I was all set to write a little something about Dylan’s “Mama, You Been On My Mind”, a song he first recorded during the Another Side of Bob Dylan sessions in 1964, but which wasn’t released until the first volume of the Bootleg Series came out in the 1990s. I have no idea why he left it off the record in the first place — he had a sly way of doing that even with songs that rank with his finest work (think “Blind Willie McTell”). It’s a song that didn’t much impress me at first, but my admiration has increased over the years. Today, I would actually take it over almost any of the songs that he did put on that record; “To Ramona” is the exception. It’s a wonderfully complex song about a failed romance, one of those miracles of compression in which Dylan managed to put a world of thought and feeling into a few minutes of popular song.
So anyway, the point of this post was going to be to say that this is a great song, much underrated, and deserving of wider exposure. Then I started looking for a performance of the song on YouTube, and I discovered that it has been covered by luminaries like Joan Baez, George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Jack Johnson, and Jeff Buckley, to name just a few. In other words, it’s not all that neglected after all. I’m happy, I really am.
Moreover, Dylan’s own version of the song is not available online, so far as I can tell. (His lawyers have eagle eyes.) But I can’t get away without playing at least one version, so here is my favourite of the covers that I have heard: Jack Johnson’s laid back but groovy account, which comes from the I’m Not There soundtrack. He does something nice with the song toward the end, having it blend into a recitation of a portion of Dylan’s poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”; unfortunately this clip doesn’t include that part. Nonetheless, the strength of the song comes through pretty well here.