There are a lot of weird and wacky images within Alan Aldridge’s 1969 cult classic book The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics. One of the most memorable is a drawing imagining what John, Paul, George, and Ringo will look like as senior citizens. In this fantastical portrait, John and George are depicted as eccentric elders. Ringo, in keeping with his everyman persona, is shown as a shopworn sad sack. But it is Paul McCartney who offers the most disturbing vision of the future. “The cute one” appears as a conservative besuited and well-fed bank manager. His smug grin suggests he is proud to have finally outgrown all that silly pop music nonsense.Continue reading »
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.Continue reading »
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 »
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
Like many selections in the Five Good Covers series, this song could easily support Ten or Fifteen Good Covers. “No Expectations” appeared on the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet album from 1968, so it’s been around a good long time. And it appears to be aging quite well—not all songs do—so we have every expectation that up-and-coming artists will keep it alive in years to come.Continue reading »
Full Albums features covers of every track off a classic album. Got an idea for a future pick? Leave a note in the comments!
Bob Dylan’s 1965 Newport Folk Festival concerts is one of the most famous – or infamous – performances of all time, subject to numerous books, documentaries, and debates over why Pete Seeger threatened to cut the power cable with an axe. But the fact is, by the time he stepped on that stage, Dylan had already gone electric, four months prior. The first half of his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home – which turns 52 today – is all electric. And not the sort of light electric augmentation other folk singers were experimenting with either. The first track “Subterranean Homesick Blues” may still be the loudest, hardest track of Dylan’s entire career. He’d already drawn his line in the sand; the folk-music crowd had just chosen to ignore it.
To celebrate this landmark album’s 52nd birthday, we’re giving it the full-album treatment. Our recent tributes to Dylan albums have covered underrated works like 1978’s Street Legal and 1985’s Empire Burlesque, but today we return to the classics. Such classics, in fact, that in addition to our main cover picks we list some honorable-mention bonus covers for each song.Continue reading »