Though Bob Dylan moved away from his role as a ‘protest singer’ long ago — we saw Another Side by his fourth album — his name will forever be associated with social activism. The international human rights organization Amnesty International rose out of the same turbulent era as Dylan, forming in 1961, the year Dylan recorded his first album. Fitting, then, that in celebration of their 50th birthday, Amnesty would call on artists to contribute their Dylan covers to the massive four disc set Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.
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When creating this post I wondered whether it was irresponsible to post songs about cocaine. Going through my list though, my worries faded. These songs are uniformly negative! One guy shoots his wife under the influence, another gets locked up in a room with padded walls, and a third wrecks a train. So no arguments about glorifying the rock and roll lifestyle please because, yeesh, sounds terrible.
The Loved Ones – Cocaine Blues (T.J. “Red” Arnall)
I always thought this was a Johnny Cash original. Its badass-itude rivals even “Folsom Prison Blues,” so it truly seems straight out of the darkest imaginings of the Man in Black himself. [Buy]
Sister Hazel – Gold Dust Woman (Fleetwood Mac)
A sitar intro marks this as memorable from the get-go, and it doesn’t disappoint. Doubly appropriate because the original album Rumours basically evolved from one big coke orgy. [Buy]
Ezra Kachi – Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne)
Don’t hate on Ozzy. This song has a great tune, some fun lyrics, and a pound-your-fist chorus. The sensitive acoustic take here keeps the first two at least. [Buy]
Bob Dylan – Cocaine Blues (Trad.)
This tune (not to be confused with the Arnall/Cash one above) is clearly a Dylan favorite. It appeared in his early sets, like this New Yoek take from 1962, then reappeared thirty-five years later with a full band arrangement and plenty of harmonies. You can’t beat the finger-plucking in this young-Bob version. [Buy]
Turin Brakes – Moonlight Mile (The Rolling Stones)
According the Robert Christgau this song “re-created all the paradoxical distances inherent in erotic love with a power worthy of Yeats, yet could also be interpreted as a cocaine song.” That’s a bit of a leap (though many have made it), but this lonesome duet is worth posting. [Buy]
Michael Franti & Spearhead – Casey Jones (Grateful Dead)
A live one from back in May, Franti makes Mountain Jam’s Deadheads wet themselves with a brief reggae-fied snipped of one of the Dead’s few actual hits. [Buy]
Minus 5 – That Smell (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
This one’s about just about every drug there is, and sounds like a D.A.R.E. ad campaign. The stripped-down slow burn highlights the almost comically serious lyrics. [Buy]
The Bobs – White Room (Cream)
For some reason an a cappella group singing a tune about a guy freaking out on cocaine and heading to an insane asylum (probably) strikes me as amusing. The fact that they knock it out of the park – complete with a “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” vocal solo – comes as a nice addition. [Buy]
Scott D. Davis – Master of Puppets (Metallica)
It’s instrumental cover-piano by the master of the genre (well, him and Christopher O’Riley) and as such you might miss the reference. So here it is. “Needlework the way, never you betray / Life of death becoming clearer / Pain monopoly, ritual misery / Chop your breakfast on a mirror.” [Buy]
Eric Ambel & the Roscoe Trio – Cocaine Eyes (Neil Young)
Ambel earned his keep shredding for Joan Jett’s Blackhearts Steve Earle’s Dukes , so it’s not surprising the man’s a Neil Young fan. He does grunge-blues as well as the Man in Flannel himself. This comes from the excellent More Barn tribute album. [Buy]