By Tony Attwood with recordings presented by Mike Johnson in the Never Ending Tour Series.
In this series we look at the way Bob has transformed certain songs over time in his live performances, in particular looking for the progression in his feelings about, and his understanding of, what the song offers, what the song says, where it can be taken next, and even on occasion how he can reinterpret the past. In each case I am now trying to include a link to the original article of Mike’s so that should you wish you to go back to the rest of the show.
So far we’ve looked at
- Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
- Visions of Johanna
- The Hard Rain of 1988, 2003 and 2015
- Tangled up in Blue 1988 to 1993
- Blowing in the Wind. 1991-2001
- Blind Willie McTell. 1997-2006
- It Ain’t me Babe from 1994-1998.
- Things have changed 2000-2007
- Love sick from the very start to 2000
- The Drifters’ Escape. 1996-2005.
- Like a Rolling Stone 1988 to 2002
- Masters of War 1978 to 2000.
It’s all over now Baby Blue was recorded in the version that we first hear in January 1965 with just the acoustic guitar and a bass guitar played by William E Lee.
By the time we get to “Baby Blue” on the Never Ending Tour recordings almost a quarter of the century has gone by and the melody has changed considerably, and now the bass is not included. But we do have the harmonica solo, often playing repeated phrases that clash with the song itself and the chords being played, as if to signify the pain of the relationship being over.
This recording comes from 1989 Part 2 – A fire in the sun
And this is another of those occasions where I think it is worth being reminded of what the original sounded like. OK – I know that you may not need this reminder, and I thought I knew exactly what the original sounded like – but having listened to that version from 1989, I was utterly taken aback by the total difference in the style and approach between the album version and the 1998 version.
So now let us move on a couple of years to 1991. Here we have the new melodic approach but I find this a more gentle and sympathetic approach. And indeed it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find that after the first verse we have a light percussion rhythmic accompaniment. It is slight, but it keeps us moving along, there is not just anger or desperation but some progress here too. The instrumental break too gives a lighter touch, and there is pain in the voice as we move onto the vagabond verse before a second instrumental break.
Also there is no comparison between the harmonica part in this version and that we heard in 1989.
We also have a second performance in 1991 from the same article which gives some further interesting contrasts. Of course, some of the difference comes from the quality of the sound – and we must remember those people who made these recordings and made this series, and indeed the much more massive and still continuing NET series have been working under ludicrous conditions. But we are all eternally thankful to them.
So now we jump forward again by two more years and the speed has been taken back down leading to an ever more reflective view of the song and a greater empathy from the band who now I feel are fully in support of this version. Indeed if there is anything slightly out of place it is Dylan’s vocals, in which almost all the original melody line has gone.
But still … at times in the instrumental break it almost feels as if Dylan is fighting with the band. And yet when the harmonica enters part way through a verse, about three-quarters of the way through the performance there is that strange mix of plaintiveness and repetition. I guess this is fully in keeping with the concept of the song as expressed through the lyrics, but it doesn’t do anything for me. Maybe I just want more plaintiveness.
I want to finish with this one because I feel Bob took himself back to the origins of his song – and then went further by taking this down to such a level that it becomes a different song. What, I wonder, would we have made of it if this had been the first version we ever heard?
Plaintiveness is the only word I have to describe this, and even the harmonica part (most of the time) seems to fit. As does the end.
These are of course just my reflections in listening to these different versions. I am not in any way saying there anything remotely definitive in how I react to these recordings now I have the chance to put them together – I just offer my thoughts, and hope these musical extracts help you explore further your own reactions to the performances.