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.

Feb 102021
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

When is a cover not a cover? If a song is written but never committed to any released format, what counts as the original version? Both questions that might raise askance of this set, a set that I believe can, and indeed should, pass muster for these august pages. After all, if it’s good enough for Woody Guthrie

Jeffrey Lee Pierce is a name known more by association, I guess, than in his own right, popping up in the alongside others plowing the same vein. Literally. Whilst his lifetime recorded output, predominantly under the Gun Club soubriquet, may have been prodigious, he left enough unfinished and discarded songs to provide the bulk of the material in these three (so far) recordings.
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Sep 042020
 

Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!

Zuma Crazy Horse Neil Young

Was Zuma the album that finally allowed Neil Young to ditch the encumbrance of being just the fourth name in a list of four?

Before the cloud fills with angry retorts, exhorting Shakey’s eternal place as King of the Gods, back down a little and let me explain.

For sure Young was huge before Zuma‘s 1975 release, that’s obvious, but he wasn’t, how you say, massive. Young made his name in Buffalo Springfield, alongside Stephen Stills; on that band’s implosion, their solo recordings each got notice and were garnished with praise. Stills arguably leapt ahead when he teamed up with Crosby and Nash, even if it then took Young joining to make the supergroup a superlative group. Fast forward past the post-Four Way Street wreckage: Manassas was giving Stills some huge credibility, and Young was in need of a band. Of course, he already had one, but they were arguably just background noise up until this point. Nerds (yes, that’s us) knew all about Crazy Horse and possibly had their separate records, but only with Zuma did Young bring them in the forefront and put them in sizable writing on the cover.

I would assert that this made the difference, catapulting Young ahead his onetime partner. Manassas may have had all the classy talent, but the Horse had pure, um, horsepower. Never again would Stills equal his rival, no matter how long he may run. Young didn’t even need the Horse to maintain his pole position, but, give or take the International Harvesters or Promise of the Real, Booker T’s MGs even, it seems only with these guys does Neil really fly. Unless, paradoxically, he is entirely alone.
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Aug 072020
 

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

Satisfied Mind

I never understood why the Walkabouts were never huge. A consummate Americana noir sound, two terrific vocalists in Chris Eckman and Carla Torgerson, an arthouse European ambiance… how did it not happen? Their history and geography ought really have defined a career in grunge, and their Seattle base and the Sub Pop label often had them sometimes lumped in with that movement. But they were always, even at the start, a step apart and a dust bowl away. Continue reading »

Jul 282020
 

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

Mark Lanegan covers

How many Mark Lanegans there are, I guess, depends largely on where you heard him first. For some it will have been the angry grunge of Screaming Trees; for others, the desert stoners of Queens of the Stone Age, or even the badass bromance of the Gutter Twins. Or they may, like me, have arrived from an altogether opposite direction, the low-fi acoustic of his duo work with Isobel Campbell, doe-voiced folkstrel and onetime cellist from Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian. Other outliers will have been drawn in by the gospelectronica, if you will, of Soulsavers. Plus there will have been all those, suddenly marveling at his soundtrack tones, stamping over any number of films or boxsets.

But, once heard, that voice sticks. Memorably once described as being like a three-day stubble, it imprints, demanding both attention and immersion. And if the directions take you outa your usual safety genres, too bad; you go, you follow, opening new vistas on the way. Oh, and if you haven’t yet discovered Mark Lanegan, what are you waiting for?
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Apr 142020
 
live-from-home covers

It’s a strange circumstance: What has been awful for humanity at large has been pretty good for the world of cover songs. Even we would say that’s a terrible trade-off!

Nevertheless, we’ve been grateful that so many musicians have taken to Facebook, Instagram, etc to share their music and, in many cases, cover favorite songs that are helping get them through. So, for the fourth time and certainly not the last, we’re rounding up some of the best we’ve seen recently and encouraging you to add your own below.

One note: There are some obvious names you won’t see here. John Prine. Bill Withers. Adam Schlesinger. Kenny Rogers. So many wonderful covers are emerging to pay tribute to artists no longer with them that we’ll be rounding them up separately. We did the first set for Prine here. Continue reading »