(Above: Dylan from the Blonde on Blonde gatefold, with pliers.)
Bob Dylan turns 76 today. I’ve been writing this blog for about nine months now and have yet to include a Dylan song in it. In a way, that’s a means of checking myself: I love his music, and would be tempted to do a lot of it. It’s like I explained to a station manager once: “I’m not here to play only my favorites, because the audience would be about one.”
I discovered Dylan in high school. When Infidels came out in 1983, I thought the video for “Jokerman” was pretty cool, but didn’t look any further. Upon taking custody of more of my parents’ LP collection about a year later I found two Dylan titles: original mono pressings of The Times They Are A-Changin’ and Highway 61 Revisited. One fateful afternoon during my sophomore year of high school I decided to drop the needle on Highway 61, and that was the first time that I had heard “Like a Rolling Stone.” When Bruce Springsteen inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – fitting, as young Bruce wore the “new Dylan” title for years – he described the opening snare shot of the record as “if someone had kicked the door open to your mind.” It wasn’t unlike that for me. I tracked the entire album through, and then played it again. I began a quest to find as many of Dylan’s 60s LPs as I could, which often meant wading through used record stores for vinyl copies. I couldn’t locate a used copy of Blonde on Blonde, so I had to settle for buying a brand-new reissue in January of 1985. That copy, with an inscription by me, ended up on the shelf at my college radio station when I dropped out to take my act on the road. (I’ve since found an original pressing with the photo of Claudia Cardinale on the gatefold, which was withdrawn from circulation.)
I’ve talked to students about Dylan before, and the argument I usually get is “I don’t like his voice.” I get that. It’s not for everyone. For me, the music of Dylan – especially the trilogy from 1965-66 of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61, and Blonde – has been about the lyrical wordplay within them. To that end, I thought I’d track down a variety of cover versions of Bob’s songs to celebrate the day. If you are sittin’ on a barbed-wire fence on Dylan, may I recommend the following?
The Big Hits:
All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix. Even people who have never heard of Dylan probably know this song.
Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds (Also see William Shatner for a different interpretation). Famously, Dylan blocked Columbia from releasing his version of the song in favor of this one – which went to #1 – coming out first.
The Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo) – Manfred Mann
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Guns ‘N Roses
The Songs of Bringing It All Back Home:
She Belongs To Me – Rick Nelson and the Stone Canyon Band
Love Minus Zero/No Limit – Fleetwood Mac
The Songs of Highway 61 Revisited:
Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man) – The Grass Roots
Queen Jane Approximately – The Four Seasons
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Linda Ronstadt
The Songs of Blonde on Blonde:
I Want You – Bruce Springsteen (live from 1975). It’s a very different feel from the original.
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again – Cat Power. This is a rare case where I like the cover as much as the original, and I love the original.
Just Like a Woman – Van Morrison
Absolutely Sweet Marie – Jason & the Scorchers
4th Time Around – Yo La Tengo
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – Edie Brickell.
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – The Byrds. Originally I thought I’d only put a band on here once each, but that would have meant leaving this off, and I refused to do that.
Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window – The Vacels. There’s a bit of Four Seasons-meets-Jay and the Americans vibe here, but it’s a cool version of an even cooler song.
Tangled Up In Blue – The Indigo Girls. This is a cover that just works.
She’s Your Lover Now – Luxuria. Imagine Angry Bob as done by a new-wave 80s band. It’s kinda catchy.
One final one: at the concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s debut in 1993, this performance of “My Back Pages” was given. It features Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. Oh, yeah – Dylan sings on it, too. It’s one of those songs that gets better and better with age. Maybe it’s because I think back to when I first discovered it, and realize that I was so much older then…
Feel free to share cover versions of Bob’s songs that you like in the comments.