It’s All Over Now (Not Baby Blue)
Welcome to “How Does the Song Go?” A column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before. This week we will look at the song “It’s All Over Now,” which the Grateful Dead covered for decades. The author has a fun story regarding the song and its composer which I’ll save for the end of this article. Here’s a Grateful Dead version from 1990.
(note the alligators on top of the monitor speaker as the song begins)
It wasn’t until researching for this article that I even knew that the Dead played the song before 1976, the year it became regular in setlists. The song was first played back in 1969 in San Francisco on September 6. No other live versions of the song are known until November 20, 1970. It again disappears from the repertoire until post-hiatus, September 25, 1976. From then, it remains a consistent first set standard all the way until its final performance on July 2, 1995 at Deer Creek.
But “It’s All Over Now” is not an original Bob Weir/Grateful Dead song. Most people know the version recorded by the Rolling Stones in 1964. The song put the Stones on the map, earning them global recognition. It was their first number one hit (UK) and peaked at 26 in the US. Here’s the Stones version.
It is the author’s assumption that the members of the Grateful Dead heard the Rolling Stones’ version before any other, including the original. However, the original version was written by Bobby Womack and performed by the Valentinos feat. Bobby Womack in 1964. You can hear that version here.
As you hear, there are differences in all three versions. First and foremost is tempo.
Rolling Stones 98 bpm
Grateful Dead 96 bpm
These may seem like small differences on paper, but I’m counting this in cut time, so in reality, it’s 180/196/192 respectively. You recall from past columns this season that tempo is not groove. Tempo is speed and groove is the subdivision or feel. The Valentinos’ version definitely draws upon R&B and gospel feel while both the Stones and Dead versions start to lean more towards country. Not in the traditional sense, but just where the subdivisions are accented and where the push and the pull are felt. R&B normally has a laid back 2 & 4, or backbeat, whereas country grooves will be a little more pushed with the snare drums. I encourage you to go back and listen to each track and focus on where that groove settles and how it makes you feel.
The Valentinos recorded the song in the key of A. Both the Stones and the Dead did the song in the key of G. It’s likely the Stones moved it down a whole step so it sat in Jagger’s vocal range more comfortably and the Dead likely just followed suit, keeping it in the key of G. Many folk, bluegrass, and country songs are in the key of G so it would make sense to keep it there in an effort to maintain that country vibe and feel.
Earlier this season we talked about form, the order in which things happen within a song. Listening to the Valentinos version we hear intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, intro, verse, chorus. Then they tag it and fade out. The Stones keep this same outline but instead of a re-intro after chorus two, they add a guitar solo which follows the v-ch form using only half of the chorus. They keep the tags and fade at the end but sans vocals.
The Grateful Dead maintain the Stones form but slightly expanded. The guitar solo utilizes the entire form (entire chorus, not just half) and in classic Dead fashion, they add a second solo section after the third verse and chorus featuring Brent on organ. Then they reprise the first verse, then chorus and tags. In a live setting a fade does not work so they opt for a classic country ending.
As with many songs, my first introduction was via the Grateful Dead. I heard this song on live bootlegs from my dad’s stereo and eventually in person. As I became more aware, I quickly learned it was a Stones tune covering Womack. Fast forward to 2004, I got a call to play guitar for the legend himself. Seeing the initial setlist from the MD, I noticed “It’s All Over Now” was not listed. I made no mention of it and eventually learned that Womack would only call for the song when the audience was primarily made up of folks from Caucasian decent. White people. By 2004, the Valentinos had faded in popularity, taking their version of the song with them. The world knew the Stones and Dead versions. So Womack would only perform the song when he knew it would fall on ears who were familiar with it. We kept it in his key, A Major, and added a blues ending in lieu of a fadeout.
In 2013 I was in New York City performing with Womack. We were asked to come interview and perform at the Relix Magazine office. Knowing the demographic reading this magazine, Bobby chose our song topic today for his performance. You can hear it here.
At some point, I asked Bobby about the song and how it became popular. He shared that one afternoon in 1964, the Rolling Stones’ manager called him and asked if it would be ok if they recorded some of his music. Bobby responded with, “go f*$% yourselves.” As you know, they recorded it anyways. Months later Bobby received a check in the mail for his writing royalties. Picking his jaw up off the ground, he called the Stones’ manager back and asked, “y’all need any more songs?” He remained close friends with the band until his final days. RIP pal.