Friday, October 10, 2008

Dylan Covers: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

(Note: Astute readers may recognize the material below; Star Maker Machine reader Duncan sent in this unusual entry via an earlier comment. It's not our usual fare, but given the high novelty value of the covers, we decided to accept it just this once...)

Goldie Hawn and the Buckaroos: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight


Emmylou Harris: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight


Burl Ives: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight


Ray Stevens: I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

[out of print]

From my obsession with the Highway 61 Revisited LP (at age 14 in 1965), which was literally a year long sentence (I renewed the mono copy on loan from the Rochester Public Library bi-weekly for a year) I struggled to get the same feeling with the two follow-up Dylan LPs.

Though I drank every drop from ‘Blonde on Blonde” and “Self Portrait” that I could, it wasn’t until “John Wesley Harding” that I found the same spirit again in Dylan’s records. The whole LP came back from the accident in a post-Great White Wonder world where there were Dylan songs all over the airwaves, satisfied by full radio station promo bins with overflowing with bad, good and great Dylan covers. Try looking for Stone Country (early Steve Young) on an RCA 45 doing the ironic ‘Million Dollar Bash’ or The Coven (yes, the same Black Mass group and ‘One Tin Soldier’ group) on S.G.C. (same label as The Nazz) doing a transcendent version of “I Shall Be Released” for two of the greatest (maybe for another post). Of course, there was The Band, The Byrds and Manfreds’ versions of any Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary, a surprisingly okay version by Goldie Hawn & The Buckaroos, a predictably good version by Linda Ronstadt on ‘Home Grown, Hand Sown’, Rita Coolidge, other lost versions (The Hollies, The Walker Brothers) and an early embarrassing take by Emmylou Harris and a whole lot of crappy easy listening takes of “Lay Lady Lay” by singers like Jim Nabors and the either-you-like-it –or-you-don’t versions by Sebastian Cabot.

“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” was and has been one of Dylan’s most popular songs covered over many times, right up to the mid 1980s when Robert Palmer put his sophisticated stamp on a version and Kathy Mattea made her Mercury Record’s chart debut on 45 with her beautifully strong & stark country take. [I haven’t heard this one in ages and have never seen it on her Greatest Hits collections. Anyone got this somewhere?]. Maria Muldaur revisited it on her recent Dylan tribute. Can’t find my Judy (Collins) Does Dylan to check on there (a very disappointing project). I gotta believe there are a whole lot of versions I’ve never heard and a few more I’d like.

The earliest two covers I latched onto were done by pop music veterans seeking new acceptance in this hip cover sweepstakes. There was beginning to be a lot of attention given to the post-Dylan songwriting community and it was clear that it resided beyond the traditional folk circles centered mostly on the East Coast. Nashville was VERY accepting of Dylan’s songs, certainly in part to Johnny Cash’s embracing. SO it is very natural to see Burl Ives and Ray Stevens ply their creativity on this song.

Burl Ives’ take of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (the rip I have has to be taken from a Columbia white label promo 45 as I’ve never seen a stock or promo Columbia LP with this one on it…anyone else?) sounds like a classic Nashville late 1960s production, though I can’t be sure no longer owning the artifact itself. I like the instrumental backing mix: it was a good mixture between hip and NOT as cloying as many country-politan contemporary Nashville LP cover-stuffers could be. Burl’s voice is very appealing to me on this one…a little Jimmy Crack Corn & Blue Tail Fly memory, maybe? I’m pretty sure his last LP on Decca was cut in 1967 and released in 1968 so as far as I know, this 1968 Columbia 45 may have been his major label recording swansong or very near it. I know he toured through the 70s and 80s, probably doing some private releases. I would love to hear more of Burl from this era.

Ray Stevens’ version of “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (it’s a vinyl rip with some ticks…sorry) comes from his 1969 Monument Records LP, ‘Have A Little Talk With Myself”. Jerry Kennedy on guitar and Norman Putnam on bass anchor this project, with an 18 piece orchestra of strings and horns under the direction of Mr. Stevens. Co-Producer & Co-Engineer Jim Malloy says in his Technical Notes:

“In addition to doing all the arrangements on this album, Ray Stevens … sings ALL the voices ... plays the piano, organ, bells and any other special effect instruments … and plays the trumpet solo on ‘Spinning Wheel’”

In re-listening to this version, I heard it first in MP3 form, then I dug out the vinyl I have and gave that a listen. I looked for Charlie McCoy (also signed at the time to Monument) in the credits on harmonica because I really love the multi-tracked harp on this cut. No Charlie. It’s RAY, simulating Charlie playing multiple lead harmonica lines with his voice into a harp horn section, a Harmony Vo-conica (my term) if you will. Its addition belies the years of schooling Ray received as a pop-novelty maestro tailoring arrangements to best sell the content of a song [think ‘Ahab’].

This is his LP follow up to the previous year’s breakthrough containing “Unwind” and “Mr. Businessman”, showing the ‘serious’ side of Ray Stevens. The LP contains 3 Beatle songs (Fool On The Hill, Help & Hey Jude), 2 from ‘Hair’ (Aquarius & Hair), Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, Joe South’s “Games People Play”, Mike Settle’s “But You Know I Love You” Blood, Sweat & Tear’s “Spinning Wheel” and two from Stevens pen. “Have A Little Talk with Myself” is the single that made it, though I once owned white label promo 45s of “I’ll Be Your Baby…” and “Sunday…”. I’ve wonder if those 45 mixes were a little different. I sure listened to them a lot and played them when I could as a club DJ over the years. Ray really continues applying the same kind of unique audio trademark he leaves on this song throughout the whole LP. I wonder if it has been reissued…pairing it with the previous Monument LP would be ideal as a double and I think a lot of people would sure dig it.

Guest Post Submitted by Duncan

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