May 242021

Go back to the beginning

20. Ed Sheeran – Masters of War

In “Masters of War,” Dylan is not pulling any punches. It’s blunt and angry, protesting the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Sheeran doesn’t have that same hardness about him in this performance. He opens with a lighter touch on the guitar that reminds me of the opening of his “I See Fire,” released in the same year as this cover. Both are songs of war in a way and have elegiac tones. There is an abrupt departure from the sadness in his added emphasis to the “and I hope that you die, and your death’ll come soon” ending, marking Dylan’s original frustration. – Sara Stoudt

19. Spiritual QC’s – When You Gonna Wake Up

No surprise that a gospel group will want to cover a Dylan track from his gospel period. This cover, recorded 33 years after the original, shows Dylan’s talent for writing lyrics that are incredibly human and relevant, no matter which decade they are performed in. The smooth rearrangement of this track, with the grouped backing vocals and soulful voice of leader Lee Williams, makes sure that these lyrics pack a powerful punch, and show that we as a society still have a long way to go. – Brendan Shanahan

18. Billy Preston – She Belongs To Me

Keyboard extraordinaire Billy Preston was the only person who could have made a legitimate claim to being both the Fifth Beatle and the Sixth Rolling Stone. He was even a member of the The Band at one point. With all of that in mind, it’s a terrible shame that Billy was never able to collaborate with Bob Dylan, who is known for his impeccable taste in keyboard players. We do have the next best thing: Billy covering Bob’s 1965 classic “She Belongs to Me.” One of Preston’s many talents was his ability to make anything he sang or played on sound like an old gospel song that had been around forever, and this is no different. It starts off fairly sparse, but builds and builds in intensity as the rhythm section and backing singers come in, propelled by Billy’s soulful piano. If it were twice as long, it would still feel as though it ends too soon. – Tim Edgeworth

17. Sufjan Stevens – Ring Them Bells

Sufjan Stevens has a lot of melancholic tunes, and “Ring Them Bells” is one of Bob Dylan’s gentler numbers, so it’s a match made in heaven (an appropriate cliché, given the subject matter). And yet Sufjan injects so much joy and spirit making it sprightlier than Dylan’s original. He starts with his soft clear vocals and continues to add more instrumentals and vocal layers to build the excitement of the tune. It has rising passion that crash down like a wave breaking into quieter moments. The cover ends with an extended instrumental outro, leaving the lingering feeling of bliss. – Ally McApline

16. Michael Stanley – Subterranean Homesick Blues

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” might be the moment Dylan broke as a rock star. His first US Top 40 hit, full of so many of his trademark lyrical phrases that the infamous video needed cue cards. And he went electric. Michael Stanley does the right thing and goes a completely different direction, to the point that the song is unrecognizable unless you concentrate on the lyrics. The tempo is dramatically slower, and there’s almost a mournful quality to his delivery. On the chorus, he’s joined by some dramatic female backing vocals. Stanley takes the lyrics from those of a streetwise hipster to those of a sage older observer wanting to look out for him. – Riley Haas

15. P.P. Arnold – Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie

“As Dylan covers go,” wrote PopMatters, “P.P. Arnold’s ‘Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie’ is Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’-level good.” Everyone knows how high that praise is, because everyone knows Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” and its reputation for cover-song greatness. But not everyone knows P.P. Arnold, or “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” be it her cover or Dylan’s original. If that’s the case, it’s time for an education, and Arnold is a breathtaking teacher. She takes Dylan’s poem, performed only once by its author, and spins out this meditation on heroes and hope. Her voice sometimes multi-tracks, and the music behind her moves in flits and flickers as she gives all 1700-odd words toughness and reverence. So if you can roll along with this thing here, you’ll be so much the better person for it. – Patrick Robbins

14. Iron & Wine and Calexico – Dark Eyes

When it first dropped in the mid-’80s, “Dark Eyes” seemed like a return to the Dylan of his Greenwich Village troubadour days. At that point, many Dylan fans were probably desperate for a reboot. But when Sam Beam of Iron and Wine takes the song in hand, he drags it back to the future, as it were, away from the folkie coffeehouse and back to the wilderness of the weird. Weird but beautiful. The cover begins with staccato playing, a signature part of the Iron and Wine sound that Beam (and partners in Calexico) weave into their re-imagined “Dark Eyes.” The melody gets stated by a bowed fretless instrument of some sort – except that a melody note or two is shifted by a step or half-step, which turns it into something darker and more exotic than the original. A lush, layered soundscape emerges, thick enough to swamp the lyrics. A cello drones down in the dark bottom, and a marimba casts an hypnotic spell. It’s refreshing, a Dylan cover that isn’t a little cowed by the wordsmithing, that dares to layer over the lyrics and celebrate other things a Dylan song can do. – Tom McDonald

13. Maxine Weldon – It Ain’t Me Babe

Maxine Weldon’s cover of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” is thrilling to behold. Weldon amps up the schadenfreude energy, infusing each backhanded compliment and consonant in Dylan’s verses with a cool-handed, masterly bite. A spirited band and some astral horn arrangements work impressively at Weldon’s beck and call. By the time Weldon plunges toward the final chorus, claiming her independence in the song’s terse and titular hook, “It Ain’t Me, Babe” feels like a cliff dive — triumphant, dizzying, boundless. – Ben Easton

12. Johnny Winter – Highway 61 Revisited

At Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert, Johnny Winter stole the show with his furious slide guitar version of “Highway 61 Revisited.” The emaciated albino turned the energy up to 11 for a scorching take that seemed like it couldn’t get any hotter. Turns out, Winter’s amp goes beyond even 11. Because that “Highway 61” was merely the Reader’s Digest abridged version. For the uncut hit, turn to his 1976 album Captured Live, where he spends ten-plus minutes yelping and soloing. Judging by the album cover, he did it while wearing platform shoes and a cape, no less. – Ray Padgett

11. Nina Simone – Ballad of Hollis Brown / Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues / I Shall Be Released

Nina Simone covered multiple Bob Dylan songs throughout her brilliant star-crossed career. We chose these three as they highlight the High Priestess of Soul’s ability to sing across multiple genres. Each cover is haunting and beautiful in its own particular way. For “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” Simone goes country, singing the murder ballad backed by a fast-picking acoustic guitar. She sings “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” as a folk jazz ballad, capturing Dylan’s rambling spirit and filling it with a substance all her own. She delivers “I Shall Be Released,” as a heartbreaking piece of gospel-powered R&B. You can feel the sadness in her voice as she sings, “Any day now I shall be released.” It’s enough to bring tears to the eyes of even the hardest-hearted soul. – Curtis Zimmermann

The list continues on Page 11.

Cover Me is now on Patreon! If you love cover songs, we hope you will consider supporting us there with a small monthly subscription. There are a bunch of exclusive perks only for patrons: playlists, newsletters, downloads, discussions, polls - hell, tell us what song you would like to hear covered and we will make it happen. Learn more at Patreon.

  13 Responses to “The 100 Best Bob Dylan Covers Ever”

Comments (13)
  1. Hope Silverman really really nails #98 for me (its my #1)…taking the complicated time, place and point of view of Tangled up in Blue and having the 2 of them sing it to each other is unreal.

  2. Great list. Some very well known, some really obscure and lots in between. Only one cover missing – Rod Stewart with Mama You Been On My Mind.

  3. What? No Joe Cocker I Shall be Released? An astonishing omission!

  4. Looks like a great list. I would have to add the Byrds version of Chimes of Freedom. (I once asked Roger McGuinn via email if they ever recorded it with all the verses, he said no. But for a partial take on the song, it’s just stunning in my book).

  5. Also a tip, there is a nice version of you ain’t going nowhere on the Nitty Gritty Dirt band’s Will the circle be unbroken Vol II with McGuinn doing the vocal and telling a story…

  6. Vote for 53. Heart of mine

  7. Not a single track from Dylanesque recorded by Bryan Ferry, that’s not ok. I Also miss Guns N’ Roses, knockin ‘On Heavens door and Nazareth, The Ballad of Hollies Brown.

  8. Michael Hedges “Watchtower”?

  9. Dylan Fans: You’ve GOT to check out Sinead Lohan’s stellar version of To Ramona!!!!

  10. Great list, one of my favs not on this list is Helio Sequence’s Mr Tamborine Man, it’s a fairly straight cover, but the guitar has a great depth and space to it that gives it a surreal quality that’s really nice.

  11. What a fantastic list! When Cover Me Songs gets its Sirius/XM station, I hope that Dylan covers will be its initial weekend — make that week, no wait, make that month — programming. I would like to recommend a wonderful jazz version of Mr. Tambourine Man by the great, dearly departed singer Abbey Lincoln. I never get tired of it:

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>