May 242021

Go back to the beginning

90. Aaron Neville – I Shall Be Released / The Neville Brothers – With God On Our side

In several hundred years, when future historians study Bob Dylan’s lyrics and see all his Biblical allusions, I wonder if they’ll just assume he was a spiritual writer who happened to dabble in secular music, too. This will be reinforced if they listen to Aaron Neville’s covers of “I Shall Be Released” or “With God on Our Side.” The soul singer takes Dylan’s music right to church.

Neville recorded “I Shall Be Released” for his 2000 gospel album Devotion. The cover is completely at home among such religious songs as “Mary Don’t You Weep” and “Jesus Love Me.” He sings “Released” as a slow ballad, capturing the sadness of a man behind bars hoping for salvation. Neville recorded “With God on Our Side” with his group the Neville Brothers in 1989. The song takes listeners on a heartbreaking journey through the history of American warfare. The lyrics not only question American exceptionalism, but the foundation of Christianity itself: “You’ll have to decide/Whether Judas Iscariot/Had God on his side.” With a sparse arrangement, Neville sings with such heart and emotion, he could convert even the most hopeless sinners. Curtis Zimmermann

89. The New Line – Nobody ‘Cept You

A Dylan cover played on the mbira – a tiny African instrument that looks like playing musical spoons – sounds like a novelty. Vermont composer Brendan Taaffe sells it, though, his beautiful vocals blending over the unusual backing track. Taaffe says he brings together African rhythms with Appalachian ballads in his music, and you can hear touches on both on this cover of a rarely-covered song (it’s an outtake from Planet Waves, if you were wondering). The muted horn solo puts this one over the edge. – Ray Padgett

88. The Lumineers w/ Andrew Bird – Subterranean Homesick Blues

The Lumineers and Andrew Bird start their “Subterranean Homesick Blues” cover pared down, with a simple guitar. The speed of the vocals come as more of a contrast as the guitar hovers in the background. A low drum beats once, adding drama, then beats again. The full instrumental backing emerges with a violent violin and a clapping that elicits a foot tapping. The instrumentals are far less consistent than the original, giving more of a rising and falling sensation, but there is a nostalgic element as if the cover is being presented in the hazy summer of a midwestern evening. – Ally McAlpine

87. Grateful Dead – All Along the Watchtower / Stuck Inside of Mobile

The Bob Dylan songbook was an integral part of the Grateful Dead’s live shows for their entire history. In the ‘80s, the group toured with Dylan, served as his backing band, and even released a joint live album, aptly titled Dylan & the Dead. The band’s Dylan covers could be great or downright terrible, depending on the night or the mood. One standout was the Dead’s take on “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” The cover, which was a regular part of their sets in the ‘80s and ‘90s, showed the group still had the capacity to be weird and confounding even as they were playing massive arenas. Bob Weir plays the role of a manic street preacher, getting louder with every verse, while the band cycles the music in a continuous loop as if they were a part of a pre-recorded backing track. Equally impressive, yet completely different, is the band’s take on “All Along the Watchtower.” It’s one of the few electric-powered covers of “Watchtower” where one does not immediately think of Jimi Hendrix’s version. While Weir sings lead vocals, Jerry Garcia’s fiery, fusion jazz style guitar solos take the cover to a completely different sonic dimension. – Curtis Zimmermann

86. George Harrison – If Not For You

Dylan’s folksy ode to companionship feels like it was made expressly for George Harrison. Indeed, the song belonged almost as much to George from the get-go: Dylan and Harrison were swapping tunes so reciprocally in 1970 that their respective versions of “If Not For You” were released a mere three months apart from each other. Though George thankfully slows down the pace by a few cranks for its appearance on All Things Must Pass, letting the song bobble along with a dreamy ease, Dylan’s original colloquial spark remains in tact. Harrison’s “If Not For You” feels like a blissful summer day, a vibrant conversation on a patch of grass with old friends (or lawn gnomes). – Ben Easton

85. Tim O’Brien – Father of Night

Singer/songwriter Tim O’Brien might not be a household name, but he’s a highly-regarded elder statesman in folk and bluegrass circles. With a career spanning nearly five decades, he has released more than 20 albums and won several Grammy awards. In 1996, O’Brien released a tribute album to Dylan entitled Red on Blonde. The album features bluegrass-style renditions of classics and deep cuts from the Dylan songbook. “Father of Night” stands out for its fingerpicking and O’Brien’s quick delivery of the words “Father of…” in a rapid-fire secession. – Curtis Zimmermann

84. X – Positively 4th Street

“Positively 4th Street” may be the surliest and snarliest of Dylan’s nasty ripostes. No specific target has ever been identified, although a few have been considered. It is safest to suggest it is a general jibe against those who had openly criticized his betrayal by “going electric” (that option also serves to render him in a less misogynistic light, considering the alternatives). If he sneers in his own version, X’s Exene Cervenka sounds positively incandescent, spitting the words out with a venom never bettered. The LA hardcore veterans and this never-more-punk slab of sound add to the overall sense of rage, Benmont Tench spinning swirling organ over the fuck-you meat and potatoes rhythm section of DJ Bonebrake, John Doe, and Dave Alvin. Mayhap their finest moment, this was the B-side of a single from 1987, perhaps getting lost a little in that obscurity. – Seuras Og

83. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? / Like a Rolling Stone

It’s not all about “All Along the Watchtower,” you know. The Jimi Hendrix Experience put their illustrious mark on other Dylan numbers, too, chief among them “Like A Rolling Stone.” The blues trio performed the seminal song at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, as part of yet another of their iconic hippie moments. Jimi introduced it, with typical understatement, as “a little thing by Bob Dylan,” before blowing minds by laconically delivering some of the most exhilarating words ever put to song, amidst, yes, some pretty tasty bursts of guitar. Jimi, Mitch, and Noel also did the business with “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”, turning it into a frenetic live favorite, as well as a highlight of their 1967 BBC Radio sessions. – Adam Mason

82. Rosanne Cash – Girl From The North Country

The story behind Rosanne Cash’s 2009 covers album The List has taken on a legend of its own. According to Cash, when she was a teenager her father, Johnny Cash, gave her a list of 100 essential songs she should know and learn to play. She included twelve of these on her album, including Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.” The cover is just as much a tribute to her father as to Dylan, as the two recorded a rendition of the track for Dylan’s 1969 Nashville Skyline record. Rosanne pushes it into contemporary folk territory adding a hint of strings and a steady bit of low-tuned percussion to the arrangement. But it’s her voice that carries the song. You can feel her heartbreak as she sings “She once was a true love of mine” over and over. – Curtis Zimmermann

81. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Subterranean Homesick Blues

If you weren’t paying close attention to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, you might miss Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in the tracklist. It blends in easily amongst their other rock-rap songs, as their completely re-imagined version keeps the lyrics but not much else. This song has often been discussed in terms of “proto rap,” and this version really drives that connection home. The “look out kid” section here sounds very familiar, but I can’t place it. Is it a sample? Has it been sampled? Maybe it’s just part of our Red Hot Chili Peppers collective memory. – Sara Stoudt

The list continues on Page 4.

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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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