"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Original Dylan version found on Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
George Ivan Morrison's father was an avid collector of American blues and jazz records. Morrison grew up listening to American music like Leadbelly, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, John Lee Hooker, Mahalia Jackson, and Lightnin' Hopkins. He grew up surrounded by every kind of American musical influence. From the age of 13, he was adept at playing guitar, sax and harmonica and played with a series of local showbands along with Skiffle and rock and roll groups.
In 1964, a group of young men in Belfast, Northern Ireland formed a garage band that would strike gold on the charts within a couple of years. They went by the curious name "Them" and had a true ace in the hole: "Van" Morrison. A Philadelphia DJ by the name of Georgie Woods coined the term "blue-eyed soul" in the 1960s to describe white artists who got airplay on black radio stations. This Morrison kid, even though Irish, had soul. "Gloria" and "Here Comes The Night" were gritty hits for the band; they still sound inventive over 45 years after their release.
With Them's second LP, Them Again, in early 1966, the group included a unique cover: Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," culled from the 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home.
Morrison had apparently become fascinated by Dylan: "I think I heard [The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan] in a record shop in Smith Street. And I just thought it was just incredible that this guy's not singing about 'moon in June' and he's getting away with it . . . The subject matter wasn't pop songs, ya know, and I thought this kind of opens the whole thing up."
The recording starts simply enough with a measured, funky guitar riff; but it takes a quick left turn into a dreamy, repeating keyboard line that becomes trance-like. Then Morrison takes over and breathes Celtic soul into the lyric. While Dylanophiles were (and still are) obsessed with who "Baby Blue" in fact may be, Van The Man's turn at the mike makes the lyric a true poem in the tradition of masters like Yeats.
The song was released as a single only in The Netherlands in 1966. It went away with a whisper. In 1972, the song was again issued as a 45rpm, this time in Germany, where it nudged up against the Top 10 in that country. By this time, of course, Morrison had already established himself as an important singer-songwriter and solo artist.
In his memorable review of Morrison's seminal Astral Weeks album in 1969, Greil Marcus harkened back to the importance of the Belfast native's interpretation of Dylan: "Only on Dylan's 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue' does Van truly shatter all the limits on his special powers . . . Each note stands out as a special creation – 'the centuries of emotion that go into a musician’s choice from one note to the next' is a phrase that describes the startling depth of this recording. Played very fast, Van's voice virtually fighting for control over the band, 'Baby Blue' emerges as music that is both dramatic and terrifying."
Through a series of appearances in movie soundtracks as well as a prominent sample on Beck's "Jack-Ass" from Odelay (1996), Them's cover of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" has come back into proper, respectable view of music fans. But in the interim 25 years or so, one of the best ever versions of a Bob Dylan song went mostly unnoticed accept for serious followers of Van Morrison and the bard from Hibbing, Minnesota.
Original Listening: Bob Dylan, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Another Cover: Brian Ferry, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (Frantic, 2002)
Still Another Cover: The Byrds, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (Ballad of Easy Rider, 1969)