May 242021

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100. The Band – I Shall Be Released

“I Shall Be Released” was destined to be a standard. The plaintive wail of a prisoner clinging desperately to a thread of hope, or perhaps a dying man awaiting his passing with no small anticipation – hear it how you will, and know it could go even further. The Band were the first to hear it, as they worked on it with Dylan in the basement of Big Pink, and they were among the first to release it. In doing so, they gave it an eternal, everlasting stamp. Richard Manuel’s vocal is that of a man locked up and locked down, a man who does not truly believe he’ll be released any day now – and yet, with that famed tear in his voice, Manuel shrouds the song in sadness, hope, and peace. – Patrick Robbins

99. Ray Bryant – Blowin’ in the Wind

Recorded live in 1963 at the (now-defunct) Basin Street East in Midtown Manhattan, pianist Ray Bryant’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” has the richness and universality of an iconic jazz standard. (Indeed, the tune is among the more ubiquitous tunes in Dylan’s catalog — our list features three bespoke versions alone, each given a unique, genre-specific treatment.). Save for a few tottering rounds of solos, Bryant keeps “Wind”’s clarion melody at the forefront, coloring each turn with a spectrum of bright gospel harmonies. Even when untethered from its lyrics and performed in an intimate jazz club, “Blowin’ in the Wind” still feels mighty and and full of promise. – Ben Easton

98. Indigo Girls – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right / Tangled Up in Blue

As far as latter-day Bob covers go, the Indigo Girls’ 1992 live cover of “Tangled Up In Blue” deserves all the accolades that have been showered upon it over the years. On their version of the magnificently grizzled yet wistful jangler, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers do a little bit of everything. This includes turning up the volume, trading verses, changing tempos, gettin’ bluesy, and letting Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue band member Scarlet Rivera run riot over the proceedings with her virtuosic violin. The emotion escalates as the song progresses, and the end result is not only a glorious testament to the righteous Indigo live experience, but a rapturous, endlessly unspooling love letter to the brilliant “Tangled” itself.

The duo simultaneously pair things down and ramp things up in their live cover of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” with special guest Indigo Brandi Carlile. While the three serve up some truly sublime harmonizing and Brandi’s lead vocal is wickedly good, it’s Amy Ray’s sweet mandolin shredding that truly kicks things over the top. It is fierce, fun and yes, very, very fine. – Hope Silverman

[Editor’s Note: Many musicians have covered Dylan a bunch, so we’ll be cheating here and there by combining a few stellar covers by the same artist.]

97. New Found Glory – It Ain’t Me Babe

New Found Glory recorded two cover albums of songs from soundtracks and plucked this Dylan song, used in the movie Walk the Line, for their second iteration. That movie reference is in itself a cover, as Johnny and June Cash recorded the song in 1965. New Found Glory’s version is much more upbeat, pop-punk goes folk. Some banjo strumming creeps in to set the original scene, nodding to Cash’s countrified-version. Female vocals are contributed by Sherri DuPree (she was married to Chad Gilbert of New Found Glory at one point and performed in the band Eisley) to get that Johnny and June duet feeling. This cover walks the fine line, no pun intended, between being tounge-in-cheek and respectful of the original song. – Sara Stoudt

96. Television – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

Dylan first wrote this song for the soundtrack to 1973’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. While it related to the death of a character in the film, the song became a hit single and one of his most covered songs, likely because of its universal themes and singalong chorus. Television, the underappreciated, uncategorizable band that arose from the New York punk scene in the mid-1970, might not seem to be an obvious choice to cover it, but they deliver. In this live performance, they stretch out the two and a half minute original to nearly eight minutes of elegiac, entwined guitar majesty – sometimes beautiful, sometimes harsh. It reminds of another song, by a musician who was influenced by Dylan, and himself influenced members of Television – Neil Young’s “Down By The River” – both in the guitar playing, and in the way that the song meanders purposefully to a conclusion. – Jordan Becker

95. Odetta – Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Odetta may not have been the first person to record an album of Dylan covers (that honor falls to Linda Mason, who released How Many Seas Does a White Dove Sail in 1964), but she was the first well-established singer to do so. Indeed, Dylan himself counted her as a major influence. As he told Playboy in 1966: “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers in a record store, back when you could listen to records right there in the store. That was in ’58 or something like that. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustic guitar, a flat-top Gibson…. I learned all the songs on that record.”

Odetta’s recordings of Bob’s songs were arguably the first to demonstrate the extremely malleable nature of Dylan’s compositions. They could be bent and twisted into new shapes without losing their essence. This recording of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” demonstrates that perfectly, bringing together jazz, blues, and folk to create a recording that is both uniquely Odetta and, somehow, uniquely Dylan. – Tim Edgeworth

94. Fairport Convention – I’ll Keep It With Mine / Million Dollar Bash / Percy’s Song / Si Tu Dois Partir

Long before inventing folk-rock (at least the British iteration), Fairport Convention were better known as scholars of literary songwriters from across the pond. They recorded early covers of Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, and, inevitably, Bob Dylan, releasing versions of songs not yet ubiquitous. Dylan himself hadn’t even released studio releases of these four songs yet during Fairport’s extraordinarily prolific year of 1969, the songs spread across two of the three albums the band put out that year. And, “Million Dollar Bash” apart, none of these were remotely in any style identifiable to Dylan. Of the four, this is the least typical for this band, a ramshackle if still enjoyable roister through, very much in the same style of the yet to be heard original, as forged in the cellar of Big Pink.

The other three songs are even more remarkable. “I’ll Keep It with Mine” is stripped back to the core, revealing the beauty of the melody; the voice of Sandy Denny never sounded so achingly wrought. “Percy’s Song,” resplendent with harmony vocals, is transformed into a nascent portent of where they would later tread, reeking of an ancient broadsheet ballad. As for “Si Tu Dois Partir,” quite whose idea it was to translate this somewhat standard rocker “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” into French, altering both the speed and the cadence and swamping it with Gallic accordion and fiddle, is not known, but it was a masterstroke. Seemingly an on-the-hoof decision at a live show, the band and the audience together worked it into a triumphant conclusion; the studio version that followed kept much of the sense of both the absurd and spontaneous. It even nudged the top twenty of the singles charts in the UK, peaking at 21, the only hit this still-going institution ever managed. With these songs and others, it is no surprise that Dylan cited them to be amongst the finest of his interpreters. – Seuras Og

93. Robbie Fulks – Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)

One of the deepest of the deep Dylan cuts to be covered by a major artist, “Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)” is the last track on Dylan’s 1978 album Street Legal. The song is covered, most reverently, by Robbie Fulks on 16, a surprise passion project where he covers that album in its entirety, giving the tracks the full Bloodshot Records treatment. Fulks leans into each syllable as if his life depended on it, with this Nick Cave-channeling version rolling and swerving to a crescendo not in the original, but wholly satisfying. – Walt Falconer

92. Elvis Presley – Tomorrow Is a Long Time

“Elvis Presley recorded a song of mine,” Dylan told Rolling Stone‘s Jann Wenner in 1969. “That’s the one recording I treasure the most.” It would be understandable if he only said that because this is the man who changed Dylan’s life, the King whose thorny crown the Jester stole. But it’s also doubtful Dylan would have said such a thing had Elvis butchered his cover of “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” But he didn’t. After learning it from the aforementioned Odetta Sings Dylan album, Presley gave it a swampy backing track and floated his beautiful voice across its surface. Lots of people had stopped listening to Elvis in 1966, when this appeared on the soundtrack to Spinout. Those who hadn’t, Dylan included, recognized that there was still a spark within his calcifying persona, just waiting for the right time to touch the tinder that was the 1960s. – Patrick Robbins

91. Jah Malla – Ain’t No Man Righteous, No Not One

Dylan’s bluesy bootleg here is transformed by Jah Malla into a laid back reggae groove. The piano twinkling in the background feels slightly reminiscent of the original, but otherwise the cover is pretty significantly different. The production is really crisp, with each part standing out nicely, especially the vocals and the cranked-up bass. If you didn’t know the original, you’d never know this was a cover and not originally written as a reggae song. – Mike Misch

The list continues on Page 3.

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  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:

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