Friday, April 9, 2010

Bob Dylan: If Not For You

In 1971, twenty-three year old Olivia Newton-John burst on the scene with her first of many top 40 hits. Although she had a hit with “If Not For You,” she was not the first to record the song. Bob Dylan, the author of the tune, had released it a year earlier on his “New Morning” LP. Bob’s version is my least favorite of the several I’ll share today and that has nothing to do with most people’s views of his singing ability. Bob’s version is a little jumbled sounding. It has too much going on in that it is almost a cacophony.

I bought the cassette of this LP probably in 1972 and I heard it a year after Olivia’s version charted. While “New Morning” was my first Dylan recording, “If Not For You” is not my favorite cut on the LP – that would be “If Dogs Run Free.” I still remember the opening line, “If dogs run free, then why not we – across the swooping plain?” Dylan’s version qualifies as a First Friday featured recording, and thus, “On with the show this is it.”

NOTE: YouTube: has removed both Dylan versions of this song

Slow Outtake Version

The album featured several well known musicians: Charlie Daniels, David Bromberg, Al Kooper, and Russ Kunkle to name a few. Although I have issues with his overproduced rendition from “New Morning,” I like the slower outtake much better; however, his vocal performance was better on his faster version – which may be why the other was released and not the slower more melancholy take.

George Harrison’s Version

On the triple LP set, “All Things Must Pass,” George Harrison paid homage to Dylan by recording “If Not For You” and their joint songwriting effort “I’d Have You Anytime,” which is the lead cut on the LP. Released in late 1970, Harrison’s version probably had more influence on ONJ’s recording than did Dylan’s. On Olivia’s single, there is the prominent slide guitar – a feature found on Harrison’s cover from “All Things Must Pass.” Harrison’s arrangement sounds more Dylanesque than Dylan’s own recording. It sounds as though it could have been on Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” LP.

Olivia’s Hit from 1971

Released on the UNI label (an MCA subsidiary) in 1971, Olivia’s version only peaked at 25 on the US Hot 100 chart; however, it was a number one record on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart for three weeks. Elsewhere, the song had a respectable showing in the top ten in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada.

Her American release on UNI (short for Universal City) allowed her to join a host of other UNI artists, such as Elton John, Neil Diamond, Desmond Dekker and the Aces, and Hugh Masekala.  In late 1972, MCA consolidated their labels (Decca, Coral, Vocalion, Kapp, UNI, and MCA Special Products) under one umbrella as MCA Records. Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock/Elderberry Wine” was the first single on the new label.  Being a record collector at the time, I bought it for my collection.

In 1988, MCA revived the UNI label and signed a half a dozen acts to the resurrected label. With MCA promising a full blown staff to support the resuscitated label, the head of UNI’s promotion department talked to me about joining their team, as radio was often a launching pad for record promoters.

At that time I was looking to get out of radio altogether as the pay and working conditions at WWNR were not the best. Although I liked our oldies format, it was a dead end position in radio. Things looked promising at UNI; however, within a few short months, I was told that MCA was pulling the plug on the label and there were no new positions being added - period. In the 90s, MCA rebranded as the Universal Music Group and again the UNI moniker was used for the third time in history.

Although a position in the music business was not forthcoming, things worked out well for me in the long run and I ended up staying at NR until January 1994 and then began to transition into what has been my current job since that time.

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