by Jochen Markhorst
V Hits of sorts
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 1: To have and have not
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 2: Slut wives cheating
- Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1969) part 3 … and cheating husbands
- Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You (1969) part 4: The cadence of click-clack
The song has a somewhat peculiar hopscotch career. Dylan writes it quickly on a February weekend to fill up Nashville Skyline, it is recorded on Monday, and that’s that. In August, at the Isle Of Wight concert, it’s not on the setlist – the twin sister of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, the closing song of the previous John Wesley Harding record, “I’ll be Your Baby Tonight”, is preferred. Dylan does not perform any concerts in 1970 or 1971, but remarkably, he now considers “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” a Greatest Hit; the song is selected for the successful Greatest Hits Vol. 2.
Collaborator and confidant Happy Traum, who assisted Dylan recording “Down In The Flood”, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, “I Shall Be Released” and the outtake “Only a Hobo” in September ’71 especially for the compilation, reveals to Clinton Heylin a selection criterion for the songs: “He felt there were some songs that he had written that had become hits of sorts for other people, that he didn’t actually perform himself, and he wanted to fit those on the record as well.”
Traum is of course referring to the four songs to which he himself contributed, but it seems likely that the same considerations were made for the rest of the track list. After all, songs like “The Mighty Quinn” (Manfred Mann), “All I Really Want To Do” (Cher) and “All Along The Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix), to name but three examples, were never hits for Dylan either, but rather “hits of sorts for other people”.
“Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, however, can hardly be called a hit of sorts. And all too often the song has not been covered either at that time, September 1971.
Cher is the first. For her underrated 3614 Jackson Highway (1969) she records a soulful, brilliant version. Cher acts fast, by the way. Two weeks after the release of Nashville Skyline. And she also records the Skyline songs “Lay, Lady, Lay” (as “Lay, Baby, Lay”; even tough lady Cher prefers to avoid homoerotic connotations) and “I Threw It All Away” for this beautiful album, produced by Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals – equally great renditions, sounding even better on the 2000 remaster.
But it’s not a hit – not even a single. About the same time, in May ’69, Esther Phillips records her version. Just as soulful, and even more beautifully sung. This one is released as a single, but does not make any waves. Phillips uses the recording again a few months later, in October ’69, as a B-side for the modest hit “Too Late To Worry, Too Blue To Cry” (#121 Billboard, #35 on the R&B charts). So Dylan has seen some royalties from it. And Esther’s version seems to have some staying power as well; in 2010, 41 years after the recording, her cover is selected for the wonderful compilation How Many Roads: Black America Sings Dylan.
Not a hit either, but blessed with curiosity value and an irresistible dated sheen, is the single by British psychedelic rockers Orange Bicycle, again from 1969 (release 18 July). Orange Bicycle were a charming band that tried to ride along on the psychedelic wave, crafting attractive, Byrds-like songs to go with it. Their “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” is in fact a bit of an outlier in their output (the B-side, “Last Cloud Home” is actually nicer), but at the very least it has a nostalgic quality, fifty years later.
The same applies, approximately, to the last pre-Greatest Hits Vol. II cover, legendary Ben E. King’s funky jam session from 1970. Fuzzy guitars, James Brown vibe, soaring Hammond organ and even a gospel-like diminuendo… it is, in short, 1970 – with all its charm and all its clichés.
All in all, none of the covers deserves the qualification hits of sorts for other people. But nevertheless, the song gets the honour of being selected for the double album Greatest Hits Vol. II compilation. As the closing track of Side 2, the same side that opens with her twin sister “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”. And thus displacing hits like “With God On Our Side” and “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” (both a hit for Manfred Mann), and popular, much-covered songs like “Girl From The North Country”, “Boots Of Spanish Leather” and “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”… to name just a few titles of songs that actually do deserve the qualification “hits of sorts”. So it does appear as if “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” has some special place in Dylan’s heart.
The appearance is deceptive, as appearances usually are. The first concert after the Greatest Hits release (17 November 1971) is two years and two months later, the first concert of the 1974 Tour of America with The Band on 3 January in Chicago. The setlist is dominated by crowd pleasers, Dylan playing plenty of songs from the first and second Greatest Hits compilations, but no “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”.
Notwithstanding the fact that the song’s status has only grown in the meantime. Jeff Beck, in particular, produces an as of now ultimate, heartbreaking cover for his Memphis-based Jeff Beck Group (1972). It is probably mainly thanks to the producer, Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper, that this is one of the most successful exercises in the sound that Beck so desperately seeks in these years, the definitive blend of Memphis soul, Chicago blues and British rock.
Tina Turner operates in the same A-category, and with her debut solo album Tina Turns The Country On! (1974) she tries to tap into a new audience – the Nashville audience, to be precise. With covers of Kristofferson (“Help Me Make It Through the Night”), Hank Snow and Dolly Parton… and two Dylan songs: “He Belongs To Me” and “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. It doesn’t really match up, Tina’s excited, scintillating vocals on the one hand and the friendly steel guitar parts, the neat bass lines and conveyor belt drumming on the other, but it does get attention; it earns her a Grammy nomination.
To no avail. Dylan is adamant and cannot be tempted into putting the song on his setlist in January 1974. Indeed, at none of the 40 concerts of that American tour with The Band the song is performed – apparently the promotion of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” to Greatest Hit was just a whim after all. A fling. A one-night stand.
But soon it’ll be 1975, and thunder will be rolling…
To be continued. Next up: Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You part 6: A mattress and sand letters
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