Bob Dylan is a law unto himself when it comes to lyrics. He’s also one of those singers who you either love or hate. By his own admission, he hasn’t got the best voice in the world, but I really believe he’s one of those artists you grow into as you mature. Without doubt, he has written some of the best loved songs and is one of the most covered artists in the world.
In 1965, his then latest album, Bringing It All Back Home, contained the track it’s All Over Now Baby Blue. It was recorded in 1965 with only an acoustic guitar, harmonica and bass for accompaniment. The lyrics were heavily influenced by symbolist poetry which bid farewell to the titular Baby Blue, but as to the real identity of Baby Blue is still something of a mystery but many over the years have speculated and the finger has pointed, on many occasions, to Joan Baez (a one-time girlfriend), Paul Clayton (a folk singer and friend of Bob’s in the 60s) and even Dylan himself.
The title was influenced by Baby Blue, the title of a Gene Vincent single from 1958. Dylan regards Vincent as one of his early rock ‘n’ roll influences, and Dylan’s song is the very antithesis of Gene Vincent’s original. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue closes Bringing It All Back Home and Dylan proves that he is a creature of habit because his previous two albums closed with ‘farewell’ songs – The Time’s They Are A-Changin’ closed with Restless Farell and It Ain’t Me Babe ended Another Side of Bob Dylan. At the time Dylan was dating Baez and he was a growing artist and was planning his first really big tour, so maybe he was thinking that soon he’ll soon be so in-demand and won’t have time for Joan. Who knows? I rather like the idea of the message being him saying goodbye to his days as an acoustic protest singer. This is possibly supported by his appearance at the Newport Folk Festival later that year where he famously went electric for the first time and not met with enthusiasm by fans, however he finished his acoustic set with It’s Over Now Baby Blue. Was that a clue? We’ll probably never know as Dylan has remained silent on this subject.
In the song, as well as farewell, there is also note of new hope as well in the lines, ‘Strike another match, go start anew.’ Now if Bob was singing the song about himself then the reference to the ‘Vagabond who’s rapping at your door, standing in the clothes that you once wore’ might imply that here stands the new ‘all-electric’ Bob Dylan who hasn’t yet removed the old clothes!
The song has been covered by all and sundry including Van Morrison’s Them, The Byrds (naturally), Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Dion, The Grateful Dead, Ritchie Havens, Chris Farlowe and Echo & The Bunnymen – all to great effect.
Although never a hit single in the UK nor the US, it still appears on two different ‘Greatest Hits’ packages. There is also a version included in Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No direction Home.
It took Carly Simon nearly 40 years to finally reveal who You’re So Vain was written about, maybe one day Bob will do the same and reveal all. Not only will it put millions us out of their misery, but he’ll probably prove everyone wrong.