May 242021

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70. Thurston, Kim & Epic – Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence

One of Dylan’s more obscure songs, this outtake from Highway 61 Revisited may seem like an odd candidate for this list. But this collaboration between members of Sonic Youth and former Swell Maps’ multi-instrumentalist Epic Soundtracks, made for the alternative rock tribute Outlaw Blues, unearths the closet punk in Dylan.

This is a noisy song, as you would expect given who made it, and Moore nearly spits Dylan’s lyrics. The swirling guitars make the lyrics’ frustration manifest, as does Moore’s final screams. Dylan could be just vicious when he wanted to be, and this is the rare Dylan cover where you actually feel that in the music. – Riley Haas

69. Joan Osborne – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is a deliberately careening, almost drunken performance, in which Dylan is actually heard to laugh. (Imagine Bob Dylan laughing!) The performance has of course led to all sorts of speculation it’s about getting drunk or high. Joan Osborne appears to take the more likely interpretation of the lyrics, that this song is about physical stoning as a metaphor for taking criticism (and boos) from the outraged. But, unlike Dylan, her delivery is entirely serious, and really quite soulful, expressing the hurt emotion of all the different groups Dylan alludes to. It’s a powerful vocal performance that highlights the pathos, the sadness and the empathy in the lyrics. – Riley Haas

68. Bettye LaVette – Everything Is Broken / Things Have Changed

Bettye LaVette, one of the great cover artists of our time, first got bitten by the Bob Dylan bug on her 2012 album Thankful ‘n’ Thoughtful, where she covered “Everything is Broken” off of Bob’s 1989 album Oh Mercy. Whereas the rhythm of the Dylan version had an almost Latin flavour (it remains one of the only Bob songs that you can dance to), Bettye recasts the song as a smoky funk-rocker, with the jagged guitars perfectly representing the “broken” landscape that she finds herself surveying.

This great cover inspired LaVette to go one step further and record an entire album of Bob Dylan songs: 2018’s Things Have Changed. The title track, which also serves as the opener, is absolutely fantastic: Bob’s original was knowing and sly, but the narrator of LaVette’s version sounds like she’s watching the evening news and shaking her head in despair at what she sees. The rest of the album is of a similarly high standard, and we can only hope that Bettye graces us with a Volume 2 somewhere down the line. – Tim Edgeworth

67. Grand Panda feat. Dawn – Ballad of a Thin Man

“Ballad of a Thin Man” is one of Dylan’s meanest put-down songs, ruthlessly attacking someone – likely a journalist – for intruding, asking Dylan too many questions, and generally being confused by the scene. But the lyrics also contain an aura of mystery, since Dylan’s lyrics focus on the confusion of the titural Mr. Jones. Dawn and Grand Panda exploit the mysterious side of the lyrics, and appear to almost empathize with Mr. Jones’ confusion. They take virtually all of the bite out of “Ballad,” and there’s a bit of a funhouse vibe to the musical backing, as if Mr. Jones has wandered in on someone’s acid trip. It’s a recontextualization of the song, where now it’s about the outsider’s experience of the scene, rather than the scenester’s withering scorn. – Riley Haas

66. Douglas September – Girl from the North Country

Not only does Douglas September’s voice make Bob Dylan sound like Dean Martin by comparison, his voice makes Tom Waits sound like Dean Martin. It is extremely, extremely gravelly, like someone who is currently smoking three cigarettes trying to sing. You might expect him to pick one of Bob’s blues songs, a natural fit. But no, he goes for a pretty acoustic folk melody. And, against all odds, it works, because he surrounds his rasp of a voice perfectly – pretty guitar picking on the one hand, hazy ambient noise on the other. Guitarist Robby Aceto, the Marc Ribot to Douglas’s Waits, adds the finishing touch. – Ray Padgett

65. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – Abandoned Love / Billy

Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings’s music contains multitudes. Like Dylan, the two have a unique alchemy that feels both traditional and cutting-edge, small and expansive — blending American primitivism, ’90s indie rock, freewheeling folk, and reams more into something pure and remarkable. In a pair of reverential, sepia-toned Bob covers (a lost cut from Desire and a number from the Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack, respectively), Welch and Rawlings reveal full spheres of life inside deceptively plain song frames, like uncovering a colony of ants churning within a hollow log. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings are no doubt Dylan’s kindred spirits, roving troubadours and kaleidoscopic explorers all in one. – Ben Easton

64. Sam Cooke – Blowin’ In The Wind

While Bob’s original cut swirls around at ground-level like a brooding dust cloud, Sam Cooke’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” flies straight to the skies like a comet. Appearing as the penultimate track on his live record Sam Cooke at the Copa, Cooke and his rhythm orchestra strip away all of Dylan’s acerbity and doubt-casting. Instead, the cover glistens and glows, filled with levity and genuine optimism. A gangbusters horn section kicks the tune upward through a series of altitudinal key changes, with Cooke riding the band’s energy like a big wave. On his “Blowin’ In the Wind,” Cooke presents social progress less as a series of biting questions and more as an inevitability — celebrating finding “the answer” with both a showman’s sparkle and a young man’s radical joy. – Ben Easton

63. Mobius Band – I’ll Keep It with Mine

“I’ll Keep It With Mine” is more famous in versions by Judy Collins, Nico, and Fairport Convention. Collins’ version has set the standard and it’s a little hard to hear the original as the original. Mobius Band find a place between Collins’ version and Dylan’s original in terms of the vocal melody. Their version is driven by a pounding drum, an electric piano, and swirling loops. It’s a 21st century indie pop version that escapes the shadow of all the famous covers from the ’60s. – Riley Haas

62. Ministry – Lay Lady Lay

Country Dylan goes metal in this cover. That opening lyric “lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed” comes off to me as a bit ominous, and this style emphasizes that feeling. After reading the synopsis of Midnight Cowboy, the movie it was originally written for yet never made it into, that hunch is confirmed; it’s a heavy plot line. I was surprised though that the screaming in this version is actually fairly dampened and the underlying bass is barely there, adding just a faint haze to the overall sound. – Sara Stoudt

61. Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint – Tiny Montgomery

Take four journeymen musicians, add Basement Tapes songs years before The Basement Tapes was released, stir well, and you have the formula for Lo and Behold, one of the best Dylan cover albums out there. Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, and Flint take these then-obscure demos and full-on rework them, adding a new coat of varnish that brings out the shine without hiding the grain. “Tiny Montgomery” makes for a good example of what they did, changing the muffled lumbering of the original into a light-footed mosey toward old Frisco. – Patrick Robbins

The list continues on Page 6.

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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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