The empty-handed painter from your streets is drawing crazy patterns on your sheets
Bob Dylan - 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue' (Bringing It All Back Home - 1965)
(Before we start - some subscribers may not have got the previous entry via email as there were some non-swear words which may still have been red-flagged. The previous entry on The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “It’s So Hard” from Psychocandy is here.)
Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth album and first to make the US top ten, marked a shift in his career. The protest songs of the first four albums took a back seat as more surreal, otherworldly, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and imagery moved to the foreground. We also can't comment on that transition without mentioning the one that took place on the first side; Dylan, backed by a rock and roll band and electricity, sacrilege to the folkies. Naturally, our focus is the second side, which is the acoustic side, and the final track, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue".
I consider Bringing It All Back Home Dylan's best tunes albums, by which I mean if I sat down and ranked all of his songs, despite Blonde On Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blood On The Tracks being more acclaimed albums, there are a good half-dozen on BIABH that would do well. The album was recorded across three days, with the final day yielding; "Maggie's Farm", "On the Road Again", "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)", "Gates of Eden", "Mr Tambourine Man", "If You Gotta Go, Go Now1" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue". Quite possibly one of the most productive days in his career or anyone else's2 at the start of a hectic year.
Musically, as most of the acoustic side, it is very sparse. There are no drums - just Dylan's voice accompanied by acoustic guitar, bass and harmonica. There's a dreamy, lilting to the song which Van Morrison's Them brought forward on their cover the following year, which, thirty years later, Beck would make similar hay with on Odelay's "Jack-Ass".
Most Dylanologists would tell you that the song is likely not to be solely one individual but an amalgamation. From Dylan's contemporaneous love interest Joan Baez, The folk singer David Blue (which feels far too on the nose for Dylan) or Dylan's friend, at least in 1964, Paul Clayton. You can also take it up a notch and speculate that Dylan is singing and saying goodbye to his younger self.
The thought process on that last one is relevant to us here at The Run Out Grooves. Dylan had already released farewell songs on his previous two albums, The Times They Are A-Changin' and Another Side of Bob Dylan, "Restless Farewell" and "It Ain't Me, Babe", respectively. These kiss-offs we may come to another time. So even though Dylan may be singing adieu to his protest / Woody Guthrie incarnation, he has held over that trope.
Baby Blue may have been a placeholder; he has spoken of the influence of Gene Vincent on the song.
"I had carried that song around in my head for a long time and I remember that when I was writing it, I'd remembered a Gene Vincent song. It had always been one of my favorites, Baby Blue... 'When first I met my baby/she said how do you do/she looked into my eyes and said/my name is Baby Blue.' It was one of the songs I used to sing back in high school. Of course, I was singing about a different Baby Blue."
The lyrics themselves really are pretty cruel in places; there can be no reconciliation - it really is over. Early in the song, we have saints coming through - perhaps an illusion to the funeral nature of "When The Saints Go Marching In". There's the spectre of Rimbaud's dreamlike poetry that also hangs over "Mr Tambourine Man", as well as maybe a hint at the social progress of 1962-64 hinted at in the line about the sky falling in.
Two interesting footnotes that could sway me to thinking that the song is a form of Dylan moving on is that it is a song he comes back to close his 1965 set at Newport Folk Festival after the less than enthusiastic response to the electric songs. The message of "Strike another match, go start anew" and that there's a vagabond "standing in the clothes that you once wore" is a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis moment if ever there was one. Secondly, if not intentional, it is pretty ironic - we see Dylan choose to sing this song to Donovan in DA Pennebaker's Don't Look Back. If this is Dylan's parting shot at his old personae, he is pretty much weaponising it by aiming it at a singer so often accused as being a copycat of Dylan, the protest singer3.
Dylan's following two albums feature an entirely different type of album closer, which takes up an entire side of vinyl; we will get to both of those in due course. One thing we can say is that even as Dylan leaned more into the surreal imagery and his lyrics became just as much about how they sounded as what they meant, there was always time for a break-up song. "4th Time Around" and "I Threw It All Away" would appear over the next couple of years and, more recently, "Most of The Time" from Oh Mercy.
There is, of course, nearly everything on Blood On Tracks to contend with. As we like to do here, you can draw a path through the history of popular music that flows from the tributaries of songs like "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" to "Idiot Wind" through other classics of the genre. The road from this album closer goes through Blue, Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, 13, Sea Change, 808 and Heartbreak, thank u, next and so on until you are bang up-to-date with Adele's 30.
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Not included on the album, "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" would be covered by Manfred Mann by the end of 1965 and released as a single in continental Europe in 1967.
Other contenders would be any live album from one concert and other albums recorded at a breakneck speed such as Please, Please Me, Pink Moon or Black Sabbath's debut.
Who has Woody Guthrie to thank for those clothes himself!