by Jochen Markhorst
I Real groovy
“In May, 1964, Bob Dylan dropped in at London’s Marquee Club to listen to The Manfreds, declaring them to be ‘real groovy’. They return the compliment with their performance of Dylan’s controversial With God On Our Side.”
The closing words of the liner notes to one of Manfred Mann’s biggest hits, on the EP The One In The Middle (nine weeks no. 1 in the summer of ’65), marking the first in a long, long line of mostly very successful Dylan covers. The master can appreciate the covers too, according to his roaring recommendation at the press conference in San Francisco, December ’65:
Of all the people who record your compositions, who do you feel does most justice to what you’re trying to say?
“I think Manfred Mann. Manfred Mann. They’ve done the songs, they’ve done about three or four. Each one of them has been right in context with what the song was all about.”
Dylan has a foresight, apparently. At that time, Manfred Mann had recorded not three or four, but only two Dylan covers, though a third and a fourth would soon follow (“Just Like A Woman”, 1966, and the world success “The Mighty Quinn”, 1968).
Apart from the outspoken artistic appreciation, Dylan will also appreciate the financial merits that his British disciples bring him; with the second Dylan cover, Manfred Mann, and thus indirectly Dylan as well, has another huge hit. “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” scores the No. 2 position in the UK and reaches the Top 10 in Ireland, Sweden and Australia. The single is also released in the US, but doesn’t get any further than a one-week listing at no. 100 on the Cashbox charts. In the week of 16 October, when “Yesterday” is at 1, when Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street” are still in the charts (at 50 and 17, respectively), and when The Turtles’ cover of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” is at 27 – Dylan himself will hardly have noticed it, the basement rating of yet another one of his songs.
In Greg Russo’s admirable, painstaking Sisyphean work Mannerisms – The Five Phases Of Manfred Mann (1995) Manfred tells how he came to his inspired move:
“Dylan did it in a concert. And what staggered me was the whole of Britain was interested in Bob Dylan; he was a great songwriter everybody knew. He did this song and nobody followed it up! I think it was Tom [McGuinness] and I who discussed it and we then contacted the publishers and said ‘Can we have a copy?’ and then we did. And you would have thought with all these people looking for songs to record, there it is on television and nobody is paying attention! So we did it. Lovely, lovely song.”
Good story, but not quite correct. Manfred records “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” 19 July 1965, and is thus the second to record the song. He is just beaten by The Liverpool Five, who released an equally beautiful version as a single in July 1965 without any success.
Manfred Mann seems to have his marketing in order; although the single is only released in September, two months later, it is a huge success – it becomes Manfred’s biggest hit in the UK since “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. The Liverpool Five can console themselves with the fact that Dylan himself didn’t manage to score with it either. As far as we can tell, at least. For reasons that are unclear, the mono single “If You Gotta Go, Go Now b/w To Ramona” was only released in the Netherlands on 18 August 1967 (two years after Manfred Mann). Which did not make waves either.
Zeitgeist, presumably. Half a century later, the flop is less understandable. Strong song, sung by a very popular artist, and well produced. The Dutch single is a so-called composite. Producer Wilson added overdub recordings with “unidentified musicians” to the original recordings of 15 January 1965 four months later (Friday afternoon 21 May, Dylan is still in England), with extra backup vocals by the same lady who sings with Dylan in the same microphone on 15 January, with Angelina Butler – which makes it look like there is more than one lady singing along (it is not, as some sources still say, the ladies group The Poppies). That afternoon in May, Wilson even made two composites, and eventually pasted the intro of the second one to the first one – that’s the final master for the single.
Despite the strength of the song and the producer’s loving craftsmanship, it will not be released for the time being. When Dylan returns from England, he has “Like A Rolling Stone” up his sleeve, and so, obviously, any argument for releasing “If You Gotta Go” evaporates. When Dylan’s record company Columbia decides, for whatever reason, to release the single two years later in a small country by the North Sea, the train has already left. The Summer Of Love has broken out, and when that May 1965 recording finally hits the Dutch stores on 18 August 1967, the Billboard Top 10 looks like this:
- All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
- Light My Fire – The Doors
- Pleasant Valley Sunday – The Monkees
- I Was Made To Love Her – Stevie Wonder
- Baby I Love You – Aretha Franklin
- Mercy, Mercy, Mercy – The Buckinghams
- Ode To Billie Joe – Bobbie Gentry
- Cold Sweat – Part 1 – James Brown And The Famous Flames
- A Whiter Shade Of Pale – Procol Harum
- A Girl Like You – The Young Rascals
In most European countries, the Top 10 looks similar, only Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” is still in the Top 3 everywhere (in the UK on 1, in the Netherlands on 3). In any case, apart from a few local heroes, the menu is equally limited everywhere: psych-pop or soul, that’s all we have to offer. Only a outer category song, such as “Ode To Billie Joe”, still manages to squeeze in, but a hopelessly outdated Merseybeat rocker like “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” stands little chance.
Thematically it does fit, of course. The lyrics have a high if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with content, and maybe that’s why Columbia is trying it first in Holland, which has a certain reputation for loose morals and free love. Manfred Mann had some trouble with the lyrics in England, two years ago at any rate. The BBC producers thought it “too suggestive” and on September 27, 1965, after being invited to the very last episode of Gadzooks! on BBC2, the Manfreds were told that the song was “unsuitable” for the viewers. Two days later, Crackerjack banned the song as well.
That it nevertheless became a big hit, may have encouraged Columbia’s marketing strategists to release the Dylan version as a single two years later, but may also have inspired them to try it out on the other side of the North Sea first. Fruitless – but not because of the alleged licentiousness of the lyrics or because of boycotts by prudish opinion makers. Neither the one nor the other is a factor in that small country on the European mainland. The reception is even downright positive. The leading pop magazine Hitweek writes:
“A forgotten song, which we only knew from the Manfreds until now. It’s an excellent song, with very good lyrics (…). A very relaxed Dylan, assisted in the choruses by some extra vocals (…). We’re so happy to hear something relatively new from Dylan, that we’ll give this a nine and a half.”
Which doesn’t help either. The first, small run sells quite well, so a second pressing is made, it is on sale for months in Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, but does not make the charts and eventually ends up in the sell-out bins. Yeah well. The Merseybeat rocker just sounds outdated in the Summer Of Love. Zeitgeist, that polluting phenomenon on which already Goethe’s Faust (1808) commented:
“What you the Spirit of the Ages call / Is nothing but the spirit of you all / Wherein the Ages are reflected.”
Frustrating, still; nowadays the Dutch single is one of the most sought-after collector’s items in the Dylan community.
To be continued. Next up: If You Gotta Go part II: Lovely, lovely song
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
- Street-Legal: Bob Dylan’s unpolished gem from 1978