There’s a song called ‘You Don’t Love Me’. You’ve probably heard it in one form or another, even if you don’t know that you have. I’ve been more or less obsessed with it my whole life.
It’s one of those songs.
Extreme music geekery follows. Includes personal notes. Those of a nervous or irritated disposition please look away now.
So. One of the best things my dad ever did in his life was to amass an extremely good record collection in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the records he had was ‘Super Session’, a 1968 jam band session credited to Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield and Stephen Stills, plus others - see the above links for further detail.
Bloomfield was unable to make the second day of recording owing to reasons, but fortunately Stills was able to step in: this resulted in a record consisting of a two day 1968 jam session with Bloomfield on guitar on the A side and Stills on the B side. It’s sublime, if you’re into the late 1960s whiteboy blues rock thing (of which I maintain it is the best example): you may not be into that, and that’s ok too. Stay with me.
Super Session was one of the records that I had on permanent repeat throughout my teenage years in the late 1980s. I’d taped it and I don’t know how I didn’t wear that tape out. One of the more bluesy tracks on it appears - unexpectedly - on the Steve Stills side: ‘You Don’t Love Me’.
It’s a chunky riff. It’s a bit square, but - for me at least - it rocks, even if it could groove harder than it does (most whiteboy blues recordings fall into this category, but you know, gateway drug to the real thing, no blame, probably, depending on details). One of the first bands I was in, the one I formed with my friend Alex when I was 16 or so, definitely covered it. It was the only version of that song we knew.
Super Session credited the song to Willie Cobbs, but back in 1987, we had no easy instant way of finding out who Willie Cobbs was, or what his version of that song might have been like. My dad had a bunch of old blues stuff in his collection, but no Willie Cobbs. Alex’s dad also had a formidable record collection with lots of old jazz and blues, but Willie Cobbs - to the best of my recollection - did not feature. (We never found it if it did.)
Fast forward to the very early 2000s, and I was older, even stupider, and embarking on an obviously doomed relationship. I have a vivid memory of being in some horrible bar with her (she liked the bar, I didn’t) and a particular tune coming on: ‘No No No’, by Dawn Penn. The song knocked me over like never before, even though that version had been around for at least six years at that point. I started to cry. I was unable to explain it.
In that moment, that song, the raw emotion in Penn’s voice, the otherworldly groove and ruder than rude bassline combined to smack me extremely hard upside the head in a way that I no doubt fully deserved: I knew exactly what disaster I was walking into with her, deep in my soul, and like a fool I walked into it anyway. Somehow I had no choice.
The sudden and abrupt end of that relationship not very many months afterwards precipitated a Mental Health Event for me, from which I spent the following several years recovering. Not her fault in any way: it was what it was. I’d been a walking Mental Health Event Probability waiting to happen for some time at that point. Nothing bad happened as such, just a perfectly normal breakdown.
At some point in my recovery process, I had a peculiar and powerful epiphany: ‘You Don’t Love Me’ and ‘No No No’ were the same song.
The arrangements are extremely different. The lyrics are not identical, but there are only a few changes: Super Session’s version is very much From The Male Perspective in precisely the way that Dawn Penn’s isn’t, which of course changes everything (and not in a great way), but still. Same damn song.
It was a long drive home from the gig tonight, and on the way, at some point I was telling edited highlights of this story to long suffering fellow band members when I realised that there were probably gaps in my research into the history of this tune that I could finally fill, with the Help of the Internet. And whiskey.
So here we are. It turns out that Dawn Penn originally recorded ‘No No No’ in 1967. Here’s the 1967 recording, used as the basis for the 1994 remix, recorded at Studio One, credited to ‘D. Penn’.
Compare this recording by Willie Cobbs, from 1961. I’ve just listened to it about ten times and I recommend you do the same.
Sorry, Dawn. You modified the Cobbs song, made it entirely your own, created something utterly fucking sublime and eternal by comparison, no doubt in my mind about that, but… seems like this is still basically Cobbs’ song. Which is, probably, why he is credited as a co-writer on the 1994 Dawn Penn remix, by the way.
But wait. Listen to the underlying riff in the Cobbs version. Imagine it played without the bounce, without the groove, without the oomph. Played.. straight, if you will.
That’s the riff from the Super Session version. Yes it is. Don’t make me transcribe it: that’s where that came from. Back in 1968, Stephen Stills and Al Kooper maybe hadn’t heard Dawn Penn’s version of the same tune from only the year before: not sure how much Jamaican music of that era was reaching the West Coast of the US but I suspect probably not much. But they’d definitely heard Cobbs’s. Because they stole and straightened out his riff and made it into a whiteboy blues stompy thing. Which also worked, but differently.
There’s a further twist.
The 1994 Dawn Penn remix of ‘No No No’ also credits Bo Diddley as a co-writer.
Looks like Cobbs might have, uh, borrowed something from Mr McDaniels when he wrote ‘You Don’t Love Me’.
Listen for yourself. Ideally, repeatedly. Diddley’s song ‘She’s Fine She’s Mine’ is… not quite the same song as such - the lyrics are mostly different, but… oh. The melody? That’s the melody right there. And the first line of Diddley’s song?
“Well you don’t love me baby, you don’t love me I know.”
Oh, and the Diddley riff? It is to the Willie Cobbs riff what the Willie Cobbs riff is to the Super Session riff.
But, bastardised at various levels of bastardisation, it’s the same damn riff.
And I love every single one of the versions of this song, and am grateful to Kooper, Bloomfield, Stills, Penn, Cobb and McDaniels, and everyone else involved in each version for the music.
This is how music works: you hear a thing, you play a thing. Someone else hears that and plays their own version. So it should be. This is how music gets passed down, not just over decades but centuries.
But that’s matter for another post.