Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.
Today, on Bob Dylan’s actual birthday, we present part two in our week-long series showcasing covers of lesser-known Dylan songs.
I explained my methodology for defining “lesser-known” in part one on the early ‘60s tunes, but, briefly, the main criteria is that it can’t have appeared on a proper album. Then I just eliminated some additional well-known non-album tracks.
The late ‘60s offer a wealth of such tracks that have been covered – if not often, very well at least once or twice. Dive in below, and check back tomorrow as we enter Bob’s 1970s.
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.”
Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.
As a companion piece to our best Bob Dylan single song covers post, coming this Monday, it’s worth considering the myriad tribute albums to the bard of Duluth. To narrow that down at least marginally, we’ll focus on those by an individual band or artist (several Dylan sets appeared on our recent best tribute compilations countdown). There are a lot of them, many more even than you might imagine, encompassing all styles and stages of his ever-changing moods. So let’s start setting some real guidelines here…
We’ll rule out those put together retrospectively as a compilation, so no The Byrds Play Dylan or Postcards of the Hanging by The Grateful Dead. This piece only addresses those made for and released at one sitting. Space begets also a ruthlessness that further excludes participants put together solely and especially for one specific recording, so farewell the excellent Dylan’s Gospel and the intriguing Dylan Jazz. Finally, this is a Top Twenty list, squeezing out many further worthy gems like Joan Osborne’s Songs of Bob Dylan and Robbie Fulks’ 16, a track-by-track take on Street Legal that has some of the best individual songs, frustratingly alongside some decidedly not, perhaps due to the songs and not the singer. Finally, I felt it would be interesting/indulgent to add two essential bits of information about each record:
1. What is the deepest cut contained?
2: Does it feature “Like a Rolling Stone,” the benchmark Dylan song?
Will you disagree with my selections? Sure, and that’s fine, it’s what the comments area is for. Let me know what you think shouldn’t have missed the cut, and what shouldn’t have made it. Continue reading »