Musical Explorers: The International Hit Song with a Twisted History

From Bo Diddley to Beyoncé

The story of the how the song You Don't Love Me (also known as You Don't Love Me Baby and You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)) changed over the years could have been typical for a blues song. Like many blues songs, it was recorded numerous times, with each version a little different, and the subsequent versions incorporating some of the previous modifications. As common for a blues song from that time period, it was also eventually covered by several white blues and rock bands, most notably the Allman Brothers.

The twist is that the song also travelled to Jamaica and became a major hit there in 1967 with a recording by Dawn Penn. Penn re-recorded the song in 1994 in a modernized style. That version became an international hit that was later covered by several pop artists including Beyoncé and Rihanna.

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The earliest known roots of this song are found in the 1955 recording of "She's Fine She's Mine" by R&B singer, guitarist, and songwriter Bo Diddley for Checker Records, a Chess subsidiary. Diddley played a key role in the transition from blues to rock and roll with hits like "Who Do you Love?" and "Mona." "She's Fine She's Mine" was included as the B-side to his second single, "Diddley Daddy".

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Blues singer, harmonica player and songwriter Willie Cobbs, an Arkansas native, worked in Chicago in late 1940s through mid-1950s and began an association with pianist Eddie Boyd. Cobbs and Boyd eventually returned to Arkansas and began performing in the local clubs. Cobbs claims that he heard a field hand singing "Uh, uh, uh, you don't love me, yes I know" to a haunting melody one morning, and that inspired him to write a song. Cobbs' song, "You Don't Love Me" uses Bo Diddley's guitar riff and melody, as well as many of the lyrics, including the key "you don't love me, you don't love me I know" line.

Cobbs and Boyd recorded the song for Mojo Records. Almost immediately after Mojo Records issued the single, it became a number one hit in Memphis. Hoping to reach a wider audience, Mojo records sold the master recording to Home of the Blues Records, which released the song in 1961 and also leased the single to Vee-Jay Records.

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An acoustic version of "You Don't Love Me" performed by Louisiana blues musician Clarence Edwards was recorded sometime between 1959 and 1961by folklorist Dr. Harry Oster for the album Country Negro Jam Sessions on Folk Lyric records. (Based on the recording dates, it is possible that this version pre-dates Willie Cobb's version.)

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In 1962, the Megatons, a Louisiana-based instrumental combo, recorded "Shimmy, Shimmy Walk, Part 1," an instrumental version of "You Don't Love Me" released by Dodge Records. The single was later distributed by Checker Records and reached number 88 in the Billboard Hot 100.

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In 1965, Junior Wells with Buddy Guy recorded the song as "You Don't Love Me Baby" for their influential 1965 album Hoodoo Man Blues. Their version altered the guitar figure somewhat and added some new lyrics.

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The 1967 version by the British group John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers featured future Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green and is most similar to the version by Junior Wells with Buddy Guy.

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The twenty-minute extended version of the song recorded by the Allman Brothers on the Live at Fillmore East album seems to be based on the Junior Wells & Buddy Guy and/or John Mayall's version.

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Other versions include:
Sonny & Cher on their 1965 Look At Us album.
Booker T. and the MG's on their 1968 album Doin' Our Thing.
Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills on the 1968 Super Session album
Magic Sam recorded on the 1968 album Black Magic.
Ike & Tina Turner on the 1969 album The Hunter.

The Jamaican Connection

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Jamaican singer Dawn Penn was introduced to the song by legendary Jamaican producer Coxsone Dodd, who imported American rhythm and blues records to play for his sound system entertainment businesses. In Penn's pre-reggae Jamaican rocksteady style version, most of the Bo Diddley/Willie Cobbs melody and lyrics were used, however, her version featured a rocksteady backing arrangement and omited the guitar riff. Significantly, she also changed the phrase "Uh, uh, uh" to "No, no, no." The song's strong rhythm and evocative changes inspired many more cover versions and variations of the song by several other artists in a variety of Jamaican styles. The Riddim Guide lists 35 songs variations of the song, many of which only use versions of the rhythm track and chords.

DJ and toaster Big Youth's Screaming Target from 1973 (click here if the embedded video does not play)

1973 version by DJ and toaster I Roy (click here if the embedded video does not play)

Joe Gibbs dub version entitled Behind Iron Bars from 1979 (click here if the embedded video does not play)

The Comeback Remake That Became an International Hit

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In 1994, Penn ended her 17 year break from professional music and remade the song with a dancehall-influenced version with the song title "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)." This version became an international hit and inspired cover versions by Rihanna, who recorded it in 2005, and Beyoncé Knowles for her 2010 live album.

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