Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
After listening to the rock & roll on side one of Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home for the first time, the folkie purists of 1965 who dared to flip the record over must have done so with no small measure of dread. To their relief, side two was made up of basically acoustic songs, and led off with “Mr. Tambourine Man,” a song that may not have had a single whiff of Protest to it, but whose light surreal flow felt as smooth and magical as a steady creek and defied its listeners to not feel uplifted. It was as if the Pied Piper had switched to percussion, only gaining in followers for many jingle jangle mornings to come.
The Byrds, of course, have the most famous cover of the song, in which they threw out 80% of the lyrics, invented folk rock, and prompted Dylan to say “Wow, you can dance to that!” or “Fuckin’ wild!”, depending on who you believe. There were plenty more covers to follow – a good two hundred have been given the major label treatment. The most legendary of these would have to be William Shatner‘s; here are five more that have their own very special quality.
Helio Sequence – Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)
Subterranean Homesick Blues was a 2010 indie tribute album that covered Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home in its entirety, not forgetting some of the album’s outtakes (you can read our review here). The Helio Sequence took the reins for “Mr. Tambourine Man,” successfully conveying the song’s upbeat dreaminess without even remotely feeling like a cheap copy.
Kumi Solo – Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)
Beatrice Ardisson is the woman responsible for the music on the French TV show Paris Derniere, which generally consists of cover songs that best suit the city in the wee small hours, whether a strobe-lit nightclub or a sad cafe. Dylan Mania is another of her curations, which features this tres Fraunch version of “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Jimmy Lafave – Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)
Like Dylan before him, Texahoman Jimmy Lafave is deeply versed in the music of Woody Guthrie, to such an extent that he performs in and helps to organize the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival. He also knows his Jackson Browne – he produced this year’s fine tribute album Looking Into You – and was called “one of the finest Dylan interpreters ever” in a review of his 2007 album Cimarron Manifesto, which included his wonderful cover of “Not Dark Yet.” His “Mr. Tambourine Man” is nothing to sneeze at either, rubbing a handful of red dirt into the song’s grooves.
Cloud Cult – Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)
Like Dylan, the band Cloud Cult was born in Duluth, Minnesota, and like him, they have performed “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The similarities start to run out around this point, as Dylan is not an environmentally-friendly collective, but it’s likely he could recognize the skitterish universe that Cloud Cult spend nine minutes flinging his song across. This originally appeared on Duluth Does Dylan Revisited, a collection of covers that takes true pride in keeping it local.
Con Funk Shun – Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan cover)
As we’ve mentioned before, Stevie Wonder recorded a cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” He was sixteen at the time, the awkward age between “The 12 Year Old Genius” and the 21 year old hey-wow-he-really-IS-a-genius. Had he waited until, say, Innervisions to record the song, it might have sounded like Con Funk Shun’s version, which is reportedly a favorite of the author’s.
You can find the original song and its lyrics on the magic swirling ship of bobdylan.com.