Tuesday, 11 August 2015

I was thinking of recording "Morning Dew" - then realised the whole of the rest of the world had already done so

The composer
I'll admit that "Morning Dew" isn't exactly up there with "Summertime" (26,000 recordings), "Yesterday" (4000), or "Amazing Grace" (God knows how many!) - but for a modern-era song not written by The Beatles, it's done pretty well. I found 60+ versions during a trawl of YouTube, without breaking sweat. For a number ignored (as far as I can see) by black artists and middle-of-the-road performers alike, it has prospered across a host of genres, including acoustic folk (where it originated), guitar-based pop, psychedelia, folk-rock, hard rock, Gregorian chant, techno-disco and Southern Rock - there's even a death metal version out there (at least, I think that's what it's meant to be - whatever it is, it's bloody horrible).

As it's a song about a post-nuclear apocalypse, it's enduring success is perhaps suprising - but it has a simple chord structure, it's easy to sing, has a plangent, yearning melody, can be as soft and tinkly or as loud and crashy as you like, and sounds as if it's been around for ever (in a good way). One other thing in its favour is that no single recording stands out as definitive. For instance, I read on Wikipedia that the Grateful Dead had made the song famous - and I'd never heard their version until today (and, to be honest, didn't much like it).

The version  I'm most familiar with was released in June 1967 by an obscure English band called Episode Six, who released nine singles, all of which failed to chart, before Ian Gillan and Roger Glover left to join Deep Purple. I have this single in my collection - but I have no idea how: I didn't buy it and I don't remember stealing it off anyone. Did any of you lend it to me? It's not the best version, but it's the one I'm most fond of (I particularly like the double-tracked voice of Sheilah Carter-Dimmock, who gets to sing a few lines):

That version was closely based on Tim Rose's take on the song, recorded in 1966 - I tend to think of his as being the closest to a defintive version. (That same year, Rose released the first slow, angry cover of "Hey Joe" - a song already recorded by several other artists. Jimmy Hendrix's manager, Chas Chandler, heard Rose's brooding track, and the rest is musical history.)


Rose recorded the song after hearing the 1964 version by Fred Neil and Vince Martin. Theirs was the first studio version, but the song was intially recorded on a live 1962 album by a 21-year old Candian folk singer, Bonnie Dobson, who actually wrote it - remarkably, it was her very first composition:

The song's composer wouldn't get round to recording a studio version of her classic number until 1969 - by which time everbody had got into the act, including The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Human Beans (who included Welsh rocker Dave Edmunds), Grateful Dead, Allman Joys (i.e. the Allman Brothers), the Pozo-Seco Singers, Lulu (good version spoiled by relentless marimbas), The 31st of February, Jeff Beck (with too much wah-wah pedal and Rod Stewart irritatingly mucking around with the melody - I mean, why?), Ralph McTell, Lee Hazlewood, The Nova Local (New Yorkers), Séverine (French, one presumes), I Corvi (Italian), Los Z-66 (Mallorcans), The Whiskers (US East Coasters)...well, you get my drift. 1968, in particular, was positively drenched in Morning Dew - and there was plenty more to come.

Of the versions released during the 1970s. the most successful was probably Scottish hard rock band Nazareth's bassy rendition:

The next version of the song I was aware of at the time was Long John Baldry's, released in 1980, after he'd decamped (as it were) to Canada - a move thought to be unrelated to his lengthy treatment for mental illness in the mid-'70s:

At that height, he really should have been an England fast bowler. The next notable version of the song was by the Southern Rock outfit, Blackfoot in 1984, who gave it a distinctly anthemic, military feel:

The next decent version came from Devo in 1990, who ruthlessly Morodered Bonnie Dobson's winsome little folk ditty:

Robert Plant gave it a twirl in 2002 (classily inviting the composer to perform it on stage with him), and my old favourites Mungo Jerry gave it an R&B feel it in 2004 - but I'll finish with the 2011 version by Chris Norman, scratchy-voiced lead singer with 1970s Bradford popsters, Smokie, who makes a pretty good fist of it:

The thing which I find surprising - not to say decidedly damned irritating - is that over the course of the last 63 years, the great British record-buying public, despite being presented with numerous excellent versions of this great song, have rewarded it with exactly no Top 40 chart placings whatsoever! 

One despairs - one really does.


  1. Excellent post. I suspect the repeated three chord structure and the absence of a chorus to break it up affected its popular appeal. Listening to the song again for the first time in over 40 years I also had the same sense of being lectured to as when I first heard it in the common room.. We never really took to "Come away Melinda" or "Eve of Destruction" here either, did we.

    Interesting to note that Devo changed the "young girl crying" into a baby, while Long John opted for "a young boy", possibly not for the only time. In those unenlightened days, his prediliction for pink feather boas and fedoras would have undermined his chances of opening the bowling alongside Fred Trueman. O tempora, O mores.

  2. But it would have been fun to see a 6'7" fast bowler do that girlie flapping hands in front of the face while holding back tears thing after getting his first test five-fer.

    It was hard to take Barry McGuire seriously as a sensitive protest singer given that he was built like a brick shithouse and wore his trousers tucked into the tops of his boots - not a good look when you've got legs like tree trunks. As for "Come Away, Melinda", it was - as we once might have put it - mawkish, sententious drivel. As for "Morning Dew", you might very well be right about the lack of a chorus - something hopey-changey about us all holding hands and wishing the bombs away.

  3. Just in case you missed it here is another version, rather creepy, as befits this bunch of Berliners - https://youtu.be/AKph85t92Wc

    Wish I could find Baldry's 1980 album in a format other than second-hand vinyl.