May 242021

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80. Joan Baez – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall / Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

It’s impossible to talk about the history of Bob Dylan without discussing Joan Baez (and vice versa). The two singers’ careers collided in the early ’60s as they forged a brief romantic relationship and a musical partnership that still echoes. Baez’s early Dylan covers helped bring his name to prominence, and her siren’s voice helped turn many of his songs into classics. While surely every Baez and Dylan fan has their favorites among her many interpretations, we selected two equally epic covers. “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is a long-running, rambly folk tune, which Dylan wrote in honor of his first wife Sara Lownds. When Baez covered the song in her ethereal voice, backed by a funeral-style organ, it plays as if it’s been sung on the English moors for generations, even when she sings about “businessmen.” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” is a modern stream of consciousness song focusing on a dialogue between a parent and a child discussing the joys and horrors of the modern age. When Baez sings the words, “Where have you been my blue eyed son/And where have you been my darling young one” she sounds like the mother of a nation mourning the spirit of a lost generation. – Curtis Zimmermann

79. Nena – Blowin’ In The Wind

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan’s most iconic protest song, is a tall order for a cover. There’s so much baggage here, not just musical but sociopolitical. Nena of “99 Luftballoons” fame took it on for the English half of her 2007 Cover Me album. It’s a trip-hop-esque approach, completely dispensing with any musical signs that this is the folk protest song. Her voice, which sounds remarkably young for 47, seems to express both frustration of the lyrics and resignation always underlying them. Combined with the trip-hop vibe, it takes the song to a new, reflective place of contemplation rather than protest. – Riley Haas

78. The Nice – She Belongs to Me

“She Belongs to Me” is a brief, placid tune — an oasis of calm that appears early on side A of Bringing It All Back Home. For The Nice’s cover of “She Belongs to Me,” the rock trio take an inverse tact in all regards, flipping the song’s concision, lulling pace, and gentle arrangement into an 11-minute, no-holds-barred prog odyssey. Dylan’s verses are spread taut across wide expanses of tension, with Lee Jackson’s vocals puncturing beds of low Hammond organ in big, exclamatory yelps. Amid many solos (and numerous reprises), the band even manage to tease Elmer Bernstein’s iconic orchestral theme from The Magnificent Seven for good measure. In The Nice’s hands, “She Belongs to Me” becomes a rollicking, enveloping ride. – Ben Easton

77. Shirley Caesar – Gotta Serve Somebody

While it turned out to be one of the most controversial periods in his entire career, Bob Dylan’s gospel period got off to a good start with the release of the single “Gotta Serve Somebody,” which hit number 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to win a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance by a Male. The song had crossover appeal: even listeners who didn’t care for the religious message must have heard Bob singing “You’re gonna have to serve somebody” and thought “well… he’s not wrong.” Such is life.

However, if Bob’s version had one eye on the charts, Shirley Caesar’s cover from her 1980 album Rejoice dialed up the song’s gospel elements to the max, adding a bible-quoting introduction for good measure. It’s not just Caesar on top form, either: the whole band is smoking. Shirley rerecorded this song for the tribute album Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan, and performed it in front of a delighted Bob when he received the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Those versions are all well and good, but the take from the Rejoice album is the one you need to hear. – Tim Edgeworth

76. Thea Gilmore – I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine / I’ll Remember You

When Thea Gilmore was asked to describe her childhood listening tastes in a 2003 interview with The Irish Times she told it like it is: “My diet consisted of lots and lots of Bob Dylan… And how lucky I was to have grown up with music like that, because most of my peers were listening to New Kids On The Block or Paula Abdul. I was grooving to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’…”

Throughout her now twenty-plus-year career, that youthful passion for Bob has manifested itself in a series of covers, culminating in a 2011 tribute album devoted solely to John Wesley Harding. Gilmore’s cover of “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” exudes warmth from its every pore and is one of that release’s unequivocal highlights. She eschews the forceful harmonica of the original instead opting for some lovely languorous guitar twanging and a more fulsome band sound.

Even better is Gilmore’s stellar cover of Bob’s 1985 gospel-flavored power ballad “I’ll Remember You” which showcases her handsome, honeyed voice to perfection and recasts the song into a genuine countrified tearjerker. – Hope Silverman

75. Jerry Reed – Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right

When You’re Hot, You’re Hot came out in 1971 and featured “Amos Moses” and the title track, both big country hits. But Jerry Reed didn’t confine himself to backwoods country songs; the album also included a version of the Beatles’ rarely-covered “Thank You Girl,” and one of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” In the latter case, Reed sang Dylan’s lyrics with a little more slyness than tenderness, less fare-thee-well than don’t-let-the-door-hitcha. He tops it with some lightning fingerpicking that keeps the song zipping right along. This is a cover that doesn’t waste any of your time, precious or otherwise. – Patrick Robbins

74. Mark Lanegan – Man In The Long Black Coat

If anyone ever wondered quite who the man in the long black coat actually may be, Mark Lanegan would surely fit any police composite, the Old Testament bearing of his often scary demeanor entirely aposite. Hailing from the nominal soundtrack of the remarkable mythobiographical project, I’m Not There, it actually bears little relation to the songs played in the 2007 film, which has a bevy of different actors, male and female, black and white, portraying the different stages of Bob. But as a standalone double CD, it makes for a damn fine ride of cover versions, lending a few others to our list. Lanegan applies his trademark grit’n’gravel over an eerie backing, hints of the Holy Land in the opening swirl of the keyboard, a sandstorm enveloping the whole, giving a sense of a giant slo-mo Lanegan taking ten league strides across a desert wasteland. Gothic ain’t the half of it, the mix making the Lanois-produced original sound positively serene. – Seuras Og

73. Phil Flowers & The Flower Shop – Like a Rolling Stone

I’ve always argued “Like a Rolling Stone” is the toughest Dylan song to cover, because it’s the rare Dylan song where his original recording is pretty much unimpeachable. But soul singer Phil Flowers found a way in. He opens with the best tongue-roll this side of Billy Stewart and keep the energy high with a heaping help of swagger, hollering and scatting and yelping over a killer band, complete with horn section. [Note: There’s a 9-minute version of this, but all the extra soloing adds little. Keep it tight with the single edit.] – Ray Padgett

72. Richie Havens – License to Kill / Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

Master interpreter, radiant live performer and absolute gent, with his fluent guitar and lustrous fuzzed-out voice, Richie Havens infused light into any song he chose to perform. Richie initially covered the prescient, pointed “License To Kill” for his 1987 album Richie Havens Sings Beatles and Dylan For You, but his stunning 21st century solo acoustic rendition crushes that one into dust. Which is to say, it is gorgeous.

Richie tackled a fair number of Dylan tracks over the course of his career, and while they all have their merits, his 1974 take on “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” remains a standout. The tempo is kicked up a couple of notches from the original and the song has a sweetly shimmery, almost Motown-ish kind of flavor to it. It is utterly infectious and like a prize in a cereal box, once we are deep and dug in, the latter half of the song sees us blessedly rewarded with some of that endlessly exquisite Richie wailing. – Hope Silverman

71. Leon Russell – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

Leon Russell dons “Hard Rain” like one of his signature top hats, keeping things loose and brassy from the start. He finds a dark humor in the tune, singing from the vantage of a wise-guy showboat who has been around the bend and seen the downpour coming for himself. The band moves in long, confident strides, all hoppy piano fills and wily guitar lines. But it’s Russell’s stagey vocal performance out front that makes the cover so strange and entertaining. Next time you need a few honest chuckles, just listen to the way he wheezes and needles at the word rain — “raaaaaaayyyyeeeeeeeeiiiin” — at the close of each verse. – Ben Easton

The list continues on Page 5.

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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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