Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.
Part three of our Rarely Covered Dylan Songs series – after the Early and Late 1960s – sees us hit the era of Blood on the Tracks, Desire, and Bob’s first gospel album. But this doesn’t include songs from any of them! As with the first two installments, our definition of what Dylan song could qualify as “rarely covered” starts at “not on a proper album” and expands (or, rather, constricts) from there. So below, covers of outtakes and oddities from Bob’s second decade.
Jah Malla – Ain’t No Man Righteous
The first of several gospel outtakes from Bob’s Christian years of 1979-1981 (there will be more on tomorrow’s ’80s list), “Ain’t No Man Righteous” was a reggae song Dylan played live a few times, but never put on a record. But within a few years an actual reggae band took it up, Jah Malla. The quartet didn’t appear to last long, releasing a couple records in the early ‘80s before disappearing. This album includes a good “Bad Moon Rising” cover, too.
The Searchers – Coming from the Heart
The Searchers were a British Invasion skiffle group from the early ‘60s (you’d recognize “Sugar and Spice”). Their heyday was long over by the late ‘70s, but maybe Bob had fond memories of them from around the time he was starting out, since he gave them “Coming from the Heart,” a song he performed just once in 1978. It’s one of a few on this list he co-wrote with his backing singer at the time, Helena Springs.
Falsa Identidad – George Jackson
Stand-alone single “George Jackson,” the rare ‘70s protest song squarely in Bob’s early-’60s mold (“Hurricane” was still to come), was written in memory of the imprisoned Black Panther, shot and killed by a San Quentin prison guard in 1971. This translated cover by Spanish ‘90s rock group came out on the 1996 tribute album Bob Dylan Revisitado – Un Tributo En La Lengua Del Amor.
Maria Muldaur – Golden Loom
Maria Muldaur hails from the same ‘60s Greenwich Village scene as Bob himself. In 2006, she cut an entire album of his love songs. She includes some of the obvious picks (“Lay Lady Lay,” “Make You Feel My Love”), but shows the depth of her knowledge of the catalog with many of her selections. “Heart of Mine” and “Moonlight” are rarely-covered enough, but they’re nothing next to Desire outtake “Golden Loom.” She gives it a funky jazz arrangement, steel guitar, and electric piano backing her inimitable voice.
The Band – I Must Love You Too Much
Another cover of a cover, in a way, as Dylan hasn’t released a version of this Springs co-write (though he did perform it live). Greg Lake, of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, recorded the first studio take for his debut solo album in 1981. Lake recalled:
For my debut solo record, I wanted to pay tribute to Bob Dylan by recording one of his songs. I had always been a huge fan of Bob and his songwriting, and I felt that this was as good a time as any for me to pay my respects. The only thing was that I did not really want to do one of his big hits, but rather something less well known. Just purely by coincidence, Tommy Mohler, one of my tour managers at the time, used to work for Bob. He asked him if he had any unreleased material that I could record. Bob explained that he didn’t have any completed songs, but that he did have one song that was halfway written and that he would be more than happy for me to complete it. The title of the song was ‘Love You Too Much’. As a result, I share a co-writing credit with the legendary Bob Dylan (plus Helena Springs). Having finished the writing, I began to record the track at Abbey Road.
Fun story, but I prefer the version by The Band, from their second reunion album without Robbie Robertson or the late Richard Manuel, 1996’s High on the Hog. So no, it’s not the classic Band, but The Band 2.0 did some killer covers, too; their beloved “Atlantic City” hails from this ‘90s run as well.
The New Line – Nobody ‘Cept You
This has to be just about the most obscure cover to appear on our 100 Best Bob Dylan Covers Ever list. Here’s what I wrote for that: “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.”
Jerry Lee Lewis – Rita May
The second Desire outtake on the list, “Rita May” was only officially released as the B-side to the live Hard Rain 1977 single “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” and then on the 1978 Japan-and-Australia-only compilation album Masterpieces. Real hard to come by, pre-internet at least. Easier to find was Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1979 cover from his 35th (yes, 35th!) album.
Mountain – Seven Days
The best-known “Seven Days” cover is probably the one Rolling Stone Ron Wood did at the big 30th anniversary tribute concert in the early 1990s (he’d released the first version years earlier on his solo album Gimme Some Neck). But I slightly prefer the heavier version by hard rock veterans Mountain, off their essential 2007 Dylan covers record Masters of War. It turned out to be their final record too, as frontman Leslie West died a couple years ago.
Solomon Burke – Stepchild
Solomon Burke pulled in some heavy-hitters for his 2002 album Don’t Give Up on Me. Hey Tom Waits, got any unheard songs I can have? How about you, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Brian Wilson, and Bob Dylan? Yeah, every one of them gave Solomon a new or unrecorded tune to tackle. Dylan played “Am I Your Stepchild?” many times in 1978, putting it in the same era as previously-discussed “Coming from the Heart” and “I Must Love You Too Much” (though this is not a co-write like those). He donated it to Burke, who adds a new lyric: “Anything you ask me, you know I’m willing / I just sure can’t be Bob Dylan.”
Barb Jungr – Trouble in Mind
“Trouble in Mind” is such a classic-sounding gospel song, it’s surprising more gospel singers haven’t covered it. If Bob hadn’t excised it from Slow Train Coming, perhaps it would be a genre staple by now. But jazz singer Barb Jungr, an ace Dylan interpreter who often digs for the deep cuts, does a terrific version on her 2011 Bob covers record Man in the Long Black Coat. She incorporates gospel in her voice (and those killer organ fills) into her cocktail-lounge sound.
Moshav – Up to Me
A few years ago, music critic Steven Hyden wrote a great piece for The Ringer called “An Ode to the Greatest Bob Dylan Song You Haven’t Heard.” The song: Blood on the Tracks outtake “Up to Me.” As he notes, before Bob’s 1985 box set Biograph came out, a Roger McGuinn cover from 1976 was the only available version. It’s been covered a few more times since, and my favorite is this sensitive violin-and-guitar duet by the Israeli-American band Moshav, live from a concert in Philadelphia in 2007.
Buddy & Julie Miller – Wallflower
Okay, “Wallflower” has been covered a fair number of times, testing our methodology a bit (certainly more than, say, a regular ‘70s-album track like “True Love Tends to Forget”). The Holmes Brothers do a great blues version. Langhorne Slim did a great country take at a Dylan tribute show a few years back. But best of the bunch comes from husband-wife duo Buddy & Julie Miller, revered Americana veterans whose off-kilter harmonies on this recall Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
Leon Russell – Watching the River Flow
“Watching the River Flow” is also arguably not that deep a cut, but I figured we should include on of the two new songs Bob recorded for 1971’s Greatest Hits Volume II (was Bob one of the first to pull the “new song on a hits album” gambit?), and it’s been covered a bit less than the other, “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” Given that Leon Russell’s full band backed Bob on the original version – I interviewed drummer Jim Keltner about it last year – no surprise Russell eventually recorded his own version. The only surprise is it took him almost thirty years!