In a room in the Delmonico Hotel in New York City on Friday, 28 August 1964, the Beatles met Bob Dylan for the first time. As the story goes, Dylan turned them on to marijuana for the first time. It was a meeting that changed both them and the course of popular music. Dylan went electric. The Beatles got more serious about their lyrics. It raised the bar for everything that came after.
Paul McCartney – “He was our idol. It was a great honor to meet him; we had a crazy party that night we met. I thought I had gotten the meaning of life that night. I could feel myself climbing a spiral walkway while talking to Dylan. I felt like I was figuring it all out, the meaning of life.”
John Lennon- “In Paris in 1964 was the first time I ever heard Dylan. Paul got The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from a French DJ. For three weeks in Paris, we didn’t stop playing it. We all went potty about Dylan.”
In May of 1966, the Beatles and Dylan got together again. Dylan was at the end of his first electric tour. D.A. Pennebaker shot footage of Dylan and Lennon sharing a limo ride. By all reports, there was a bit of awkwardness between them.
However, as time passed, the Beatle who became closest to Dylan was George Harrison. George was a big Dylan fan. On the Beatles’ famous trip to India that changed George’s life, the only Western music he brought with him was Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.
In November 1968, George Harrison stayed in the Catskills with his manager Albert Grossman.
He spent time visiting Dylan in his Bearsville home. Dylan was shy and was having trouble opening up to Harrison. According to Harrison’s 1980 autobiography, I, Me, Mine, on the third day, Harrison recalls, “we got the guitars out, and then things loosened up.” Keen to break down the barriers that Dylan had imposed, Harrison came up with the opening lines to “I’d Have You Anytime”:
Let me in here
I know I’ve been here
Let me into your heart …
I was saying to him, “Write me some words,” and thinking of all this: Johnnie’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine, type of thing, and he was saying, “Show me some chords, how do you get those tunes?”
– Harrison, on writing “I’d Have You Anytime” with Dylan
All I have is yours
All you see is mine
And I’m glad to hold you in my arms
I’d have you anytime.
“Beautiful! – and that was that”, Harrison concludes in I, Me, Mine. He subsequently finished the composition alone.
The next time they would meet up was in 1969. Dylan was in England to perform at the Isle of Wright festival, his first performance after his seclusion following his motorcycle accident. Dylan and The Band were rehearsing at Forelands Farm in Bembridge. George Harrison was the only person outside the bands’ circle that he allowed to visit them.
Over the next two decades, they remained close, and by 1988 they had formed the supergroup Travelling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. During the Travelling Wilburys recording sessions, George’s son Dhani and Bob’s son Jakob became close while they waited for their fathers to finish work in the studio.
As Dhani once recalled, “I hung out with my parents. I was always trying to be with the big kids, and the big kids at my house were like Jeff Lynne,” Dhani said. “You’d come home, and it was like, ‘Bob Dylan’s here.’ It’s hard to get a bit of perspective on, like, ‘How did your school test go today?’” Jordan Potter -Far Out 3/7/2222
Dylan never recorded “I’d Have You Anytime”. George released it on All Things Must Pass, along with his version of Dylan’s “If Not For You”.
Let’s look at some of the covers of both “I’d Have You Anytime” & “If Not for You”.
First, “I’d Have You Anytime”. Comparatively speaking, there aren’t many covers, and most versions stay true to Harrison’s original version. The most intriguing ones lean into jazz influences, taking advantage of the interesting chord progression.
Ralfi Pagan was a Bronx, New York-based Latin soul and salsa singer of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent. He released a version of “I’d Have You Anytime” on his 1973 album Ralfi. Pagan was active from the mid-1960s until he died in 1978. He specialized in soul ballads sung both in Spanish and English and released five albums during the 1970s. His story has a tragic ending. Pagán had a large following in Latin America and regularly appeared in South America. While touring in Colombia in 1978, Pagán was murdered. His family was told that a promoter had arranged for his murder to avoid payment of money due. His body was found on a local beach. His version stays true to the Harrison version.
Formed in 1998, Champale plays laid-back chamber pop with roots and indie rock flavors. They do an extended 5:32 minute version of “I’d Have You Anytime” (Harrison’s original clocked in at 2:57) on 2002’s- A Loving Tribute to George Harrison. It is pleasant enough, but they don’t cover any new ground, even by extending it.
Kate Vereau’s 2003 version on her release Into Midnight stays true to the Harrison version.
Milton Nascimento is a Brazilian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Nascimento has won five Grammy Awards, including Best World Music Album, for his album Nascimento in 1998. Along with Leo Fernandes, they cover “I’d Have You Anytime” on a 2010 release, Tudo Passa: George Harrison (All Things Must Pass Tribute). It’s a comfortable version with some lovely vocals.
In 2012 actress, singer & activist Evan Rachel Wood contributed a track to Chimes Of Freedom: The Songs Of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years Of Amnesty International. Her version has been described as a 30’s jazz torch song. She takes the song in a different direction than the previous versions, utilizing piano, bass, brushes, and saxophone.
Another Jazzy version, but with an electric guitar solo, is Mia Slivas’ version on 2014’s The Very Best of Irish Love Songs. How this fits on an album of Irish love songs is beyond me.
English supermodel Karen Elson covers the song using the original arrangement during George Fest. George Fest: A Night to Celebrate the Music of George Harrison came out in 2016.
In 2017 Bruce Lang released an album of George covers called By George. He plays it so straight that he adds nothing to it. He plays the solo note for note, so why bother with this one when you can listen to the original?
Clara-Nova is a French-American electronic indie-pop artist based in Los Angeles. She adds her take on “I’d Have You Anytime” to the 2019 collection Let Me Into Your Heart: A Tribute To George Harrison. Nothing too exciting here.
Israeli musician Hagar Levy released “I’d Have You Anytime” as a single in 2019. Her version is very sparse, just voice and piano.
Another 2019 release was an instrumental version by Fernando Perdomo, an American musician best known for his work as a producer, session bassist, and guitarist.
Also in 2020, Nube 9, a Beatles cover band from Argentina, does a straight cover on All Things Must Pass Celebration 50 Aniversario.
Margo Timmins from the Cowboy Junkies does an abridged (1:53) version on the 2021 LP The Ty Tyrfu Sessions. It is presented in the band’s spare and low-key instrumentation style.
Suburban Skies, an American Beatles tribute band, do a straight cover on Anthology (2021) and also on their 2022 Live album covering all Beatle Songs.
2022 saw the addition of a couple of straightforward versions by George Is Lord on My Sweet George and Silvia Manco on Minuano.
My personal favorite is by Rorie Kelly. Rorie is an award-winning singer-songwriter from Long Island. Her version appears on Bob Dylan Uncovered Vol 3. It features beautiful piano by Kenny White and upright bass by Stephen Crump. Besides her powerful vocal, the song features a beautiful flute part by Lynn Herman. (A disclaimer here – I produced this one).
The version by Jake Erwin and The Coatracks is unlistenable, so we will skip them altogether.
“If Not for You”
There are close to 100 covers versions of “If Not for You”. This makes for more interesting choices in cover versions. We will talk about some of the highlights.
Let’s start with the obvious, George’s version on All Things Must Pass. George adds his signature slide, turning Dylan’s country version into more of a rocker. There are several Dylan outtakes on the bootleg series. The one on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare and Unreleased) is similar to Harrison’s version (is that where George got the idea?) but not fully realized.
In 1971 Australia’s Olivia Newton John released “If Not for You” on her debut album of the same name. She closely follows George Harrison’s arrangement. The single was Newton-John’s first number one on the US Top Easy Listening chart, hit # 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, # 6 on the UK Singles chart, and 14 on Australia’s Go-Set singles chart.
Glen Campbell also used the Harrison arrangement on his 1973 version found on I Knew Jesus (Before He Was A Star). This one features fellow Wrecking Crew members Carol Kaye & Hal Blaine, with James Burton on guitar.
If you’re looking for a show-tune version (and I don’t know why you would), there’s a version on Sarah Vaughan’s 1991 release, A Time in My Life.
One of the more interesting versions is by Lindsey Horner & Susan McKeown on 1998’s Mighty Rain release. Horner is a New York jazz artist who plays upright bass. This version is just his bass and Susan’s vocal. Very interesting, and they pull it off.
Austin’s Jimmy LaFave did a great version on his 1999 Trail album.
2004-Richie Havens-Dreaming as One: The A & M Years-Nice original arrangement that is unmistakably Richie Havens.
2006-Rod Stewart-Still the same…Great Rock Classics of Our Time– This version is quite lovely, taking elements from both Dylan’s and Harrison’s arrangements. The following year Bryan Ferry released Dylanesque, his Dylan tribute record. He covers “If Not for You” and does a great original version. Also, in 2007 Phil Keaggy released a version on Acoustic Café.
Jim James did a solo acoustic version on his George Harrison tribute EP Tribute To (Reissue).
For you Bluegrass fans, there’s Susie Warley’s version on Kalypso (2007).
2008-Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken do a beautiful version on their Ampersand EP
Of course, to cover all the bases, there’s Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience with Shannon McNally’s version on 2014’s Dockside Sessions.
Sorren Maclean does a pleasant version on his 2015 release Way Back Home.
In 2016 Ekki Maas released one of the more upbeat rocking versions on My Life According to Bob Dylan.
Dirk Darmstaedter is a singer, songwriter, and producer from Hamburg, Germany.
He grew up in northern New Jersey. The New York Times called Darmstaedter one of Germany’s underground pop heroes. His 2018 release Covers One (2007-2017) features an excellent version of “If Not for You”.
Two different Mancini’s have released nice versions. Bird Mancini on his 2018 Dylanology album and Pete Mancini on 2022’s Bob Dylan Uncovered Vol. 3. Pete’s performance slows the song down, adding some excellent pedal steel by Chris James.
2019 Barry Hay & JB Meijers include a version on their cover album For You Baby. While they take an original approach, the horn-driven version doesn’t seem right.
New York based Finn & His Rust Kickers do a hard rock version on the 2021 release The Digital Singles 2020.
The Netherlands-born Jacques Mees, the Dutch Bob Dylan, did a pretty, quiet version on his Shooting Star album. (2021)
Another pretty version came out in 2021 on Cleveland Versus Volume 1, a collection of Dylan covers. Morgan Mecaskey & Jess Miller contribute “If Not for You”.
Last year (2022), The Cactus Blossoms released a four-song EP of Dylan songs that includes a nice, bouncy version of “If Not for You”.
Versions to avoid include The Hound of Love (2016), Anita Kerr Singers (2003), Barb Jugr (2002) & Jaki Graham (2013). Avoid at all costs Read Yellow’s Punk version (2006) (unless you are into that kind of thing).
These are just the highlights. If you would like the complete “If Not for You” cover list, please email me, and I’d be happy to send it along.
Dylan said of Harrison when he died:
“He was the sun, the flowers, and the moon. And we will miss him enormously. The world is a profoundly emptier place without him.”
Here is a link to a Spotify playlist featuring some of the songs I’ve discussed.