Few albums sound as different from their predecessor than Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding does from Blonde On Blonde, but then the two albums were the product of very different men. The Dylan who recorded Blonde seemed on top of his game, lauded round the world as a genius and full of the narcissism and perceived invincibility that goes with that sort of attention. The Dylan of Harding, felled by a motorcycle accident in July 1966 and subsequent time out of the spotlight, had a more mature, reflective tone, aware of the brevity of life and how it could all disappear in an instant. A stark contrast to the psychedelia peddled by most major artists the year of its release, Harding caught the attention of Jimi Hendrix, who immediately recorded covers of “All Along the Watchtower” and “Drifter’s Escape.” Over the years, critics and fans have come to regard Harding as one of Dylan’s best.
Dylan Covers A-Z presents covers of every single Bob Dylan song. View the full series here.
We began our celebrations yesterday, but today, in fact, is the big day. On May 24th, 1941, Bob Dylan was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. Twenty-one years later he released his first album and ever since…well, you know.
We continue our week-long series presenting covers of every single Dylan song with “Father of Night,” one of several Dylan songs that Manfred Mann rescued from obscurity. From there we hit songs by Jeff Buckley, The White Stripes, George Harrison, and, oh, about 54 more. Hours of music, and we’re not even halfway done!
The following post first went up on October 29, 2007. To celebrate our third birthday, we are re-posting it for the first time with new MP3 links. These songs will only be live for 48 hours, so snag them now!
First off, welcome to Cover Me, my own foray into the world of cover blogs. I’ll be posting a new set of covers every week, usually on a theme, with other stuff probably cropping up. They will stay available to download for a month, at which point they will vanish like the wind. So keep this blog bookmarked, and also check out the other great blogs in the Links on the right. If you like what you see or have a suggestion, drop a comment or shoot me a line.
For the first segment, in honor of the soundtrack to the movie I’m Not There, which came out yesterday, we’re gonna hit you up with some Dylan covers. Specifically, every song from his return-to-roots ’67 album John Wesley Harding. The original shocked everyone with its acoustic instruments, Biblical imagery, straightforward story-songs, and lack of choruses. These short, spare songs have lent themselves to loads of covers over the years, many quite different from the originals.
The first post of the month features covers of every track on a famous album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
London Calling entered into the world in December 1979, but didn’t make its stateside debut for another month. That makes 2010 the album’s 30th anniversary on this side of the pond. It’s aged well. While many classic albums sound very much of their time — that’s not to say dated — London Calling sounds like something that could have been made yesterday. With the cover image and the cover songs, the politics and the pop, the ambitious two-disc package set a bar that no double album has since matched. So, all together now: “And I…live by the river!”
Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Dave Grohl and Little Steven Van Zandt – London Calling
Many artists cross genres with “London Calling,” ranging from bossa nova (Bruce Lash) to surf instrumental (The Pyronauts). Somehow though, kicking this set off with anything besides a balls-to-the-wall rocker seemed wrong. This all-star performance comes from a Grammy tribute to Joe Strummer. [Buy]
The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Brand New Cadillac (Vince Taylor)
The Clash wasted no time getting to the rockabilly, turning Vince Taylor’s 1958 twelve-bar b-side into a full throttled rave-up. Setzer and his orchestra jump, jive and wail through their unique brand of big band punk, adding in a touch of the Theme from Peter Gunn. [Buy]
Skarabazoo – Jimmy Jazz
You may never have noticed the subdued whistle in the intro to this one, but Skarabazoo pushes it front and center. The Italian accent adds a suitably sinister touch. [Buy]
No Doubt – Hateful
Before all the B-A-N-A-N-A-S nonsense, Gwen Stefani could pull off some real punk swagger. [Buy]
The Cocktail Preachers – Rudie Can’t Fail
The Charlie Does Surf tribute album settles comfortably into the über-niche genre of instrumental surf-rock. The Cocktail Preachers buck the trend though, shouting out “Rudie can’t fail” one whole time! Such rebels. [Buy]
Brady Harris – Spanish Bombs
Southern Arts Society – The Right Profile
In 1956, screen star Montgomery Clift was driving home from a party at Elizabeth Taylor’s. Having had one too many, he smashed his car into a tree, destroying his famous good looks with one crunch of glass and metal. His next ten years have been described as the “longest suicide in Hollywood history.” The Clash wrote this song about it. [Buy]
Petty Booka – Lost in the Supermarket
Joe Strummer wrote this song imagining the childhood of guitarist Mick Jones (who sang lead on the track). Japanese ukulele player Booka adds a dose of cute without losing the sad. [Buy]
The National – Clampdown
In music history, 2010 may be remembered as the Year of the National. Everyone from Rolling Stone to NPR is stumbling over themselves praising High Violet, the most anticipated album of the spring. The stream over at the New York Times indicates it might live up to the hype. [Buy]
Calexico – The Guns of Brixton
Fun trivia fact: Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong named his son Brixton after this song. Must be cheery growing up as an homage to police repression. [Buy]
Buck-O-Nine – Wrong ‘Em Boyo (The Rulers)
The classic death-ballad tale of Stagger Lee, a southern pimp convicting of murdering William “Billy” Lyons on Christmas Eve 1885, gets twisted around. In the Rulers’ version, Stagger Lee is the hero of the tale. St. Louis’ Riverfront Times hosts a telling. [Buy]
Social Distortion – Death or Glory
Following a few years behind the Clash, Social Distortion gave punk anger a West coast spin. They didn’t get around to covering the Clash until 2005 though, on the soundtrack to the skateboard film Lord of Dogtown. [Buy]<
La Furia – Koka Kola
La Furia are a Clash cover band with a twist: every song gets translated into Spanish. [Buy]
James Dean Bradfield – The Card Cheat
The Manic Street Preachers singer busted out this relative obscurity at a 2006 festival appearance. This underrated narrative describes the rise and fall (mostly fall) of a dishonest gambler. [Buy]
Mauri – Lover’s Rock
If one had to name London Calling’s Achilles heel, this song might be it. It aims for insight into the tension between love and sex, but quickly devolves into blowjob puns. [Buy]
Creation Rockers – Four Horsemen
The Clash roiled punk purists by incorporating outside styles like reggae. Shatter the Hotel: A Dub Inspired Tribute to Joe Strummer pays it back. [Buy]
Thea Gilmore – I’m Not Down
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs – Revolution Rock (Jackie Edwards & Danny Ray)
And we’re back to Spanish, on a track from these prolific Argentineans’ 1994 album Vasoc Vacíos (Empty Glasses). [Buy]
Dwight Yoakam – Train in Vain
Johnny Cash once called Yoakam his favorite country singer, which is about as much endorsement as anyone should need. [Buy]
Last month’s album: So, by Peter Gabriel.
It seems every week a new “Best Dylan Covers Ever” article surfaces, but each new list reads much like the last. Hendrix tops it (fair enough) and Peter, Paul and Mary and the Byrds follow behind (really?). At Cover Me we like to break out of the mold though, so let us present the second and final installment of The Best Dylan Covers You’ve (Probably) Never Heard. This week we tackle songs Dylan recorded after his fabled 1966 motorcycle crash.
Barb Jungr – Things Have Changed
Dylan’s past few albums signaled a comeback, the legendary songwriter finally matching his sharp songwriting with smart production. His greatest song since the ‘70s can’t be found on them though, but rather as an Oscar-winning one-off for the Wonder Boys soundtrack. [Buy]
World Wide Message Tribe – Precious Angel
True, Dylan’s widely reviled born-again period inspired a lot of Armageddon preaching from the stage, but it also sewed the seeds of the most successful dance cover of a Dylan tune to date. [Buy]
Giant Sand – All Along the Watchtower
Once the most recognizable three chords in rock hit, Giant Sand deliver a somewhat conventional cover. But it takes sixty seconds of cello feedback to get there. [Buy]
Elliott Murphy – Blind Willie McTell
Mark this one as one of the best live covers of all time. Discoveries like this utterly brilliant acoustic duet reward obsessive bootleg collectors. [Buy]
The Everly Brothers – Abandoned Love
Dylan recorded this song in 1975, but it didn’t see official release until a mediocre studio recording on 1985’s Biograph collection (track down his 1975 live version at the Bitter End for the definitive reading). That fantastic chord progression makes it a cover favorite, with everyone from George Harrison to Chuck Prophet having a go. [Buy]
Townes Van Zandt – Man Gave Names to All the Animals
Many fans would rank this song up with the worst songs Dylan has ever written. And it would be, except for that final line that turns all the nursery rhyme verses on their head. Dylan’s least ambitious Christian song may just be his most powerful. [Buy]
Thea Gilmore – I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
Gilmore turns up on just about every covers CD Britain’s Uncut magazine compiles, delivering superb performances of The Clash and the Boss. This artist boasts some serious folk cred though; Joan Baez hand-picked her to open a tour and covered Gilmore’s “The Lower Road” on her latest album. [Buy]
Delta Cross Band – Legionnaire’s Disease
What, you don’t know “Legionnaire’s Disease”? Well, a recording of Dylan performing it has never surfaced. Written after a 1976 outbreak of the infectious bacteria known technically as Legionellosis, Dylan handed it off to Billy Cross, his guitar player from 1977-79. [Buy]
Richie Havens – License to Kill
Havens has spent his career covering Dylan — witness his cameo in I’m Not There. His signature guitar tuning and strumming pattern takes the fore, laying the weight of the world upon a mediocre lyric. [Buy]
Tim O’Brien – Father of Night
O’Brien’s Red on Blonde covers album is one of the best out there, giving tunes from the famous (“Forever Young”) to the obscure (“Lay Down Your Weary Tune”) jaunty bluegrass rhythms. [Buy]
Read Part 1: Before the Crash.
The record that propelled Bruce Springsteen to superstardom, Born in the U.S.A. hasn’t aged all that well. Though the songs are still top notch, the how-80’s-can-we-make-it production sounds tacky to modern ears and, from Reagan’s misinterpretation of the title track to the white-tee music video for Dancing in the Dark, it’s hard to disassociate the songs from the decade that spawned the. Fifteen million copies later though, the record still resonates with people, and hearing the songs in a new format can remind even the most jaded about how good they really are.
Richard Shindell – Born in the U.S.A.
Stripped of its bombastic drum blasts, the song’s less likely to be interpreted as a rah-rah-America song this time around. Vaguely country-ish, but don’t hold that against it.
Thea Gilmore – Cover Me
An alt-folk sort of version here, the hauntingly brushed drums propel the echo of Gilmore’s subdued voice that replaces the originals swagger with a sort of desperation.
The Gourds – Darlington County
I couldn’t believe what a tough time I had finding a cover of this one. The best I could do was this live take from The Gourds. You may not recognize the name, but any cover-lover knows their bluegrass version of Gin & Juice. If anyone has a better cover of this one though, pass it along!
Joe Ely – Working on the Highway
Off of the Light of Day tribute album, it doesn’t stray too far from the original.
Kirk Kelly – Downbound Train
One of the album’s underrated gems, this ukulele take strips down the unnecessary production to a simple hootenanny jam.
Bat for Lashes – I’m on Fire
A lot of great covers of this track, I debated putting up the Johnny Cash version up, but will save that for a later post. This one is delicate and fragile, with strings subtle enough not to overpower the track. Bruce Goes Indie.
Pat McGee Band – No Surrender
The Eddie Vedder version is excellent, but has circulated so widely already I thought I’d give a little publicity to another live take, also acoustic, but with some great manly-man harmonies.
Jennifer Glass – Bobby Jean
Bobby Jean is not my lover…oh wait, sorry, different song. This is a track, originally about guitarist Steve Van Zandt’s departure from the E Street Band, that gets a lot of shit from fans. True it’s not amazing, but hearing it in this new format gives some fresh air to a tired classic.
Kid Harpoon w/ Florence – I’m Goin’ Down
Kid Harpoon is a favorite of mine, a wharf rat vagrant whose songs about milkmaids and murder sound like Decemberists outtakes. So this isn’t his normal style, but the combination of the two voices sounds like a nice, lowkey demo.
Matt Tyler – Glory Days
My least favorite song on the album, Tyler takes away most of the synthetic production and lets you actually hear the lyrics. From his Springsteen cover album Brilliant Disguise.
Charlotte Martin – Dancing in the Dark
I could do a whole post on this song alone. Tegan and Sara do a beautiful cover you can find here, but once again I’d like to showcase a lesser-known take. It’s a live recording, and imperfect in that she takes a while to get into the song, but the soulful solo piano arrangement is worth the wait. Almost enough to make you forget about that video.
Kallet, Epstein and Cicone – My Hometown
U2 did a cover of this too. Whatever. I stole this folk cover from Cover Lay Down, and I thank him for it. If Peter, Paul and Mary did the Boss.
And for more Springsteen cover excitement, check out my Bruuuuuuce post a few months back. Still not enough? Read my concert reviews of his shows in Hartford, Montreal, and Milwaukee this year. What can I say, I’m a fan.