Monday, January 4, 2010

Nina Simone: I Shall Be Released

Today’s song is one of those tunes with just some slight modifications could fit an altogether different genre. In 1967, Bob Dylan recorded his song “I Shall Be Released”; however, it was not immediately released by Mr. Zimmerman. In fact, the first official version of the song was issued by the Band on their 1968 debut LP: “Music from Big Pink.”

The late Richard Manuel sang lead on this version; however, his high pitched vocals never cut it for me. I had always felt that by tweaking this song – a little bit here with the arrangement and a little bit more over here with the lyrics and you would have one fantastic gospel song. Many of the other covers almost push it to that level; however, the person who did this best was Nina Simone. Since I feature covers every Monday, I am pleased to present her version from her 1969 album “To Love Somebody.”

This album was released at the time when many of the record companies were attempting to push their jazz artists into the mainstream by having them record the popular songs of the day – to be attractive to that “hip, young audience.” Did it work? Hardly. The younger crowd wanted the originals and the older, er more cerebrally mature jazz aficionados’ loathed this rank commercialization. See my post on Harry Abraham regarding this.

The album title came from, you guessed it, the Bee Gees tune of the same name. In addition to two originals, the LP contained not one, but two Bee Gees songs, three Dylan cuts, Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” and Pete Seegar’s “Turn Turn Turn.” This album failed to chart on any of Billboard’s album charts, whereas a half a dozen of her previous LP’s made the R&B charts. “To Love Somebody” did not. These odds, however, didn’t diminish Nina Simone’s performance and her rendition of “I Shall Be Released” gives Dylan’s handiwork an added dimension. It really moves. The input from Ms. Simone to the musicians is a treat in itself.

Positively NOT 4th Street

This leads me to a Dylan story and one that I missed from last summer regarding another side of Bob Dylan. It appears that Bob, in his spare time, has been seeking out the childhood homes of some of music’s more illustrious songwriters. Bob has been to Liverpool to where John Lennon’s home is enshrined, and he has made the pilgrimage to Toronto to visit where Neil Young began rockin’ in the free world.

Flashback to July 23, 2009: Bob was walking through Long Branch, NJ – apparently on a journey to the boyhood digs of one Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Residents in the neighborhood, now mostly Latino, felt that this older man in the blue jacket wondering around in the afternoon was somewhat suspicious. So someone called 911.

When the police arrived, the young female office asked for his ID and Bob, not having any, told her that he was Bob Dylan. She had no idea who Bob Dylan was. A second officer who arrived at the scene to assist didn't recognize his name either. He was, dare I say it, “like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone.” I just want to ask him, “Bob, How does it feel?”

The officer placed Mr. Dylan into the police car and drove to his hotel where the staff verified his identity. The 24-year old officer then radioed headquarters asking if anyone had ever heard of a “Bob Dylan.” Senior officer Craig Spencer reported, “I’m afraid we all fell about laughing. If it was me, I’d have been demanding his autograph, not his ID. The poor woman has taken rather a lot of abuse from us. I offered to bring in some of my Dylan albums. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know what vinyl is either.”

I just wonder if when Bob was in the back of the cruiser, he was singing, “Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.” Well, “It’s time for my boot heels to be wandering.”

Bob Dylan, the Band, and a Cast of 1,000s from the "Last Waltz"

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