The Art of the Remake V

Morning Dew, by Bonnie Dobson. She wrote it, and she did the original recording, which is just her and an accoustic guitar, live. This version, recorded later, in the studio, has a more emotional vocal performance. A beautiful evocation of the period, in my not so humble estimation.

There have been an enormous number of covers of this song.

This version by Nazareth takes an earnest folk song about nuclear war, and turns it into a blisteing, trippy, fuzz blues, acid-rock jam. Such strange permutations.

The weirdest thing is that until about 48 hours ago I had never heard of “Morning Dew”. I have been a devotee of rock and pop of the 1960s for the last 35 years or so, but this song, which has the status of a standard, has been under my radar all these years.

In a way, it is good to know that I have not exhausted the riches of that era.

30 thoughts on “The Art of the Remake V”

  1. I can’t imagine how you missed the Grateful Dead version from their first album, and I can’t figure how I’ve never heard of the original artist’s one till you put it up. Thanks.

  2. I have never liked the Dead, and have not paid attention to their stuff. So, much of their work has sailed past me.

  3. Devo covered it on their forgettable record from the early 90s, Smooth Noodle Maps. In fact, I think it was the only worthwhile song on the CD.

  4. Jeff Beck Group album “Truth” had a well known cover of Morning Dew, with Rod Stewart on vocals. It’s pretty memorable, but the whole album was, for that matter. Tim Rose was the author, and I just heard his version this week on satellite radio. I prefer Beck’s.

  5. I should say Tim Rose was listed as author on the Beck album, but in fact it was written by Bonnie Dobson, he merely did a well-known cover of it.

  6. I kinda hate this song, mostly because I hate earnest songs about nuclear war on principle. But if you liked this you should check out The Music Never Stopped, which features the original artists performing a bunch of music that the dead covered, including Bonnie Dobson performing “Morning Dew.” I particularly love “I Bid You Goodnight,” which you can hear a sample of here.

  7. “I hate earnest songs about nuclear war on principle.”

    I iike songs if they are good as songs. Their political content is a separate question. Bad political content cannot make a song that works as a song into a bad song. It only makes it a song whose message I disagree with.

    I wrote about this a few years ago.

    One problem is that the ideological positions I disagree with, or even despise, often have tremendous music associated with them. And the positions I do agree with it have very little music associated with them.

    Since people can adopt and cling to ideals by music, and be moved to heroism by music, even in a bad cause, this is a non-trivial problem.

  8. While I am at work (but copying to a flash drive) admittedly I haven’t heard the 2 songs – but in general I think most remakes are worse than the originals.

    I can think of a few exceptions – “Come Go With Me” – first by the del Vikings in the late 50s – then by the Beach Boys in the 80s – the Beach Boys tempo very different but both good – in their own way.

    One song that has really been remade – at least half a dozen times – Gonna Get Along Without You Now – at least 6 times – more like a dozen – each one different tempo and each one good – from the little girl duo in the 50s – Patience and Prudence – to Skeeter Davis to Tracey Dey’s version (1964?) – most of these versions are available on YouTube.

    For me anyway – probably no revelation to most of you but it was to me – was getting a CD from songwriter Laura Nyro – one of the few song writers who could really sing – listen to Laura – and then her songs by Barbara Streisand and Three Dog Night (just to name a couple) – both good in their unique ways.

    But most remakes that I have heard – movies included – really suck.

  9. Yes a good song is a good song, but this one, as sung by Dobson, almost makes my skin crawl. I can’t stand anything about it. Anyway, lefties may have the edge when it comes to music about social issues, but as a practicing Christian you’ve got to admit that some of the best–and most inspiring–music ever written is religious music. And I don’t mean Christian rock.

  10. There must have been dozens of songs written about nuclear war in the 1960s-70s-80s.

    I wonder how many songs were written about what Communism was doing to people in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe.


  11. War is concrete and dramatic. Political theory is abstract. There are lots of movies about natural disasters. How many movies are there about diabetes?

  12. Dobson’s version is performed beautifully. However, it, and other folk songs of the time take me back to childhood. I was 11 years old, and my older sister had just been awarded a full scholarship to the U of I-Champaign; and off she went. She fell in with the leftists and after 2 years followed a communist professor to Chicago(Roosevelt U). She would give me albums of the folkies at the times she came home to Augusta, Ga. The music reminds me of the terrible arguments she and my father would have about nazis and communists. I’ve always made the association mentally about that music.

  13. Tom Paxton had a song “The Last Thing On My Mind”, it was covered by many folkies, country, and bluegrass artists. Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Porter and Dolly, lots of folks. Then the British band The Move on their album “Shazam” did this just hilariously over the top version of the song. It was soaring, grandiose, elaborate, had a lengthy twelve-string tribute to the Byrds, choruses, strong vocal, wide dynamic range… just outrageous, but somehow it all worked. I can’t find it on Youtube, but iTunes is selling the album cheap, and has sound clips and the individual MP3.

  14. I remember this song. Didn’t do much for me in the 1960s, doesn’t now. Doesn’t seem good to me either as music or emotional earnestness or politics. Just annoying. OTOH, the first version I can recall was Lulu’s overwrought version.


    Good comment. Pop songs about nuclear war are as interesting and respectable as B-movies about post-nuclear holocausts. I wonder if there is something about the 20th century art that refuses to face reality. Apparently artists could transform their fears of the nonexistent into “art” but couldn’t confront real evil. Perhaps that is too much to ask of art.

    “Their political content is a separate question. ”

    “La Marseillaise” or a fine film in which it was featured, “Casablanca.” Whenever I see hear the song, I ask my companions, “Doesn’t that make you want rise up and slay tyrants? Why not?”

  15. “…fears of the nonexistent …”


    She wrote the song the same year as the Cuban Missile Crisis. There had been a Berlin Crisis the previous year. Fear of a nuclear war that would destroy civilization was fear of a very tangible possibility. A lot of people believed that the process was out of control. Even people who believed in deterrence thought we could deter the Russians with fewer weapons. Henry Kissinger, not a dove, said as much.

    And of course, I disagree with you all about the song. Its beautiful.

  16. “Fear of a nuclear war that would destroy civilization was fear of a very tangible possibility.”

    Exactly. Fear of the nonexistent. Like worrying about an imaginary rapist down the block while ignoring the serial killer next door. I’m not saying no one should write about their fears. I note that almost all 1960s artists chose to write about fears which never came to pass in preference to real, visible evil.

    I also recall the ridicule of patriotic songs during the ’60s. (Not that these didn’t sell, too, of course, only that our intelligentsia and nomenklatura rejected these themes.) There are thousands of post-envirionmental disaster books, songs, and movies, too. And when that doesn’t happen someone like me will ask: why was all this effort spent on fears and imagination instead of the real evils of the time?

    There is a vast literature (Dickens, Steinbeck, Sinclair, Blake et. al.) on the evils of the industrial revolution and capitalism (to give an communist interpretation). A 100 million dead in a century from socialism. There ought to be an ocean of books on the evils of socialism. Instead artists continue to denounce Christianity and praise, well, Chavez, Castro, etc. It’s as if art closed its eyes about 1890.

    I recently stayed at a relative’s house for several days, during which I took the opportunity to read Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s entire detective series. In one of the later books, one of the detectives vacations in Romania (CeauÈ™escu’s Romania). Once there he breathes the purity of socialism as opposed to corrupt capitalism of Sweden (!) and to the vile fascism of the Greek colonels.

    To call this delusional is to damn it with faint praise. Ceaușescu was almost the Pol Pot of his people. The Greek colonels were the Franco of their people.

    And yet these novels sold and sell in the millions, admired, praised, preserved. Art is sick. Is this sickness confined to the 20th and 21st centuries? Or will in the 23rd century there exist hundreds of thousands of works on the evils of socialism?

    “And of course, I disagree with you all about the song. Its beautiful.”

    Absolutely. No one should surrender their good taste because others disagree. I’ve taken a lot of verbal abuse over the years over the kinds of music I like, so much so that I hesitate to tell anyone what I listen to anymore. If you feel picked upon, I apologize.

  17. No. There is no analogy between an imaginary rapist and the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force. People were afraid of a genuine danger.

    The issue of why no one made art promoting freedom and condemning communism is a separate and interesting question.

  18. Correction, Orwell wrote 1984. But very few others did anything like it.

    Yet Orwell’s novel was a hit. Why didn’t others imitate it?

    There was also Solzhenitsyn.

    But generally you are right and it is a mystery that needs an explanation.

  19. “No. There is no analogy between an imaginary rapist and the Soviet Strategic Rocket Force. People were afraid of a genuine danger.”

    If the lyrics of “Morning Dew” were similar to “La Marseillaise;” e.g., rise up and defend freedom and smash the Soviet state…. But they aren’t. It’s about an abstraction, a nuclear war which never happened. The analogy is between the imaginary nuclear war and imaginary rapist. The Soviet Rocket Forces are the serial killer.

    People had reason to fear war then and now, but they never connected that fear to a denunciation of socialism, communism, and the Soviets. The fears were free-floating, about abstractions, displaced, unfocused. And in the political realm, the fears were visited upon those who opposed communism–an example of blaming Cassandra. (The parallels between “Morning Dew” and the LBJ commercial about the girl plucking flower petals are obvious.)

    The nuclear war which never happened is similar to the ecological collapse which hasn’t’ happened either. “Morning Dew” and its many imitators and predecessors (for example, “Pride of Man” covered by Quicksilver Messenger Service) are like the film “2012.” Interesting as document of its time for the insight it provides into the weird and unrealistic thinking which continues to plague the USA.

    “Yet Orwell’s novel was a hit. Why didn’t others imitate it?”

    It’s not the only such novel–can you think of any popular anti-Soviet 1960s pop songs?–but it and its kith and kin are drop compared to an ocean.

  20. “… A drop compared to an ocean.”

    Agreed. But why?

    1984 showed there was a market for it.

    The artistic world has been in lockstep with the political Left for a long time.

    Why that is so is an open question.

  21. “literature (Dickens, Steinbeck, Sinclair, Blake et. al.) on the evils of the industrial revolution and capitalism ”

    Props to Michael Creighton. It’s been years since I read “The Great Train Robbery” but the fact based tale is set in Merry Olde England and Creighton takes rather great pains with backgrond, describing how and why the industrial changes were indeed a revolution. Highly recommend the book if you haven’t read it and to high-schoolers on up.

  22. As others have pointed out, it’s not clear to me how you could be a devotee of 60’s music, and never have been to a Dead show, for whom Morning Dew was a staple.

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