“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is a great song, with a colorful cast of characters, a plaintive chorus, and a memorable message. In a way, it treads similar ground as “Like A Rolling Stone” and the “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Things are happening you can’t even see. “Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you. Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.” Change with the times or be left in the dust. But while “Rolling Stone” and “Times” feel generational (the latter in particular), “Baby Blue” is distinctly personal.
But what makes it better than any other number of Bob Dylan songs that fit that description? It’s the song’s place in history that gives it additional resonance. Used so appropriately at Newport, Dylan created as strong, if not stronger, a rock and roll statement as he did by opening with “Maggie’s Farm” four songs earlier.
In 1964, Bob Dylan was the golden child of The Newport Folk Festival. He duets with Joan Baez on “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”, fans chant his name impatiently during Odetta’s set, and cheer wildly for the verbal fireworks Dylan unleashes in “Chimes of Freedom.” When he returns a year later, his big electric breakthrough “Like A Rolling Stone” was on the radio, and the lynch mob was ready. Loud renditions of “Maggie’s Farm,” ” Like A Rolling Stone” and “Phantom Engineer” (aka “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”) are met with infamous booing, which shakes Dylan to the core. Three songs in, his set is over, and he walks to the back.
“Bobby, could you do another song please? He’s going to get an acoustic guitar.” says Peter, Paul and Mary’s Peter Yarrow, the night’s MC.
Dylan returns, asks for a harmonica, and then appeases the crowd with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Who doesn’t like “Mr. Tambourine Man”? He could have left after that, but he has one more number in mind. He launches into the stately chords of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Suddenly, it seems like he wrote it on the spot. The lyrics seem to address the crowd, the organizers, the mood, the situation. Maybe the message is lost on them, maybe it isn’t. He wouldn’t return for another 37 years, and then only while wearing a disguise.
There’s also the song’s starring role in Don’t Look Back, where we see Dylan using “Baby Blue” as a weapon, shutting down Donovan (who was clearly indebted to Dylan’s work) at the world’s cruelest open mic. Or at least that’s how the movie plays it. The camera focuses on Donovan’s face as Dylan sings “take what you have gathered from coincidence.” It’s like gangsta rappers one upping each other, only with hyper-poetic lyrics instead of threats to each others’ livelihood.
“Baby Blue” concludes Dylan’s landmark, half-acoustic/half-electric 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Here, it seems to be alerting fans that yes, Bob Dylan has gone electric. Get used to it. The voice of his generation was leaving his generation behind. If they wanted to, they could come along for the ride. But they had to play by a new set of rules.
Like all Dylan songs, it’s creation myth is murky and its influence has spread far and wide.
The Allmusic Guide writes: “it is speculated to have been the subject of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue.” Another person mentioned when fans discuss “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is Paul Clayton, a folksinger who had a fair amount of influence on Dylan. Of course, there may be a good amount of Bob Dylan himself in “Baby Blue.” ”
It’s a good song for playing when you make your own decision to go electric — to leave one way of life and turn to another. George Harrison quotes it in the lyrics to “When We Was Fab.” It’s been covered a bunch of times, from bands like the Byrds and Animals to Falco and Bryan Ferry. A sample from Them’s 1966 cover made it’s way into Beck’s “Jack-ass,” providing what was, at the time, a tantalizing Bob Dylan connection to the eclectic musical man child. Jerry Garcia was able to make “Baby Blue” his own, as he did so many Dylan songs (check out the album Postcards From the Hanging to hear one of the Dead’s many renditions. )
“I had carried that song around in my head for a long time,” Dylan has said, “and I remember that when I was writing it, I’d remembered a Gene Vincent song. It had always been one of my favorites, Baby Blue… ‘When first I met my baby/she said how do you do/she looked into my eyes and said/my name is Baby Blue.’ It was one of the songs I used to sing back in high school. Of course, I was singing about a different Baby Blue.”