May 242021
 

‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.

best bob dylan covers

When we began our Best Covers Ever series a little over three years ago, Bob Dylan was about the first artist who came to mind. But we held off. We needed to work our way up to it. So we started with smaller artists to get our feet wet. You know, up-and-comers like The Rolling Stones and Nirvana, Beyoncé and Pink Floyd, Madonna and Queen.

We kid, obviously, but there’s a kernel of truth there. All those artists have been covered a million times, but in none of their stories do cover songs loom quote as large as they do in Bob Dylan’s. Every time one of his songs has topped the charts, it’s been via a cover. Most of his best-known songs, from “All Along the Watchtower” to “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” didn’t get that way because of his recordings. In some cases fans of the songs don’t even realize they are Bob Dylan songs. That’s been happening since Peter, Paul, and Mary sang “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and it’s still happening almost sixty years later – just look at the number of YouTube videos titled “Make You Feel My Love (cover of Adele)”.

So needless to say, there was a lot of competition for this list. We finally narrowed it down to 100 covers – our biggest list ever, but still only a drop in the bucket of rain. Many of the most famous Dylan covers are on here. Many of them aren’t. The only criteria for inclusion was, whether iconic or obscure, whether the cover reinvented, reimagined, and reinterpreted a Dylan song in a new voice.

With a list like this, and maybe especially with this list in particular, there’s an incentive to jump straight to number one. If you need to do that to assuage your curiosity, fine. But then come back to the start. Even the 100th best Dylan cover is superlative. Making it on this list at all marks a hell of a feat considering the competition. (In fact, Patreon supporters will get several hundred bonus covers, the honorable mentions it killed us to cut.)

In a 2006 interview with Jonathan Lethem, Dylan himself put it well: “My old songs, they’ve got something—I agree, they’ve got something! I think my songs have been covered—maybe not as much as ‘White Christmas’ or ‘Stardust,’ but there’s a list of over 5,000 recordings. That’s a lot of people covering your songs, they must have something. If I was me, I’d cover my songs too.”

The list begins on Page 2.

Nov 022020
 
best cover songs october 2020
Andrew Bird – Andalucia (John Cale cover)

Props to any musician who chooses some non-obvious tunes for their Christmas album. Even Joni Mitchell’s “River” has so often been served as the “surprise” holiday song by now that it feels pretty played out. Andrew Bird covers a few standards on his upcoming Hark! – “Oh Holy Night,” “White Christmas” (though weirdly not the hymn that gave the album its name) – but makes room for some seasonally-appropriate fare John Prine, Handsome Family, and, on the first single, John Cale. Continue reading »

Dec 042019
 

Andrew Bird is not a man known for simplicity. Pushing the boundaries of songwriting and production seems to be his normal operating mode, with choices like recording an album standing in a river and writing and recording an entire film score all by himself. Amongst all that complexity, his recent cover of Neil Young’s iconic Harvest Moon is surprisingly simple. Continue reading »

Dec 042017
 
2017 cover songs

Our official list of the Best Cover Songs of 2017 comes next week. But first, we’re continuing the tradition we started last year by rounding up some of the songs it most killed us to cut in a grab-bag post. No ranking, no writing, just a bunch of knockout covers. Continue reading »

Sep 182017
 
lumineers dylan cover

Many musicians cover Bob Dylan songs, but few pick “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It’s easy to see why. The song has one chord, very little melody, and a whole lot of dense lyrics (even by Dylan standards). As a result, most of the few covers out there tend to be a slog.

So all credit due to The Lumineers and Andrew Bird, who manage to make it their own on a new cover for Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary. The “Ho Hey” bass drum propels the track forward and Bird’s violin breaks give the tune a slight Middle Eastern feel. Continue reading »

Jul 192016
 
BirdReillyBrosseau

It’s no secret at this point that in addition to being a comedian, actor, and confused scientist, John C. Reilly is a more than credible folksinger. He recently joined Andrew Bird and Tom Brosseau on Bird’s living room couch for just about the best use of Facebook Live we’ve seen. The trio performed a bunch of folk covers, songs you might know from the Carter Family, Delmore Brothers, and more. They also do a more recent tune, “Cathedrals” by the Handsome Family, a band Reilly has opened for. Continue reading »