Wanted Man part 4: To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before

by Jochen Markhorst

IV         To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before

Wanted man by Lucy Watson, wanted man by Jeannie Brown
Wanted man by Nellie Johnson, wanted man in this next town
But I’ve had all that I’ve wanted of a lot of things I had
And a lot more than I needed of some things that turned out bad

 In 2015, the Gibraltarian Albert Hammond finally receives the massive bronze statuette of the muse of lyric poetry Euterpe, the award that perhaps should have been given to him several decades earlier: the Ivor Novello Award for his entire oeuvre.

Rightly so, but a bit late; by the mid-80s, Hammond already had a respectable number of world hits to his name, either as a performing artist or as a songwriter for others. “It Never Rains in Southern California”, “Down By The River”, “The Free Electric Band”, “I’m A Train”, and “When I’m Gone”… all great songs.

Not to mention the songs he writes for colleagues. The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” is arguably a 70s signature song, Leo Sayer scored his biggest hit with “When I Need You”, Art Garfunkel made “99 Miles From L.A.” immortal, Grace Slick is thankful for “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, the underrated beauty “Smokey Factory Blues” with which Johnny Cash closes the 1975 John R. Cash album (one of his finest records, but The Man In Black doesn’t agree in his autobiography: “I wasn’t pleased with either the process or the results”), Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and we could go on and on; the list is long.

Most of those immortal hits a justifiably proud Hammond performs in the successful concept with which he has toured annually since 2013; the “Songbook Tours”. In his crowning year 2015, no fewer than 30 songs are on the setlist, and (usually) on 21 is the world hit that even so few people know was written by Hammond (together with master lyricist Hal David): “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before”.


True, it is a song that indeed comes into its own better when Willie Nelson sings it together with the archetypal womaniser Julio Iglesias: a song of an irresistibly charming bad boy who leaves a trail of broken hearts. We know the archetype from such milestones as The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” (Well, I’m a runnin’ down the road, tryin’ to loosen my load / I’ve got seven women on my mind), The Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man”, and the 1999 global summer hit, Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5”, the song in which Lou with deep affection sings of the charms of Angela, Pamela, Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary and Jessica.

It has something farcical, of course, and that seems to be the effect Dylan and Cash are aiming for, with this “women’s names verse”. There is no trace of it yet in the manuscript, and indeed it also seems to be an intervention with the upcoming premiere in mind: Dylan and Cash know that the song will be played in front of a room full of male inmates. And an audience player, a showman like Johnny Cash knows he should not only insert an occasional “son of a bitch”, a “damned” here and a “what the hell” there, but also that a nudge nudge wink wink to erotic escapades will go down well.

Accordingly, on the concert video, we see Cash singing this verse with a lopsided grin, but cheers from the inmates do not erupt yet – that does not happen until the next verse, which is also absent from the manuscript:

I got sidetracked in El Paso, stopped to get myself a map
Went the wrong way into Juarez with Juanita on my lap
Then I went to sleep in Shreveport, woke up in Abilene
Wonderin’ why the hell I’m wanted at some town halfway between

… with “Juanita on my lap” in particular seeming to stir up randy fantasies. And apart from that, this seems to be a textual contribution by Cash himself. Or at least initiated by Cash; after all, on 5 October 1965, he was arrested in El Paso while returning from Juarez with 668 Dexedrine and 475 Equanil pills in his guitar case. Thus, “Got sidetracked in El Paso and went the wrong way in Juarez” is an admittedly concise but historically accurate summary of that much-discussed misstep. Life imitating art, in other words, to which Jaoquin Phoenix also refers in the crushing biopic Walk The Line (2005); Cash has had “Cocaine Blues” on his setlist for years before that arrest in El Paso;

Made a good run but I run too slow
They overtook me down in Juarez, Mexico

Laid in the hot joints takin’ the pill
In walked the sheriff from Jericho Hill

… not on Dylan’s, by the way. Dylan, who has “Cocaine Blues” on the setlist over 70 times between 1961 and 1999, sings the other “Cocaine Blues”, the Reverend Gary Davis song, the one with the “cocaine, running all around my brain” refrain.

Things end relatively well for Cash. In March ’66, the case comes to trial, and The Man In Black shows himself to be a repentant sinner (“I realise my mistake. It was bad, very bad, misconduct on my part”), claims he was tired and drunk, and vows never to take a pill again. Which is a bit odd, as Cash’s lawyer argues that the drugs were “prescribed”. Which the judge goes along with: because the drugs are “prescribed”, and perhaps because Tex Ritter and Gene Autry wrote sweet letters to the judge vouching for the “good character” of the accused, Cash gets off with a $1000 fine and a suspended jail sentence. Quite a lighter sentence than Willy Lee from “Cocaine Blues”, all things considered;

The judge, he smiled as he picked up his pen
99 years in the Folsom pen
99 years underneath that ground
I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down

… which, when Cash sings it at that previous prison concert, in the Folsom Prison cafeteria on 13 January 1968, is also greeted with cheers, applause and laughter. “They were the most enthusiastic audience I have ever played to,” Cash later declares.

Dylan never won an Ivor Novello Award, by the way. Others were more worthy each time, apparently. Adam Ant, for instance (Songwriter of the Year 1982). And Björn and Benny (Special International Award, 2002) and Jon Bon Jovi (2021). But Randy Newman and Jimmy Webb have also already been honoured, so if Dylan hangs on a little longer, he will probably get his turn. Otherwise, he’ll just have to make do with his minor prizes, with his Grammy Awards, his Oscar and his Nobel Prize and all those other ones. I’ve had all that I’ve wanted of a lot of things I had.


To be continued. Next: Wanted Man part 5: Busted flat in Baton Rouge


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:


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