Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.
What counts as a “rarely covered” Bob Dylan song? Every Dylan song has been covered a million times, right?
Not quite. But most have. So, to find the all-but-unearthed gems in a catalog as heavily mined as Bob’s, we need to define the terms. To make my search for rarely-covered Dylan songs more manageable, I first stipulated one rule: No songs he released on proper albums. Only covers outtakes, Bootleg Series cuts, one-off singles, etc. count for these purposes. It’s not a perfect rule – it’s not like artists are rushing to cover proper album tracks “Ballad in Plain D” (Another Side of Bob Dylan) or “Wiggle Wiggle” (Under the Red Sky) – but it makes the pool easier to navigate.
That no-album-cuts rule wasn’t enough though. If I left it at that, non-album track “I Shall Be Released” would qualify as a “rarely-covered” Dylan song. Ha! So I further disqualified the twenty or so most-covered singles and outtakes. Bye to “Blind Willie McTell,” “Tomorrow Is a Long Time,” “Quinn the Eskimo,” etc.
That left us with an interesting batch of obscurities and oddities that few artists tackle. It still contained a lot of great material, killer deep cuts only covered once or twice. So for Bob’s 81st birthday week, we’re breaking it up into five parts, grouped by when Bob first wrote/recorded the song: Early ‘60s, Late ‘60s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and Beyond. We’ll be posting another installment every day this week.
The richest period of them all in terms of sheer quantity of songs is this one. In his first couple years on the job, young folkie Dylan wrote dozens more songs than he could fit on his albums. Some he gave to other artists, some he played live for a while and discarded, some he eventually released on Biograph or various Bootleg Series installments. Though none have been covered often, almost all have been covered at least once or twice. After all, they’ve had sixty years for someone to pick them up.