“I still use the guitar pretty much just to hide my gut.”
To Make You Feel My Love – Garth Brooks
Capitol 12349-2 (USA) / Capitol CDCL 810 (UK)
Released 18th May 1998
Writer Bob Dylan
Producer Allen Reynolds
USA #1 Billboard Country 8/98
An opportunity to talk about 1990s country sensation Garth Brooks via one of Bob Dylan’s most covered recent songs. Brooks (born Troyal Garth Brooks in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1962) who single-handedly moved country music into the multi-platinum arena has broken just about every statistic associated with record sales. He has 128 platinum awards for his US record sales alone. Of his 8 studio albums since he debuted for Capitol Records in 1989, 4 have sold over 10 million copies in the States while his 1998 album Double Live sold over a million in its first week of issue and has now shifted over 10.5 million Stateside. He’s had 18 Number One country singles – all of his albums plus 2 hits collections (1994 & 2007) and the Double Live album have all, naturally enough, been Country Number 1’s, but also excelled on the pop charts. As of 2013 total US album sales stand at 130 million while worldwide sales are estimated at a mind-boggling 200 million! It’s worth noting that Mr Brooks’ arrival coincided with an important change in the way the Billboard Top 100 Pop charts were compiled. Country albums had always sold well in America, but these sales were mostly restricted to the separate country charts – suddenly they were included in the pop chart and Brooks had a phenomenal series of 9 Top 3 pop albums, 7 of which (including Hits and Double Live) reached Number 1.
Regarding the song in question here, ‘To Make You Feel My Love’, Brooks’ non-album CD- single also contained an alternate version by future wife Trisha Yearwood and was featured in the 1998 movie Hope Floats. It is perhaps not surprising that Bob Dylan (or his record company) has not released a collection of ‘Love Songs’ – the man is not known for his romantic ballads and despite its sedate pace, ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ can hardly be described as a love song, though there are in fact plenty of them scattered throughout his vast catalogue, though due to Dylan’s writing style a lot of his earlier romantic outings don’t sound much like songs of love. Perhaps growing more mellow with age, more thoughtful and concise love songs have appeared in the last 25 years or so, this one popping up on his 1997 album Time Out Of Mind produced by Daniel Lanois and originally entitled ‘Make You Feel My Love’. (Mr Lanois also produced another of Dylan’s best love songs, ‘Most Of The Time’, on 1989’s Oh Mercy) Many of those who have covered the song have elongated the title to ‘To Make You Feel My Love’. This track came in for a kicking from several reviewers when Dylan’s album first appeared, Greg Kot of Rolling Stone describing it as, “a spare ballad undermined by greeting-card lyrics (that) break the album’s spell.” Well, you just can’t please everyone, but I don’t suppose Dylan was bothered.
Bob Dylan is one of the most covered writers of the pop era with dozens of his compositions becoming hits for other artists, particularly during the 1960s. His first hit covers were supplied by Peter, Paul and Mary though it was The Byrds Number 1 cover of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ that really opened the floodgates from which point on most of his repertoire was being covered by one act or another in search of a hit. I certainly don’t need to go into detail here, suffice it to say that among Dylan’s most covered songs over the years have been ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ (nearly 400 versions), ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘I Shall Be Released’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, ‘All Along The Watchtower’, ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ and ‘Mighty Quinn’. It’s hard to gauge what Dylan’s most covered song is, but certainly the most successful on the charts has been ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ which he wrote for the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. In addition to Dylan’s 1973 original, ‘Knockin’ has been a hit for Eric Clapton, Randy Crawford and Guns’n Roses as well as a charity Number 1 in Britain in 1996 in support of the victims of the tragic Dunblane massacre, for which Bob Dylan gave his permission for some lyrical changes – apparently the only time he’s done so.
While the large majority of Dylan covers concern his 1960s or early 70s material, ‘Make You Feel My Love’ has become one of his most covered in recent times. Garth Brooks wasn’t the first to release ‘To Make You Feel My Love’, neither, in fact, was writer Bob Dylan! The first to put out a cover of the song was Billy Joel whose version appeared in July 1997 some two months before Dylan’s version came out, as an additional track on a 1997 Greatest Hits collection and was a #50 Billboard hit. Garth Brooks version followed in 1998 becoming a country Number 1. Since then, recording of the song has gradually gathered momentum to the point where just about everyone has had a go. Among those who’ve had a crack in recent years are Bryan Ferry, Kelly Clarkson, Joan Osborne, Neil Diamond, Shawn Colvin, Mary Black, Ronan Keating, Michael Bolton (aaaagh spare us) and Elkie Brooks, though the version that’s attracted the most attention introducing the song to a whole new generation of record buyers (and inspired yet further covers) is undoubtedly the one by Adele included as the only non-original song on her debut album 19 (7 million sales and counting), and more recently featuring in her superb 2011 Live at the Royal Albert Hall DVD release. Released as the 4th single from the album in October 2008 and after several entries to the UK chart, it peaked at #4 in 2010, returning in 2011 and spending a total of 55 weeks within the UK Top 75 between its release in 2008 and 2011.
Bob Dylan’s own version of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ doesn’t appear to have been released as a single, though he did release a live version in 2000 as a B-side – still with all those covers around an entire albums worth of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ might be a good idea…perhaps a box-set?! Personally I feel that, rather like Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, the song has now been done to death and deserves a well-earned rest. Finally, regarding our country superstar at hand, Mr Brooks has written around half of his recorded material (usually collaborations) and sifted through literally hundreds of submitted songs to pick out the rest. His signature song is undoubtedly ‘Friends In Low Places’, a song he didn’t write, though among his most popular songs that he did have a hand in are ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’, ‘Unanswered Prayers’, ‘The Thunder Rolls’, ‘What She’s Doing Now’, ‘She’s Every Woman’, ‘The Beaches Of Cheyenne’ and ‘Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til The Sun Comes Up)’.
Brooks, who made another fortune with his impressive live performances (using a wireless headset and microphone so he could run around on-stage), announced a 10-year ‘retirement’ in 2001 and stated that he wouldn’t be recording again until 2015 (though he did in fact perform sporadically and release the occasional single) and married fellow country star Trisha Yearwood in 2005 – the same year his Capitol contract expired. Now owning his own masters, he gave exclusive rights to US discount chain-store Wal-Mart to sell several millions more of his material at cut-price noting, “I believe in the ‘Wal-Mart’ school of business. The less people pay, the more they enjoy it.” Coming out of retirement in 2009, Brooks has since been raking it in at a 5-year residency in Las Vegas and as of 2013 was still undecided regarding his return to the recording studio. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, Brooks is the biggest selling solo artist of all time in the country (surpassing Elvis) with audited sales of 123 million albums, though since that was announced he’s sold several million more.
Copyright © 2013 SongStories/Tony Burton
Originally published by Olav Nilsen, Stavanger bibliotek og kulturhus.