Sunday, February 3, 2008

It Ain't Me Babe, The Turtles (1965)

I think I've established that I am not a cover version snob, and here's another example of why I'm not. As a genre, folk-rock wasn't one of my early favorites - that developed later - but I believe the Turtles' version of It Ain't Me Babe (as well as the Byrds' cover of Mr. Tambourine Man a few months earlier) made me curious about Bob Dylan sooner than I would have been otherwise.

The longer I do this, the more I realize how much I appreciate the "perfect single," and the fact that the constraints of AM radio in the 60s weren't necessarily a bad thing. It's not easy to create something memorable in under 3 minutes, and I'd rather be left wanting more than to be beaten over the head with a song that goes on too long.

As is the case with every Dylan song, the lyrics are what gave me pause from the start. Everyone's been in the position of having others - either romantically or otherwise - wanting from you that which you cannot give, and I don't think that frustration and defiance has ever been better expressed. (It's been said that Dylan's motivation, in fact, was entirely based on his desire to not be held up as the 'voice of a generation', which he was being saddled with at the time, to his great dismay.)

What the Turtles did was take the song, which had been recorded by Dylan the previous year, and broadcast it out to a larger universe of people than would have been the case otherwise. Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman had been a cappella singers in their L.A. high school choir, and their lovely voices brought a certain accessibility to the hard-bitten sentiments of the song without sacrificing the gritty impact of it. According to one account, Kaylan was trying to mimic the style of the Zombies' She's Not There, which I didn't know until now, but since I pronounced that one of my perfect songs in an earlier post, it all makes sense!


bilbart said...

Have you read "This is Your Brain on Music?" (D. Levitin) If not, try it, you'll enjoy it.

bilbart said...

Have you read "This Is Your Brain on Music?"(D.J. Levitin) If not I would think you would enjoy it.

Norrin2 said...

If it turned you onto Dylan, that's good, but I never cared for the Turtles' prettied-up version of "It Ain't Me." And I say that as a big fan of the Turtles, who I think are one of the most underrated pop bands ever. (If you haven't seen the video where Flo and Eddie discuss their disastrous managers check it out:
And it's certainly not the worst cover of a Dylan song. That honor goes to Peter, Paul and Mary; on "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" they felt they had to fix Dylan's grammar and changed "The light I never knowed" to the more correct but less-rhyming-with-the-word-"road" "Light I never knew."