What is it about Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” that makes so many musicians want to give it the full-band treatment? The Van Morrison-led Them re-worked the song into a sensuous lunar shimmer with baroque accents. The Byrds recorded it at least three times, most famously in a slowed-down, countrified take, stretched out like a desert highway. Marianne Faithfull made it her own while recording a never-released comeback album, with a snarling electric guitar coming in the second verse to complement her smoky voice. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band turned it into strummy AOR, The 13th Floor Elevators made it raga-flavored psych, and the Grateful Dead jammed on it live God knows how many times.
But the best of the “Baby Blue” covers was one of the earliest, recorded months before Joan Baez’s somber version hit record store shelves. It was recorded by Dion DiMucci, a star of the early ’60s (“Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer”) whose career entered a severe slump in the wake of the British Invasion. Not that Dion was clinging to a squarer, out-moded sound. In the mid-’60s, his main interests were blues and folk rock, which proved to be a problem for Columbia Records, which found itself stuck with a former doo-wop and rock ’n’ roll crooner whose new stuff wouldn’t appeal to his established fans, but who was—in the then-hyper-accelerated timeline of popular music—a generation removed from the hip set. Dion worked and recorded extensively during the period, but he didn’t release a single LP between 1963 and 1968.
He recorded “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” in June of 1965, the same month that the term “folk rock” first began appearing in music magazines. It wasn’t released until 1969, on a grab-bag album called Wonder Where I’m Bound, which Columbia pulled together from his folk-rock sessions after the cornball single “Abraham, Martin, and John” became a hit and unexpectedly revived his career. The Dion arrangement of the song is a churning glockenspiel-and-tambourine rocker, buoyed by the singer’s big, bright voice. Though most interpreters tend to treat the “Baby Blue” part of the title as though it were a punctuation, almost swallowing it, Dion sings it out as though it were a name in a love song. The result is the best of both worlds: the twang and rhythm of folk rock’s early years accompanying a powerful croon that somehow never seems out of place. With the exception of Dylan himself, no one ever sounded as confident singing the song.