May 242021

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30. Sarah Jarosz – Ring Them Bells / Simple Twist of Fate

The aspect that ties these two great covers together is Jarosz’s powerful and emotive voice. In addition to great range and beauty, she throws in all these little unexpected inflections and notes. What sounds like a straight note-for-note cover of a verse, vocally, will have just one or two tweaks that show off her skill and keep the music interesting. “A Simple Twist of Fate” relies more on Jarosz’s voice because the accompaniment is so sparse. Then again, I think if you kept the banjo, slide guitar, and vocals on the more layered “Ring Them Bells” and stripped everything else out, you’d still be left with an incredible song too. – Mike Misch

29. The Specials – Maggie’s Farm

Leave it to Bob Dylan to write a protest song that garnered its greatest power an ocean away, fifteen years after he wrote it. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of Great Britain, her conservative rule was something left-leaning people there fought against, and they embraced “Maggie’s Farm” for its defiance and its directness. The Specials released it as a single that went top-five in the UK, replacing Dylan’s laconic bemusement with seething fury. The 2-Tone ska sound that usually gave music a happy bounce served to raise the song’s temperature near the boiling point. It proved that Dylan may well have been the voice of his generation, but his songs were the voice of generations to follow as well. – Patrick Robbins

28. Jim James & Calexico – Goin’ to Acapulco

If Dylan & The Band were airdropped into the Arizona desert, left to boil in the hot sun for fifty years, and reincarnated anew as young gents (still wearing Vaquero hats), they might just be Jim James and Calexico. On their cover of “Goin to Acapulco,” the My Morning Jacket troubadour and Tuscon-based indie rock band inhabit The Old, Weird American spirit of Dylan & The Band completely, and convincingly. “Acapulco” was ostensibly written by Bob in 1967 for the Basement Tapes sessions, but not recorded in full until this collaboration made for the soundtrack of Todd Haynes’s odd, misunderstood film I’m Not There. James & Calexico hit the mark with a cover that, like the biopic itself, manages to feel simultaneously loose, cinematic and peyote-induced. Guitars drip sweatily in reverb. A trio of mellow trumpets wafts. And James’s mammoth vocals cascade through a Cinerama canyon scene. – Ben Easton

27. Adele – Make You Feel My Love

Adele has one of the best voices of this generation. Her simple piano cover of “Make You Feel Me Love” is melancholic, but it never lacks in energy. The piano waltzes around with the vocals as they rise and fall in cohesion. Halfway through, a sad violin drizzles in a nice stringed element, keeping the intrigue of the piece. – Ally McAlpine

26. Hole – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

It’s hard to hold both versions of this song in your head at the same time. Dylan’s version has his voice front and center, while the heavy instrumentation in Hole’s almost drowns out the vocals. Dylan offers some tough love to Baby Blue while Hole full-on mocks them. You won’t find a harmonica here, but there is that element of whimsy in the lighter guitar line in the intro that resurfaces in the middle of the song, borrowed from Them’s ’60s hit cover. The original does not have a lot of melodic components, though, which does make it amenable to a grunge adaptation. – Sara Stoudt

25. Lisa Gerrard – All Along the Watchtower

Lisa Gerrard, of the remarkable-octave gobbling voice in Dead Can Dance, is surprisingly restrained here. There’s little swooping and soaring, no freeform diversions into her own echolaliac language, but she gives, effortlessly, a masterclass in trip-hop dynamics. To be performing a cover, let alone in this style, was a first, and the outcome must have had the likes of Lamb and Portishead looking nervously about them. The shimmering guitar, the echoed keys make a perfect introduction, her vocal exuding honey and acid in equal parts, ahead of a solid rhythm track encased in sturdy strings. Little reference apparent to the acoustic of the original, nor the electricity of, you know, the other one, she nails it and stakes her claim on a new yardstick for this classic. – Seuras Og

24. Patti Smith – Changing of the Guards / The Wicked Messenger

Smith’s take on “Changing of the Guards” feels like her own version of one of Dylan’s classic “dream” songs from the ’60s, painting an obscure picture of a hallucinogenic story full of literary allusions (since the words are now freed from obvious clues pointing to Dylan’s personal life). Her other top-tier cover, “The Wicked Messenger,” is a tale from Dylan’s biblical country phase. Smith and her band completely reinvent it as a slow rock jam. And in her hands it sounds entirely like Smith’s creation, full of both the trademark squall of her band and the speak-singing of the poetry. If I didn’t know the song already, I might have thought it was an original. – Riley Haas

23. Lucius – When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky

2014’s multi-artist tribute album Bob Dylan in the 1980s: Volume One was, unsurprisingly, a bit of a mixed bag (much like Bob’s albums of that era). But when it was good, it acted as a wondrous wake-up call, its best covers suggesting that maybe Bob’s ’80s oeuvre isn’t as bad as we have been led to believe. “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky” was a true victim of the decade in which it was recorded, the quality of the composition masked and crushed by a particularly shiny, synthetic and ridiculously ill-suited production. Enter melodically soaring indie-popsters Lucius to both exhume and exult the song, sculpting it into the ass-kicking fist-pumping stadium anthem it sounds like it was always meant to be. With Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig’s propulsive vocals leading the way, the song is a veritable pressure cooker, slowly bubbling and stuttering before blowing itself open to reveal itself as one big beautiful behemoth of a pop song. – Hope Silverman

22. Fatoumata Diawara – Blowin’ in the Wind

How strange it is that musicians from all corners of the globe can embrace Dylan so widely and so well. The Afro-Caribbean diaspora offers such a particularly rich repository, between Angelique Kidjo (also included in this list) and the myriad reggae covers available. Fatoumata Diawara is another, a vibrant singer from Mali, who offers the newest cover here, and of one of Bob’s oldest songs, one usually so well-worn and overheard as to be almost old hat. Uncut, the UK music magazine, commissioned a series of new Dylan covers for a recent edition. This one proved to be the cream of the crop. Diawara, who has a brace of fine albums under her belt, extinguishes any of the stale ’60s sanctimony of the original, replacing it with a township carnival of a rendition, all sparring guitars weaving about her husky exhortations. You can admire Dylan’s version, but Diawara’s version is the one that makes you want to get up and dance. – Seuras Og

21. The O’Jays – Emotionally Yours

Throughout the ’70s, the O’Jays were regular visitors to the pop singles chart, scoring seven Top 20 hits, among them stone cold classics like “Back Stabbers” and “Love Train”. While the line-up has fluctuated over the years, the legendary Eddie Levert has remained a constant. 1991 saw the release of Emotionally Yours, named after the album’s cover of the 1985 Dylan deep cut. There are two versions of the song on the album, one a standard soul-pop run-through, the other a gospel take. Unfortunately, both are mired in sterile early-’90s productions. Thus it was an absolute blessing when the group were invited to perform the song at the Dylan 30th Anniversary show in 1993. This performance didn’t merely top those initial cover attempts, it crushed and eviscerated them. Levert sings like a man possessed by both love and Bob, delivering a vocal that is rough, raw and very nearly blows the roof off Madison Square Garden. – Hope Silverman

The list continues on Page 10.

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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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