"The Man In Me"
Original Dylan version found on New Morning (1970)
In his review of Bob Dylan's LP New Morning in October 1970, the noted rock critic Ralph J. Gleason proclaimed in Rolling Stone magazine "WE'VE GOT DYLAN BACK AGAIN." There were two reasons for this sentiment. First, the familiar twangy voice that was missing on Nashville Skyline had reappeared. And second, the new album wasn't Self Portrait, the double dose of covers that had landed like a thud just four months earlier.
As a newer Dylan fan at the then-age of 12 1/2 years, I had liked Nashville Skyline and its (mostly) tenderhearted ballads and countrified stew, and was not bothered by his voice affectations. Now with the physical cover of New Morning in hand, my first impression was how cool Dylan looked in the black and white portrait on the front side. Still sporting the beard from Skyline, but this time round a more serious, contemplative look as opposed to the tip of the hat and gentle smile. Turning the cover over, the grainy photo of a very young Bob next to Victoria Spivey made me wonder: why this contrasting choice? Maybe this picture of his first recording session was a direct reference to the chosen title of the record?
Anyway, placing New Morning on the turntable turned out to be the equivalent of Indian Summer. "If Not For You," "Time Passes Slowly," the title track, and "One More Weekend" all swung at a leisurely pace, with periodic threats that the melodies would break loose. But for some reason, "The Man In Me" struck me as another side of Dylan I had yet to experience.
The first "verse" is Dylan singing wordlessly, setting a stage for an adult lyric that, while brief (especially for Dylan), seems deeply personal. The author's barrel house piano style anchors the song, nicely complimented by Al Kooper's organ and the harmony of Hilda Harris and Albertin Robinson.
Within two years, the a cappella group The Persuasions had stripped "The Man In Me" to its core and revealed it for its true colors: a soulful, late night ode best sung gathered around a fire barrel in the middle of the city. The cover presented here is from their wonderful album Street Corner Symphony (1972). Jerry Lawson grabs hold of the lead and wrings the soul out of it, dynamically backed by on top by Jesse "Sweet Joe" Russell, Jayotis Washington, Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad and Willie C. Daniels and on the bottom by bassman Jimmy "Bro" Hayes.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "The Man In Me"
Movie Bonus! Bob Dylan, "The Man In Me" (opening credits to The Big Lebowski)
Another Cover Version: My Morning Jacket, "The Man In Me" (live, Louisville, Kentucky, 18 June 2004)
Still Another Cover: The Clash, "The Man In Me" (London Calling: 25th Anniversary Legacy Edition, 2004)