Is it a cover?

It used to be easy. There were songwriters, and there were singers. Mostly. Carole King would go in and demo her songs on piano, but apart from It Might as Well Rain Until September, other people recorded them.

The divide started to get muddied as bands and solo artistes increasingly recorded their own compositions. Often another artist records an LP track by a songwriter as a single.

Is it a “cover” in singles terms if the the original artist hasn’t recorded it as a single? Is it a cover if it was a prominent track on an album, even though never released as a single? Say it was an obscure track?  Many singer-songwriters recorded albums as a showcase for their songs, hoping someone else would pick them up. 

Is My Way by Frank Sinatra a “cover” of Claude Francois’s 1967 Comme d’habitude? Paul Anka rewrote it especially for Sinatra, and I’d call it an original. Then Anka recorded it himself just after Sinatra recorded it. Was Anka covering Sinatra? But Anka wrote it … so is his the original?

Misery: Kenny Lynch, HMV single 1963

The Beatles touted tracks from Please, Please Me to the other artists on their first tour. Helen Shapiro was offered Misery and declined it, or rather Norrie Paramour, her recording manager at EMI’s Columbia label did. The Beatles had been asked to write a song specifically for her and presented it in late January, before recording it themselves on 11 February 1963. At that time, Helen Shapiro was headlining the tour and was Britain’s biggest female star.

Paul McCartney: We were asked by Norrie Paramour (of EMI’s Columbia label) to write a song for Helen Shapiro, for her to record in Nashville. We’ve called it ‘Misery,’ but it isn’t as slow as it sounds. It moves along at quite a pace and we think Helen will make a pretty good job of it. We’ve also done a number for Duffy Power which he isn’t going to record.

Paramour got his name as writer or co-writer on so many film soundtracks that it may be he didn’t want to shove one of his own songs off her forthcoming album.

Helen Shapiro: I got on great with them and John was like a brother to me. Very protective. He and Paul certainly offered ‘Misery’ to me first, through Norrie, but I didn’t know anything about it until I met them on the first day of the tour. Apparently he’d turned it down even though I hadn’t heard it.
Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write 1994

This allowed Kenny Lynch who was also on the tour to step in and grab it, switch I’m the type of girl to I’m the type of guy, and with it gain the honour of first Lennon-McCartney cover. His reward was to be in the cover photograph for Band On The Run ten years later. The story goes that Kenny Lynch used Bert “Play In A Day guitar tutor” Weedon on guitar for the recording session. John Lennon was annoyed:

John Lennon: What’d you want to have Bert Weedon on the session for? I would have played if you’d asked me.

Lennon-McCartney offered I Wanna Be Your Man to The Rolling Stones (who did it better). The Dowlands picked up All My Loving … and so on. In The Beatles case, the LPs sold so well that there were more copies of their versions in circulation anyway.

Blowin’ In The Wind: Peter, Paul & Mary, Warner Bros 45, 1963

Bob Dylan had come to prominence initially because of Blowin’ In The Wind and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright from Freewheelin’. Albert Grossman managed Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary, who would have sold much greater quantities of the songs in 1963 than Dylan did at that time. He knew the value of cover versions. So he could see himself in the position of songwriter as well as singer-songwriter.

The best examples of “Is it a cover?” are from the Basement Tapes, recorded by Bob Dylan & The Band informally between Spring and November 1967.

They say there was never any intention to release the songs in Bob Dylan versions. A selection were put on an acetate, which was offered to other artists (and of course heavily bootlegged). Peter, Paul & Mary, sharing the same manager as Dylan, had first pick, and chose Too Much of Nothing. 

Too Much of Nothing: Peter, Paul & Mary, German 45, Warner Bros, 1967

Tom McGuinness of Manfred Mann said they were offered first British pick:

In 1967 I met Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager, at Feldmans in Soho. Feldmans were then Dylan’s UK music publishers. I was part of the group, Manfred Mann, and alpmg with Manfred, Mike d’Abo, Mike Hugg and Klaus Voorman, I had gone along to hear some new Dylan songs. We had already had a few hits with Dylan’s With God On Our Side, If You Gotta Go, Go Now and Just Like A Woman so we were getting first choice of these new songs. We picked out several possibilities and Feldmans ran off acetates for us. (Waters of Oblivion) was amongst the titles we chose but never recorded. We also took away copies of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere and This Wheel’s On Fire but the only songs we recorded were The Mighty Quinn and Please Mrs Henry. Quinn went on to become a world-wide hit but Mrs Henry remained unreleased until 1998.
Tom McGuiness, Book to The Complete Basement Tapes, 2014

Basement acetates: from The Complete Basement Tapes box set.

With God On Our Side was a Dylan LP track done by Manfred Mann on an EP. If You Gotta Go was a well-known Dylan track, but only available in Europe.

Quinn The Eskimo by Manfred Mann entered the NME chart on 20 January 1968, and was #1 for the last two weeks in February.

Quinn The Eskimo sheet music: It takes the Manfred Mann record as the base version
Mighty Quinn : Manfred Mann, Fontana EP

The Mighty Quinn was first performed live in 1969 by Dylan & The Band at the Isle of Wight Festival, and then appeared on Self Portrait in 1970 more than two years after Manfred Mann’s hit. The Basement Tapes original versions were widely bootlegged, but did not appear officially until 1975. 

Later Tom McGuinness went on to do an album of basement covers with Coulson,Dean, McGuinness, Flint entitled Lo & Behold in 1972 … still three years before the official release of The Basement tapes.

Julie Auger with Brian Auger and The Trinity took This Wheel’s On Fire (See Marmalade under Record Labels). Is it a cover?

This Wheel\s On Fire: Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, Marmalade 45, 1968

This Wheel’s On Fire was written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko, and recorded by Dylan and The Hawks (who became The Band) in Woodstock in 1967, and first appeared in a version by The Band (alone) on Music from Big Pink several months after Julie Driscoll’s version, issued in April, was a hit. 

This Wheel’s On Fire by Julie Driscoll was released in April 1968, and entered the UK charts on 11 May 1968 ad got to #5
The Band’s version on Music From Big Pink was released in the USA on 1 July 1968
The Byrds’ version was released on Dr Byrds and Mr Hyde in March 1969
The original Bob Dylan & The Band version on The Basement Tapes first (legally) appeared in June 1975
The Isle of Wight recording from 1969 was first officially released in 2013.

So the Julie Driscoll version isn’t a cover, to my mind. it’s a recording of a song written by Bob Dylan for others to record.

I Shall Be Released was issued by The Tremeloes in July 1968, just before Music From Big Pink had its later UK release. Dylan re-recorded it in September 1971 for More Greatest Hits Vol II. Was he covering his own song? After all, the basement version had never been issued, and several other versions, especially The Band’s, were by then well-known.

The same 1971 session yielded his first “official” release of You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, issued by The Byrds as a single in April 1968, then on Sweetheart of The Rodeo in August 1968.