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Reissue CDs Weekly: Take What You Need - UK Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Take What You Need - UK Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69

Reissue CDs Weekly: Take What You Need - UK Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69

Enlightening compilation chronicling mixed-bag approach to tackling the songs of Bob

Manfred Mann: artistically and commercially, the most successful of Britain’s Sixties’ Dylan interpreters

In February 1965, Melody Maker asked John Lennon about his personal enthusiasm for Bob Dylan material and Dylan interpretations. “I just felt like going that way,” he said about the new acoustic guitar-based material The Beatles were then recording at Abbey Road. “If I’d not heard Dylan, it might have been that I’d written stuff and sung it like Dominic Behan, or somebody like that.” Despite the non-committal answer, Dylan’s impact on Lennon was clear – the cap he'd recently been wearing was evidence of that.

Out of the public eye, Lennon – after being hipped to the album by George Harrison – had spent summer 1964 absorbing Dylan’s Freewheelin’. All four Fabs smoked cannabis with Dylan. Lennon went further and confessed he’d written “a folky song which I try to sing in a Dylan style. I didn’t want to overdo it, but I like it. It’s not easy to write songs like Bob’s. ‘Ere, who’s seen that bloke Donovan on TV?”

Take What You Need UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69Indeed, The Beatles weren’t the only British pop stars in thrall to Dylan. In openly acknowledging this, they and Donovan had been beaten to the record shops in 1964 by The Animals, whose first two singles – “Baby Let Me Take You Home” and “House of the Rising Sun” – reinterpreted material from Dylan’s first album, issued in 1962. Those were pre-existing songs covered by Dylan but when he began issuing his own compositions they were, in turn, also ripe for covering.

Any of Dylan’s songs were up for grabs and the enlightening, entertaining new 22-track compilation Take What You Need: UK Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 charts the early days of these endeavours on this side of the Atlantic. The oldest track is The Fairies’ version of “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, issued on 31 July 1964. The latest are five tracks from 1969 which range from Joe Cocker to Sandie Shaw, and Fairport Convention to the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber-sponsored The Mixed Bag. By the end of the 1960s, the songs of Dylan were close to ubiquitous.

Britain, though, was initially resistant to Dylan’s charms. He had been in London at the end of 1962 and appeared on television, as well as live at The Troubadour and other folk clubs. As the fine liner notes say, “few on the British scene were taken with Dylan; most were at best indifferent or, in the case of arch traditionalists Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl, completely dismissive.” There was one exception: the open-minded Martin Carthy. He alone was not going to help Dylan’s recognition.

Take What You Need UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69 The Fairies Don’t Think Twice it’s AlrightSo how did Dylan become embedded in the fabric of British pop? The generalised opening of minds and ears integral to Beatlemania is one answer. Playing London in May 1964 helped push Dylan towards the pop, rather than niche folk, market. More specifically, bands like The Animals were blues fans who also liked folk and were on the lookout for material. Cover versions laid the table for the real thing – Dylan himself. Another factor was the high-profile support Dylan enjoyed in America which attracted attention in Britain. Joan Baez’s espousal did no harm and Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of "Blowin' in the Wind" in June 1963 was a massive US hit. Handily for Dylan, the manager he shared with the latter was keen on cross-collateralisation. It all ensured 1964 became Dylan’s breakthrough year in the UK.

Take What You Need kicks off with The Fairies’ bouncy “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, which features session-era Jimmy Page on guitar. It’s followed by Marianne Faithfull’s Baez-style “Blowin’ in the Wind” (on which Page probably also appears). She sings preciously, as if afraid of the song. The Fairies blast away with nary a care for the nature of the source material. This twin-track approach courses through the compilation: wholesale reinterpretation versus on-eggshells respect for what’s being recorded.

Take What You Need UK Covers Of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-69  Manfred Mann If you Gotta go go NowArtistically and commercially, the most successful of the Britain’s Sixties Dylan fanciers were serial Dylan interpreters Manfred Mann, whose still daisy-fresh “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” is sandwiched between the Ian Campbell Folk Group’s gloopy, portentous “The Times They Are A-Changin’” and The Cops ‘N Robbers' tense “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”. Next up is Chad & Jeremy’s limp “Mr Tambourine Man”.

As the decade winds on, the mostly chronologically sequenced Take What You Need scoops up some extraordinary obscurities. Alex Campbell’s superb “Tom Thumb’s Blues” balances reverence for the material with spontaneity. Best of all is The Factotums’ romp through “Absolutely Sweet Marie”. Conversely, Cocker’s clod-hopping assassination of “Just Like a Woman” – with yet more Jimmy Page – is almost impossible to listen to.

Take What You Need is a wild ride. And it should be. During the years covered, it was open season on Dylan’s songs. The smooth comes with the rough and, in acknowledging this, the true nature of British musician’s response to Dylan is revealed.

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