Bob Dylan Re-Visited
Eighteen cover songs (some obscure) from Neil Young, Chrissie Hynde, Hendrix, Marianne Faithfull, Springsteen, Emmylou, George Harrison, Bowie, Van the Man, Baez and more, even....William Shatner!
Greg Mitchell is the author of a dozen books and now writer/director of award-winning films. He was also a longtime editor of the legendary Crawdaddy.
One of the few invitation-only Facebook groups that I’m involved with is called Music Journalism History. It focuses, on weekdays, on coverage/analysis of rock ‘n roll and other forms of music over the past decades—in publications such, as, ahem, Crawdaddy. So it’s not a fan board or a place to tout your favorite bands, past or present. But on weekends, it’s open to postings of random favorite songs along with responses to one specific or quirky topics, such as One Hit Wonders or Terrible Albums By Great Artists.
This past weekend we got a real softball: Dylan Covers. Of course, hundreds soon appeared. Here are a few not so obvious ones. Enjoy, then subscribe—it’s still free.
May update on Bob’s birthday: My new PBS film, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried, which premiered this month is now easy to watch by all, online or streaming, via PBS.org and PBS apps, at 27 minutes, and also—there’s a companion book. Narrated by Josh Charles, produced by Lyn Goldfarb.
Sure, you’ve heard Jimi’s “Along the Watchtower,” but what about his obscure pre-stardom version of an equally great one from Bob (with Richard Manuel): “Tears of Rage”?
There have been dozens of fine covers of “Visions of Johanna” but have any topped Marianne Faithfull’s?
With Jimi gone, Neil Young has done the best “Watchtower” for several decades now, here at Farm Aid with Crazy Horse and Willie.
A few covered Bob’s unreleased “I’ll Keep it With Mine” in the late-’60s but naturally Sandy Denny and Fairport (who specialized in Dylan covers, among other things) got there early and best. They also have the best version of “Percy’s Song” (the live on BBC is tops).
A highlight of the Dylan “30 years with Columbia” tribute at MSG in the early 1990s was his longtime buddy George Harrison, in a suit that conjured Barney the Dinosaur, having a blast with one of my faves, “Absolutely Sweet Marie.” More famously he earlier covered on record “If Not for You.”
Have loved this on Joan Osborne’s first album, “Man in the Long Black Coat.” She did a full album of Bob a few years back, and we caught her live and “Tangled Up in Blue.”
One of the most wild, and highly mocked, covers ever was 1968’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” from…..William Shatner, then riding Star Trek fame. What was Bill smoking?
Springsteen rang those “Chimes of Freedom” at his momentous concert in East Berlin in 1988 before the fall of the Wall (as featured in my book The Tunnels).
Willie Nelson’s “What Was It You Wanted” from one of Bob’s many comeback albums, Oh Mercy.
Bonnie Raitt with a great rocking version of Dylan rarity “Let’s Keep It Between Us” for an album 40 years ago.
Van Morrison still with Them with “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
The man who produced two of Dylan’s greatest albums, Daniel Lanois, did the same for one of the best of the 1990s, Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball. No surprise, she created this stirring rendition of one of Bob’s most brilliant lyrics, “Grain of Sand.”
Chrissie Hynde and James Walbourne posted a dozen Dylan covers during peak Covid, calling it the “Dylan Lockdown Series.” One of best below: the song he felt was not right for an album, now considered one of his greatest, “Blind Willie McTell.” Also check out their “Sweetheart Like You.”
Unreleased for 20 years, until after his death, Bowie was “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.”
At the aforementioned Dylan tribute at MSG, Sinead O’Connor was set to perform Bob’s hymn “I Believe in You” but, shockingly, she was booed off the stage in the aftermath of the night she tore up the Pope’s picture on SNL. A low point in the history of Bob’s fans. But Bob later made sure she recorded it for the album that came out of that event.
It is far from the finest version of the hundreds of “I Shall Be Released” (hello, Richard and the Band), but it was the first and maybe only one to crack the Billboard hot 100 and I didn’t even know it existed until last night: Alex Chilton and the Box Tops with their 1969 single.
Bob won an Oscar for his “Things Have Changed” and Bettye LaVette covered it in award-deserving fashion.
And finally, who else but Joan Baez, from her entire 1960s album of Bob covers, with the then little-known “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word.”
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A great cover of Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom. I think an even better cover was one Bruce did back in February of 1975; pre Born to Run fame. One of the Boss’s many talents is making covers sound like his own. This is Dylan’s I Want You. Suki Lahav on violin to great effect, who only toured with Bruce for a very short time.