Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were the darlings of folk music for a brief window in the early sixties. The duo, coupled up by the music press and sharing a chance romantic relationship for a short time, were touted as the voices of their generation. Bob Dylan would, of course, go on to become a world-renowned folk artist, transitioning into rock and roll and changing the face of popular culture along with it. Baez, meanwhile, had a slightly less spotlit career but is still revered as one of the finest vocalists of her era.
It’s wonderful, then, to revisit this rare footage of the duo not only sharing the stage but singing one of Dylan’s timeless classics, ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, from back in 1964. It not only captures two of the world’s finest entertainers in their pomp but also provides a brief window into their relationship during its salad days.
The duo shared some of the most crystallising moments of their careers, but, in truth, Baez had always led Dylan down the paths he needed to travel: “Joaney was at the forefront of a new dynamic in American music. She had a record out that was circulating in the folk circles; I think it was just called Joan Baez, and everybody was listening to it, me included, I listened to it a lot,” he declares in the 2009 documentary Joan Baez: How Sweet the Sound.
“She had that heart-stopping soprano voice, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind,” continued Dylan. But perhaps most importantly during an era when most of the folk wayfarers were clutching the same shared handful of old tunes, he says: “Her range of songs was very unusual for that time, just the combination of all the things she did which were put together in such a miraculous way.” Their partnership would carry on for years.
While she later played with Dylan as part of The Rolling Thunder Revue in a more rollicking guise than we were used to, the freewheelin’ troubadour has reminisced just as fondly on the early days. “I always liked singing and playing with her,” Dylan recalled, “I thought our voices really blended well; we could sing just about any kind of thing and make it make sense. To me, it always sounded good, and I think it sounded good to her too.”
A perfect reflection of those moments arrives below as Joan Baez calls for ‘Bobby’ to join her on stage. Dylan dutifully gets up, at this point in his career still finding the mainstream audience his message deserved, and heads over to the mic to share the spotlight with his friend. As they discuss which song to sing, Baez notes that she “only knows that one”, and so, with a quick look in each other’s eyes, Dylan begins to strum ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’.
As Baez joins the folkie for a crooning session on one of his latterly treasured songs, there is a harmonious and heavenly blend of vocal tones. Baez is clearly enamoured by the track, and Dylan is infatuated with the woman singing it. It makes for a tableau of artistic prowess and organic enjoyment that few could match.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and Baez and Dylan would soon separate as Dylan’s stock rose and the troubadour began changing his style and delivery. As time passed, as memories are clouded, the pair seemingly feel out of touch and haven’t ever returned to their halcyon days of sharing the mic and belting out classics. At least we have this video to remind us of the love they shared with each other and their audiences.
Watch Joan Baez and Bob Dylan duet on ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ live back in 1964.