and the occasional piano. Tomorrow, with a band and electrically amplified instruments, he will tackle eight songs in twenty-four takes, including the landsliding “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, but today is still largely old-fashioned, acoustic, familiar. This evening’s performances include a beautiful, dreamy, semi-acoustic version of “She Belongs To Me”, the only recording of “Farewell Angelina” and a hypnotic “I’ll Keep It With Mine”.
Around nine o’clock, after “Farewell Angelina”, the Beatles quarter starts. Dylan starts “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”, and after the first verse it is clear that he has been listening a lot to A Hard Day’s Night, that first Beatles record with only original songs, the record with which the Beatles definitively take the final step from rock ‘n’ roll band to grandmasters of pop music.
This first recording of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is still acoustic, but already has a something of a Merseybeat, sounds like a mash-up of “Things We Said Today” and “I Should Have Known Better” – like the pop gem that Manfred Mann will grind out a little later.
After that first, embryonic take, Dylan holds on to the Mersey mood for just a little while longer and starts an unfinished next Beatlesque rocker: “You Don’t Have To Do That”. There’s no more than one sort-of-riff, basically one chord and only one verse, and the lyrics aren’t too mind-blowing either. Miles away from the mercurial beauty of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” or the Big City Beat Poetry of “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, but indeed closer to the unsubtle Hard Day’s Night rhyming of “I’ll Cry Instead” or, for that matter, a jealousy song like Lennon’s “Run For Your Life”, or a wailing song like “It Won’t Be Long”;
You say that you're fed up You say you're gonna head off Then you run around packin' Like a chicken with your head off I just wanna ask you Honey where are you at? 'Cause I tell you all the time You don't have to do that
… or as Lennon would say: “Because I told you before, you can’t do that.”
The title on the original recording sheet is more promising, by the way: “Bending Down On My Stomick Lookin’ West”. Presumably, it’s an unseriously shaken off title, as unserious as “Alcatraz To The Ninth Power” (the so-called working title of “Farewell Angelina”) or any of the many other nonsensical titles we hear Dylan shout at his producer on The Cutting Edge – but on the other hand, it leaves an admittedly unlikely option open, the option that Dylan already sees in his mind the outline of a kind of “Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence”, or even a hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic text like “Farewell Angelina”.
We will never know. Dylan rejects the song already after 51 seconds. Plenty more where that came from.
Editorial note: Although there is no recording of Dylan’s song, “You don’t have to do that” is available on Spotify.
Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:
- Blood on the Tracks: Dylan’s Masterpiece in Blue
- Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan’s mercurial masterpiece
- Where Are You Tonight? Bob Dylan’s hushed-up classic from 1978
- Desolation Row: Bob Dylan’s poetic letter from 1965
- Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan’s Summer of 1967
- Mississippi: Bob Dylan’s midlife masterpiece
- Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
- John Wesley Harding: Bob Dylan meets Kafka in Nashville
- Tombstone Blues b/w Jet Pilot: Dylan’s lookin’ for the fuse
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