“I’ll Keep It with Mine” is one of those innumerable Bob Dylan songs he recorded in the 1960s but didn’t release and someone else did. In this case, it was Judy Collins who released it first. The two other prominent covers of the era are by Nico and Fairport Convention. Dylan’s demos show different approaches to the vocal melody, more idiosyncratic than the famous cover versions. Nico keeps some of Dylan’s vocal idiosyncrasies but otherwise adopts a similar approach to Collins. Fairport Convention’s version, on the other hand, is very faithful to Collins’ version as opposed to Dylan’s demos.
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.
‘The Best Covers Ever’ series counts down our favorite covers of great artists.
Last week, Donald Trump gave his headlining speech at the Republican National Convention. Right after, fireworks exploded over the Washington Monument, soundtracked by a cover of “Hallelujah.” A few minutes later, a second singer covered “Hallelujah” while the entire Trump family watched. Both covers were unauthorized, and Leonard Cohen’s estate quickly said they are exploring legal action. (It must also be said that the covers weren’t very good – you won’t find either one on this list.)
Though hardly a shining moment in the history of Cohen covers, this event speaks to the cultural ubiquity of his work, and of “Hallelujah” in particular. For an artist who never sold that many records, Cohen has become about as iconic as icons get. Humble to the end, he would no doubt object – politely, of course – to that statement. But it’s true. His songs transcend his albums, they transcend his performances, they even transcend Leonard Cohen himself.
There’s never a bad time to talk about Leonard Cohen covers, but they’ve really been on my mind the past couple years. Why? Because I’ve been writing an entire book on the subject, which is out today. It’s in the 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. The album I selected? The 1991 tribute album I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. Without it, you probably wouldn’t even know “Hallelujah”… but we’ll get to that later.
In the book, I explore not just that one tribute album, but the entire history of Leonard Cohen covers generally. It’s a long and fascinating story, but suffice to say here that Cohen wouldn’t have had anywhere near the reach he did without others covering his songs. Covers gave him his start – Judy Collins’s, in particular – and resurrected his career more than once.
There are far too many great Cohen covers to fit in a list like this (and our Patreon supporters will soon get a bonus list of 100 more of them). But we all dug deep to pull the highlights, both the best of the totemic covers as well as brilliant but lesser-known interpretations. The covers span his entire catalog too. Plenty of “Hallelujah”s, of course, and versions of the ’60s songs that made him famous, but also covers of deeper cuts from albums throughout his recording career, up to and including his very last. We hope you’ll discover some new favorites, and maybe be able to listen to the classics you already know in a fresh light.
– Ray Padgett, Editor-in-Chief
The list begins on Page 2.
Stan Rogers’ folk song “Northwest Passage” has been called the unofficial Canadian national anthem – and by a Canadian Prime Minister, no less. Two incredibly different covers that have come out recently add more evidence to that claim, and show that the song may be crossing the country’s southern border just as it crosses genre lines.
“Covering the Hits” looks at covers of a randomly-selected #1 hit from the past sixty-odd years.
No number one hit says “massive guilt trip” like Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” It’s become a shorthand reference to neglectful father-son parenting, featured in popular culture from Simpsons to Shrek the Third, and Stevie Wonder only wishes he prompted as many phone calls just to say “I love you.”
It started off as a poem by Sandy Chapin, Harry’s wife, inspired by the relationship between her first husband and his father. “He came home and I showed him the poem, and he sort of brushed it aside,” she said. But a year later Harry had become a father, and found himself living the life his wife had written about; he wrote music and a chorus, and David Geffen selected it to be a single. “You can’t do that; it’s ridiculous,” Sandy told him. “That song will only appeal to 45-year-old men, and they don’t buy records.” Harry himself wanted to re-record the song, saying “It’s terrible, just terrible. It’s much too fast a tempo.” Both of them were proved very wrong, as the song went to #1 in December 1974.
I have long held it to be a covers truism that people who love covers are most compelled by musicians who can re-imagine a song in order to create something new. The whole point – I’ve said and written – of covering a song is to merge the acts of making and enjoying music in order to say something through song while also saying something about the song itself. Good covers discover or reveal. Good covers surprise.
The expectation that a cover should make something new, however, starts to feel unfair when one is attempting to evaluate covers of songs that have been covered as often as the sixteen Beatles songs on Keep Calm & Salute the Beatles. Covering the Beatles is a bit like taking a picture of THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA, an act that Don DeLillo describes not as capturing an image but maintaining one. What is there left to say, discover, or reveal about these songs beyond the tautological notion that they are good enough to be covered again and again?