A 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?
Masters of War – Pearl Jam (two of ’em, anyway)
One More Cup of Coffee – White Stripes
My Back Pages from the 90s tribute concert, hat tip to the Viscount…
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