by Jochen Markhorst
II Lovely, lovely song
It is not until 1983 that Elvis’ first, original version of “One Night” is released, the song Presley recorded over a quarter of a century earlier in 1957, after Smiley Lewis had already scored a hit (peak position no. 11) with it on the R&B charts in 1956;
One night of sin Is what I'm now payin' for The things I did, and I saw Would make the earth stand still
Smiley Lewis – One Night Of Sin:
Elvis himself does not have much of a problem with it, but he is overruled and scores his world hit with the re-recorded, cleaned-up and censored version:
One night with you Is what I'm now praying for The things that we two could plan Would make my dreams come true
Meanwhile, a sexual revolution has taken place, and the singing of The Act, even of paid love, has long since ceased to be taboo in the mainstream media, though we are still far from being completely free of sexual taboos. A word like “fuck” is still avoided, or bleeped out, as are explicit indications of genitalia. Even “tits” is still in the oh-la-la department.
Not necessarily a bad thing. It forces songwriters to be creative, to use concealing language, and thus to endless series of variants on metaphors to indicate “sex”, “orgasm” or physical qualities and activities. And as long as it remains in the taboo corner, it does amuse us. Beating on my trumpet, come over here pony, I wanna climb up one time on you, juice running down my leg… agreed, not too sophisticated, but it certainly does have a nudge nudge wink wink entertainment value.
Strange though it is. Explicit aggression and bloody violence are no problem at all. Since 1975, we have all been cheerfully singing along to the world’s most popular pop song, whole football stadiums, women, minors and elderly, are merrily and loudly chanting mama, just killed a man, put a gun to his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. But try replacing “killed” with “fucked” and “gun” with “dick”, or something in that vein… little chance of it ever being sung outside a gay bar during happy hour. Apparently, we accept to make war, not love.
In that light, it is not so very otherworldly that Manfred Mann, and thus indirectly Dylan, was banned by the BBC because of the licentious lyrics of “If You Gotta Go, Go Now”. After all, the protagonist only slightly disguises the fact that the lady present has to go to bed with him now, and moreover that it is not the first time they have committed the disgusting sex crime of extramarital intercourse: “It ain’t that I’m wantin’ anything you never gave before.”
Still, the music is great. The first take, solo on acoustic guitar on 13 January ’65, already has a Beatles vibe, but two days later, on the electric full-band versions, it’s unmistakable; A Hard Day’s Night was released six months ago and has had time enough to get under the skin of Dylan, Al Gorgoni (guitar), Kenneth Rankin (guitar), Bruce Langhorne (guitar), Joseph Macho Jr. (bass), Bobby Gregg (drums) and Frank Owens (electric piano). The groove and the pace and the al niente of “You Can’t Do That”, fragments of melody lines from “Anytime At All” and “When I Get Home” and strangely enough, even the second voice of Angelina Butler is reminiscent of “Things We Said Today”.
It’s a vibe that Manfred Mann taps into effortlessly, of course. Even before he has heard Dylan’s electric version – when he records his cover, he is only familiar with the acoustic version that Dylan plays in the BBC studios on 1 June ’65. Weirdly, the BBC had not yet any problems with the erotic content of the lyrics back then; it is broadcast, no bleeps or anything, 19 June on BBC TV-1. But Manfred Mann’s version with exactly the same words is unacceptable, three months later. Well, perhaps different standards apply to “our” Manfred than to bloody foreigners.
Actually, Manfred is not at all that much of a fan of his successful 60s singles, as he confesses in Greg Russo’s Mannerisms:
“I’m not at all putting down what we did, as people always imagine, but the best stuff we did was not the hit records. The best stuff’s been on albums and EPs.”
… but “If You Gotta Go Now, Go Now” is the exception – “lovely, lovely song.”
Dylan agrees – it is a lovely song. In ’64 and ’65 it is on the setlist quite often (eighteen times) and he especially likes to perform it in England. And besides him and Manfred Mann, many other colleagues are charmed. The song is covered often and gladly, and often successfully. For Fairport Convention, who have it translated into French for unknown reasons, it is even the only single ever to reach the charts (peak position no. 21, 1969). They cut and juggle the lyrics (Sandy Denny only sings the fifth, the second and the fourth verse, in that order), but the remaining words are still translated quite literally, and these are precisely the most “daring” fragments (C’est pas que je te demande de faire que tu n’as jamais fait). Besides two stanzas, Richard Thompson and his crew delete the Merseybeat as well; with Fairport Convention it is a charming folksong.
The Canadian Dylan fans Cowboy Junkies have been making great albums and wonderful songs since the 80s, and have also been demonstrating since the 80s that they are masters at making covers that enrich the original – thanks to brilliant, often restrained arrangements, but especially thanks to Margo Timmins’ shrouded vocals. Their “Sweet Jane” is smashing, George Harrison’s “Isn’t It A Pity” never sounds as regretful as Margo’s, Neil Young’s “Helpless” is heartbreaking. They know what to do with Dylan, too. “Girl From The North Country”, a slow, compelling “License To Kill”, and especially their recent Rough & Rowdy cover “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, which has very quickly and very deservedly risen to the top of Best Dylan Covers Ever.
The Junkies’ “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is a highlight on the 2001 tribute album The Songs Of Bob Dylan Vol. 2- May Your Song Always Be Sung Again, but was recorded ten years earlier. Not coloured with their characteristic melancholy, but harking back to the very first cover, the one by The Liverpool Five from 1965, with furious banging on the toms, licentious honking on the harmonica and Timmins’ drawling vocals. Very catchy.
When the Cowboy Junkies fail to do their usual trick of “melancholising” the song, Father John Misty, J. Tillman, seizes his chance. And promptly delivers the most beautiful cover of “If You Gotta Go”. His cover turns the protagonist from confident to insecure, from cool and indifferent to desperately in love – and that is a wonderful find, an enrichment of the original, as it should be with a cover. On one of the artistically most successful Dylan tribute albums ever, on Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ (2010).
She really should stay all night.
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