Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Bob Dylan’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival concerts is one of the most famous – or infamous – performances of all time, subject to numerous books, documentaries, and debates over why Pete Seeger threatened to cut the power cable with an axe. But the fact is, by the time he stepped on that stage, Dylan had already gone electric, four months prior. The first half of his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home – which turns 52 today – is all electric. And not the sort of light electric augmentation other folk singers were experimenting with either. The first track “Subterranean Homesick Blues” may still be the loudest, hardest track of Dylan’s entire career. He’d already drawn his line in the sand; the folk-music crowd had just chosen to ignore it.
To celebrate this landmark album’s 52nd birthday, we’re giving it the full-album treatment. Our recent tributes to Dylan albums have covered underrated works like 1978’s Street Legal and 1985’s Empire Burlesque, but today we return to the classics. Such classics, in fact, that in addition to our main cover picks we list some honorable-mention bonus covers for each song.
Mountain – Subterranean Homesick Blues
“Subterranean Homesick Blues” sometimes gets labeled the first heavy-metal song, which seems as much of a stretch as calling it the first rap song (which people also do). But 1970s hard rockers Mountain found the core of truth in that argument, turning it into a real metal song on their 2007 tribute Masters of War.
* Greg Kihn
* The Lumineers
* Michael Stanley
* Minuscule Hey
* The Radiators
* 40 Thieves
The Nice – She Belongs to Me
Keith Emerson died last year, so it’s only fitting we pay tribute with one of his greatest pre-Emerson, Lake & Palmer performances. On “She Belongs to Me,” Keith essentially uses the Dylan song as an excuse to go nuts on the keyboard. The band doesn’t even get around to any of the words until ten minutes in! It’s a tour de force performance, from a piano giant still missed.
* Grateful Dead
* Neil Finn with Pajama Club
* Ólöf Arnalds
* Peter Parcek
The Walkabouts – Maggie’s Farm
Like a Handsome Family with more distortion, the Walkabouts unearth the old, weird America and make it really loud. They are true masters of the cover; we recently named their “House of the Rising Sun” one of the Best Cover Songs of 1996, and “Maggie’s Farm” is every bit as good. A storming, dark performance, it’s just as powerful as the one that got Dylan booed at Newport.
* David Grisman, John Hartford & Mike Seeger
* Mark Karan & Friends
* The Specials
* Tim O’Brien
Eliza Gilkyson – Love Minus Zero/No Limit
For my money, 2001’s A Nod to Bob may be the best Dylan tribute album ever released. Some covers take the songs in wildly unexpected directions (witness Tom Landa & The Paperboys’ Irish-jig “All Along the Watchtower”). And even the artist that play it a little straighter – like Eliza Gilkyson – bring a tenderness and soul to every line.
* Eric Clapton
* Steve Harley
The White Stripes – Outlaw Blues
There’s a great bootleg compilation called Meg, Jack, and Bob: The Big Three (and Others) That Killed My Baby that collects all the White Stripes’ live Dylan covers. Some were only snippets that Jack would do once on a whim – reciting a verse of “It’s Alright Ma,” or giving his own “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)” an “I Threw It All Away” piano intro. But many are fully realized arrangements never put to tape, like a absolutely roaring “Outlaw Blues.” Bob must have approved – supposedly he currently has his own ball in Jack’s bowling alley.
* The Dream Syndicate
* The Morning Benders
Bob Sidran – On the Road Again
Allmusic says Bob Sidran’s Dylan Different exhibits “a near symbiotic connection to his source’s material” and it’s hard to disagree. On “On the Road Again,” the pianist and longtime Steve Miller collaborator tackles the least-covered song on Bringing It All Back Home with swing and a healthy dose of funky grit.
* Julie Doiron
Asobi Seksu – Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream
We haven’t yet touched on the most obvious album for this: 2011’s Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute to Bob Dylan’s ‘Bringing It All Back Home’. What made that album so good was how little the performers felt beholden to the original recordings. Electronics and other oddities abound, as on Asobi Seksu’s cover, which brings in effects and vocal harmonies for a dream-pop swirl that shouldn’t work on this talking blues song, but does.
* Taj Mahal
Odetta – Mr. Tambourine Man
I was tempted to follow the last track’s weirdness with Kumisolo’s Japanese dance-pop cover, but really, how can you not give this one to Odetta? With just acoustic guitar, bass, and her voice – that voice! – she turns one of Dylan’s best-known songs into an epic ballad that stretches beyond the ten-minute mark, not one of them redundant. It came out the same year as the Byrds’ hit cover, but couldn’t sound less like it.
* The Byrds (duh)
* The Helio Sequence
* William Shatner
The Slambovian Circus of Dreams – Gates of Eden
Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music has been covering Dylan songs for decades, even recording a full tribute album in 2009. It included “Gates of Eden,” which was maybe not the right song for him. Ferry has a tendency to take his Dylan covers very seriously, treating the songs like gospel that needs to be preserved and protected. Which can work, but sometimes ends up seeming overwrought, a recitation rather than a celebration. So though we were going to post his video – which you can still watch below – we made an eleventh-hour change to a much looser and more fun live cover, by the Hudson, NY psych-folk band the Slambovian Circus of Dreams.
* Bryan Ferry
* DM Stith
* Robyn Hitchcock
The Byrds – It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
If you Google “the byrds bob dylan cover,” the second hit is a thread titled “Why’d the Byrds cover Dylan songs so much?” And it’s true, over their many lineup changes they kept returning to that same well (the 2002 The Byrds Play Dylan compilation ran to twenty tracks!). They covered three of the Bringing songs, so since we skipped the obvious “Mr. Tambourine Man,” let’s spotlight a live take on a dense song that gets covered less than you think.
* Al Stewart
* Caetano Veloso
* Franz Nicolay (of The Hold Steady)
* The Duhks
Echo & The Bunnymen – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Last year saw one of the greatest “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” covers ever from Jason Isbell. But since we just featured it, we dig a little farther back to Echo & The Bunnymen’s 2000 EP Avalanche. It include a terrifically dreamy cover that sounds like Bob Dylan by the light of the killing moon.
* Bad Religion
* Jason Isbell
* Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs
* The Byrds
* 13th Floor Elevators
Celebrate the 52nd birthday of ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ at Amazon. Or if you already own it, how about picking up the song-by-song tribute ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.