May 232022
 

Rarely Covered looks at who’s mining the darkest, dustiest corners of iconic catalogs.

bob dylan early 1960s

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 »

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.

Apr 022019
 
fallon roots doo-wop

About a decade ago, I was walking down 23rd Street in Manhattan, when suddenly, without warning, a group of teenagers in front of me burst into song. To my surprise, they belted out the doo-wop classic “In the Still of the Night.” I immediately texted my father, a lifelong fan of the tune, saying I thought the scene was emblematic of just how well the track has endured.

“In the Still of the Night” was first recorded by the Five Satins in 1956. The song was not a huge hit upon its release. But with its memorable chorus and perfect doo-wop harmonies, it has grown more popular through time. In the ‘80s, WCBS-FM (New York City’s oldies station) repeatedly listed the song in the number one spot on its annual Top 500 countdown. Around the same time, the song appeared on the 1987 mega-selling Dirty Dancing soundtrack. There have been a number of covers over the years, most notably by Philly soulsters Boyz II Men, who gave it the “Cooley High” treatment in 1992.

Continue reading »

Aug 212018
 
posthumous aretha franklin covers

Last night’s VMAs surprised many by omitting any sort of musical tribute to Aretha Franklin. You’d think if anyone could pull that together with a few days notice, MTV could – but honestly, I get it. There have been fewer memorial covers of Aretha Franklin than we saw for Tom Petty, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and many others. Even Chris Cornell earned more in-concert tributes, and Aretha’s career of hits goes back decades further than his.

Why is that? Certainly Aretha is no less beloved than these others; eloquent and moving tributes in other forms continue to pour in hourly. My guess: Aretha is first and foremost known as a singer, maybe the greatest ever (Rolling Stone said she was). Though certainly no songwriting slouch (pretty much every part you’d sing along to in “Respect,” she added herself), Aretha may simply be too daunting vocally for many musicians to attempt.

Luckily, not all musicians. Here are the best posthumous Aretha Franklin covers we’ve seen so far. Hopefully more are coming! Continue reading »

Jul 022018
 
cover songs june
Andrew Combs – Reptila (The Strokes cover)


The Strokes’ Is This It songs have been covered to death, so musicians are digging deeper. We heard a killer Angles cover in April from Billie Eilish (more on her in a minute), and now singer-songwriter Andrew Combs takes on this Room on Fire track. His own music leans Nashville Americana, but from the crazy horns here, sounds like he’s been spending time in New Orleans. Continue reading »