If Not For You

Album: If Not For You (1971)
Charted: 7 25
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  • Bob Dylan wrote this song and recorded it in 1970 on his New Morning album. Ron Cornelius is a producer, songwriter and publisher who has played on albums by Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright III and many others. He told Songfacts about the Nashville sessions that produced the album: "I always wanted to cut an album with him not as an ongoing thing, just saddle up with five or six guys, go for what you know right on the spot, and it was a series of sessions known as The New Morning Sessions that my wish came true.

    Dylan played his own acoustic guitar and sang, we had Charlie Daniels on bass and Al Kooper on keys and Russ Kunkel on drums and me playing lead guitar. It was just a handful of guys going for what we know. He did something in those sessions that in all my work I've never seen anybody do - he would say, 'OK, here's the song that we're going to do,' and he would go ahead and sing it down for us. While he's singing it down for you, you need to chart the song so at least you know the lay of the land. He'd say 'Has everybody got it, need me to play it again?' then he'd say, 'Let's cut it once and see what happens.'

    Well, as soon as the red lights come on to record, he'd take off playing the song in a completely different tempo than he had just played it. Everybody now is really off base, and you have to just go for what you know. If you'd get three-quarters of the way though it and it fell apart and we had to stop and do it again, we'd go back and red light the song, this time, completely different tempo. I mean way off, drastic changes. Not just fast or slow, he might flip into a reggae type feel or something. If anybody fell off bad enough to stop that one, he'd say, 'Let's try it one more time.' The third time he'd take off in a completely different area. I know he was doing that to keep you off base, so that you had to be able to accommodate what was in front of you right now for the first time. If anybody fell off that time bad enough to stop the song, he'd say, 'next song.'

    We cut for 21 days doing that and New Morning came out of those sessions. For a session player that was very weird because you're used to somebody singing their song, and you grasp what they're doing and hopefully everybody in the room does, and you get a magical take of it, and if you don't you try it again until everybody feels 'there it is.' Then you can move on to the next song."
  • This was Olivia Newton-John's first major hit on an international scale, and put her on the map in the all-important United States market for the first time, where the song went to #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Newton-John herself disliked the song and resisted recording it, doing so only grudgingly at the urging of her managers and fiancé. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Santa Barbara, CA
  • Newton-John had her dog in the recording booth with her and at one point during the session he got up and knocked over a music stand. The sound can still be heard in the recording today, just after the instrumental bridge. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Minneapolis, MN
  • George Harrison recorded this in 1970 for All Things Must Pass, his first solo album after The Beatles broke up. It was a triple album made up mostly of songs Harrison wrote as a member of The Beatles but were not recorded by the group. The first track on the album was "I'd Have You Anytime," which Harrison wrote with Dylan in 1968. This was the only song on All Things Must Pass that Harrison didn't write.
  • Olivia Newton-John's songwriter John Farrar suggested that she cover this Bob Dylan song for her first UK release. Olivia said in 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh, "I wasn't keen on that song at all, but I'm so glad John chose it because it's not one that I would have picked. I didn't think I sang it well, so when it was a hit you know I had to really say it was my management, and Bruce Welch and John Farrar who produced it, that were really the ones that thought that was a good record for me cause in those days I loved singing those big dramatic ballads, you know, talk about being sentimental."
  • Clive Davis, then president of Columbia Records, wanted Bob Dylan to release this as a single, but Dylan wasn't sure it was the right move. After Newton-John's version proved to be an immediate success, it was too late to release the original as it probably wouldn't gain enough momentum to generate sales.
  • When Newton-John recorded this, she had never heard Dylan's version, only Harrison's.

Comments: 18

  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaBarry if you go to wici it gives a story about the song and who played on it. But it doesn't answer your question.
  • Jennifur Sun from RamonaLove the song. It is one of my fav Dylan compositions. First heard George's version but like Oliva's as well.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyPer: http://www.oldiesmusic.com/news.htm {05-24-2018}...
    Olivia Newton-John received an honorary Doctorate degree May 13 from Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia for her services to cancer research and entertainment.
    Exactly forty-seven years earlier her debut U.S. charted record, "If Not For You", was in it's first week on Billboard's Top 100 chart at position #98, fourteen weeks later it would peak at #25 {for 1 week} and it spent a total of seventeen weeks on the Top 100...
    And on August 1st, 1971 it reached #1 {for 3 weeks} on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    Between 1971 and 2010 the Cambridge, England native had forty records on the Top 100 chart; fifteen made the Top 10 with five reaching #1, "I Honestly Love You" for 2 weeks in 1974, "Have You Ever Been Mellow" for 1 week in 1975, "You're The One That I Want (with John Travolta)" for 1 week in 1978, "Magic" for 4 weeks in 1980, and "Physical" for 10 weeks in 1981...
    Olivia Newton-John will celebrated her 70th birthday this coming September 26th {2018}.
  • Niles from Belpre, OhI like George Harrison's voice on this song better!
  • Joe from Portsmouth, United KingdomI love the Olivia Newton-john version, it is really beautiful. Harrison's version is good but a little flat. Dylan's original is awful. He may be a brilliant songwriter and poet but his voice on his early records was dreadful and the song sounded dull.
  • Mike from Milwaukee, WiI enjoy Olivia's sweet voice. The hook for this song is the guitar work. It builds, on the later bars, you have fuzz and ending with wah wah. Totally unexpected for this kind of song.
  • Sebastian from Rio De Janeiro, BrazilI like better the version from Cocert for
    Bangladesh. Duet Dylan an Geoge Harrinson.
    Sebastian Messias, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Mark from Des Moines, IaHarrison's version is much better IMO.
  • Johnny from Los Angeles, CaThis seems like a good song to play in Bangladesh
  • Maya from Cal, United StatesDylan says "good george" not "ready george"
  • Adam from Alta Loma, CaEach version done by Dylan and Harrison are absolutely wonderful by themselves. I do tend to enjoy Dylan's slower version and Harrison's slower version more than the original. What is a real treat is to see them both playing If Not For You on the extra features on the Concert for Bangladesh DVD.
  • Melissa from Fairborn, OhI love the George Harrison's version the most.
  • Patrick from Pittsburgh, PaOn the bootleg series, you can hear Dylan softly say "Ready George" just a couple seconds before beginning singing. im assuming that is george harrison. also i like the bootleg version more than the recorded, the vocals just sound better to me.
  • Barry from New York, NyWho is the mystery harmonica player in the George Harrison version? There is no credit given in the album liner credits? I've always wondered if Bob Dylan himself could have contributed it. We might never know for sure.
  • Barry from New York, NyI find Dylan's version of this song a bit rushed, unfinished, his vocal and arrangement a tad uninspired. George Harrsion's version on the ALL THINGS MUST PASS sounds a lot more thoughtful, with better singing and definetely a better arrangement.
  • Howard from St. Louis Park, MnOlivia Newton-John's version was beautiful.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScI don't know if the version in question,done by George harrison is what I heard, but I did hear one that George Harrison did of this song. It was just him and his acoustic guitar, and it was great!
  • Deadzeppelin from San Francisco, CaI can't believe no has said anything about this song. this song is awesome and has the best sound to it, not to mention the entire song is just beautiful.
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