Rock’s Greatest Covers II: Bob Dylan’s Progeny

DylanA few years ago, the Rolling Stones covered the greatest song in the history of rock n’ roll. No, this list isn’t about that. It’s about the guy they covered – probably the most covered song-writer in the last 45 years: Bob Dylan, of course, our national poet. And if the Stones didn’t get the irony of covering Like a Rolling Stone (they probably thought the song was about them, didn’t they, didn’t they?) they certainly knew they were joining a long, long list of musicians who’ve found musical inspiration and lyrics worth repeating Dylan.

To follow up on the weekend’s excellent thread of greatest rock covers, I thought I’d drill down here on the man whose works were mentioned the most by newcritics readers.

OK, so most people would say All Along the Watchtower is the greatest Dylan cover. The Hendrix version rearranges the Dylan original, famously adding the cigarette-lighter slide licks and some screaming wah-wah solo work. It was the only Top 40 song of Hendrix’s living career. Heavy virtuosity aside, the song remains essential Dylan – the joker and the thief, the evocative chapters and the overall set piece. And that’s true of all the Dylan covers.
I love a bunch of Dylan covers – from George Harrison’s wonderfully sweet If Not For You to Guns n’ Roses glammy Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (hey, hey, hey-hey-yaaaah). Some were hits – would The Byrds have had a career without Dylan? – and others are curiosities: remember Nancy Sinatra’s sterling It Ain’t Me Babe, William Shatner’s Mr. Tambourine Man, or Natalie Cole’s Gotta Serve Somebody?

Here are some of my faves – you probably have your own.

If Not For You – George Harrison
One More Cup of Coffee – White Stripes
Masters of War – Pearl Jam
I Shall Be Released – The Band
Quinn the Eskimo – Phish
Foot of Pride – Lou Reed
It Aint Me Babe – Johnny Cash
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go – Shawn Colvin
Tomorrow Is A Long Time – Sandy Denny
I’ll Keep It With Mine – Marianne Faithfull

The last three tracks are chapters in the long, proud history of women covering Dylan, and adding new perspective in the process. Colvin’s track is bright, Denny’s is sad and folky, and Marianne’s is – well – Marianne’s. Knowing. Experienced. Informed.

Alright, there are hundreds more out there – whatcha got?

Bonus videos:

Masters of War – Pearl Jam (two of ’em, anyway)

One More Cup of Coffee – White Stripes

One More Cup of Coffee – the original…

My Back Pages from the 90s tribute concert, hat tip to the Viscount

Comments 26

  • Oh yeah, and Nico’s original recording of “I’ll Keep It W/ Mine”

  • Doh – how could I have forgottent the Pops version – it’s haunting.


  • I heard Susan Tedeschi sing “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” in Raleigh, NC with the Allman Brothers and have also heard her cover “Lord Protect My Child” with the Derek Trucks Band at the Nokia Theatre in NYC. If you can get ahold of these two live gems, you’ll be better for it. Her voice singing Dylan’s lyrics is simply gorgeous.

  • I’m a fan of Tedeschi – she’s got a great voice, and her arrangements are really elegant – the rare blues artist who’s not doing tributes to the old guys, but making the songs her own. Girl can play, too.

  • Sorry – I meant main post…

  • Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door by Guns N Roses

  • Yeah, that was the famed “Don’t Let the Bastards Git Ya Down” concert.

    I shouldn’t have left off Nico’s track – that’s a good one.

  • Van Morrison’s version of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”
    Unlike other songs mentioned here, it’s not just a cover, it’s reclamation. Van redefines the song, wraps in silk and soul and proclaims here – here is heartbreak. It is, like most of Astral Weeks, celestial.
    Once heard you cannot listen to Dylan sing it without thinking of the Morrison version. It’s like there are two different songs from one source – both equally stunning and essential.

  • Nick Cave, “Death Is Not The End.”

  • I was always partial to Richard Thompson’s impromptu Tears of Rage from the famed “bucket show” circa late 80s at the Bottom Line. But I don’t know of an extant recording, alas.

  • Type your comment here.

    Cassandra Wilson’s cover of Shelter From the Storm is sublime. She also does wonderful covers of The Weight, Last Train To Clarksville, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and If Loving You Is Wrong, among others.

  • Wow great thread Tom – sorry I missed the first one, now it’s time to chime in. I’ll give you my five favorite covers.

    1. Johnny Cash – Hurt (Nine Inch Nails)
    2. Sublime – Scarlett Begonias (Grateful Dead)
    3. Fall Out Boy – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division)
    4. Chris Carabba – Woe (Say Anything)
    5. Pearl Jam – Keep On Rockin in the Free World (Neil Young)

  • Manfred Mann’s cover of “You Angel You”.

  • The Replacements, coming as close to respect as ever they were able, in their drunken, “Like A Rolling Pin”. The has-to-be-apocryphal story I’ve heard is that the Mats recorded it in a studio down the hall from where that other wandering son of the frozen iron wastes of Minnesota, the man himself, was recording.

  • The 13th Floor Elevators’ version of `Baby Blue’ is probably the greatest Dylan cover of them all. (It’s on `Easter Everywhere’)

  • chris whitley’s cover of changing of the guard is unreal. he also does an awesome cover of spanish harlem incident…..

  • Gotta add:
    Van Morrison’s “Just Like a Woman” (live 1971)
    Roseanne Cash’s “License to Kill” (saw that live in LA in 2003)
    Odetta’s “Masters of War”
    Joan Baez’s “Farewell Angelina”
    and a million more…

  • Nina Simone: I Shall Be Released
    Madeleine Peyroux: You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You GO

  • Johnny Winter – Highway 61
    I think even Bob would say this is the definitive version, jusr like Hendix’s Watchtower.

    Richie Havens – Just Like A Woman

    Tom Petty – License To Kill

  • Type your comment here.

    Bruce Springsteen – Chimes of Freedom (mini CD released, I think, with the live box set)

    The Band – Blind Willie McTell

    Emmylou Harris – Every Grain of Sand

  • My top 25 Bob covers that aren’t already mentioned:

    Track Title Artist Album
    I Don’t Want to Do It Harrison, George Porky’s Revenge!
    I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine Gilmore, Thea Hard Rain (Tribute To Bob Dylan) Vol One
    All Along The Watchtower Mahal, Taj & The Hula Blues Band Hanapepe Blues
    Ballad Of A Thin Man Sports, The Doin’ Dylan (1 of 2)
    Chimes Of Freedom N’dour, Youssou With Bruce Cockburn Columbia Records Radio Hour, Volume 2
    Born In Time Clapton, Eric Pilgrim
    Pressing On Chicago Mass Choir Gotta Serve Somebody – The Gospel Songs Of Bob Dylan
    Ring Them Bells Lightfoot, Gordon Doin’ Dylan (2 of 2)
    Times They Are A-Changing, The Simon, Carly & Graham Nash / James Taylor No Nukes (1 of 2)
    Knockin’ On Heavens Door Jean, Wyclef Masquerade
    Love Minus Zero/No Limit [*] Fleetwood Mac Say You Will [Bonus Disc]
    Girl From The North Country Hornsby, Bruce Best Of Mountain Stage-Volume Six
    Tomorrow Is A Long Time Presley, Elvis Artist Of The Century
    Abandoned Love Everly Brothers Doin’ Dylan (2 of 2)
    Mighty Quinn, The Ralph, Sheryl Lee Mighty Quinn, The
    Well, Well, Well Howe, Steve Portraits Of Bob Dylan
    When The Ship Comes In Pogues, The Pogue Mahone
    You’re A Big Girl Now Sugar Black Blowin’ In The Wind A Reggae Tribute To Bob Dylan
    Thula Sizwe/I Shall Be Released Place Of Hope Place Of Hope
    Man Of Peace Holmes Brothers, The Speaking In Tongues
    I Believe In You O’Connor, Sinead Very Special Christmas, A (2)
    Boots Of Spanish Leather Griffith, Nancy Doin’ Dylan (2 of 2)
    I Threw It All Away [Bob Dylan] Costello, Elvis Kojak Variety
    Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One Jah Malla I Shall Be Unreleased, The Songs Of Bob Dylan
    Love Is Just A Four Letter Word Baez, Joan I Shall Be Unreleased, The Songs Of Bob Dylan

  • I can not believe the lack of Grateful Dead mentions.

    The Dead’s version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” with Bob Weir on vocals, is my fave Dylan cover of all time.

    Also more than worth mentioning is the Dead’s kick-ass arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower,” which is the version Dylan is actually copping on the Never-Ending Tour, despite Dylan’s claims that he’s doing Hendrix.

    Jerry Garcia sang an absolutely haunting “She Belongs to Me” with the Dead on occasion, often covered, to great effect, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” — drawing crazy patterns on your sheets, indeed — and rarely but definitively sang “Visions of Johanna.”

    Talking about this reminds me that it’s such a tragedy that Jerry missed Dylan’s last three albums. He would have gone crazy for them… I’m guessing “Not Dark Yet,” “Moonlight,” “Mississippi,” “Workingman’s Blues #2” and “Nettie Moore” would have found their way into his repertoire.

  • most of mine have already been mentioned, but being both a Bob and a reggae head, I’m always looking….

    There are several not so good to good reggae comps out there. A decent cd, that came with a bonus dub version.

    “Is it rolling Bob? on Ras Records”. Old school groups with great nod to bob.

  • John Mellencamp’s live performance of Like a Rolling Stone at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert

  • The Seldom Scene with John Duffy singing “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”. One of the best.

  • I know I say this to all the men but Bob’s the man !

    I put him up there with King David.