To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International, a four-disc set of Bob Dylan covers is coming out. What better way to commemorate this release then to compile some of the best and most interesting covers from one of the most covered men in American music?
Bryan Ferry, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” – 1973 – This version is too cheesy to be true. Starting this article it was a must to find the kitschiest Dylan cover from the 1970s possible. I just did not think I would be blessed by the gods above, and given this earnestly bizarre and oddly respectful cover of one of Dylan’s most lyrically beautiful songs. The words that put Dylan in a league with Ginsberg and Kerouac are given the girls-in sunglasses-and-leather-bodysuits treatment. Only Bryan Ferry could’ve pulled off this heist.
Jimi Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower” – 1968 – This is probably the most widely recognized Bob Dylan cover, and for good reason. Hendrix and his axe take the track into remarkable new territory, which is what any good cover should do. This is not just one of the greatest Bob Dylan covers of all time, but one of the greatest covers of all time. It’s also has one of Hendrix’s best solos.
Miley Cyrus “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” – 2012 – As fundamentally strange as these words seem on paper, her voice speaks for itself and does incredible justice to the Blood of the Tracks classic. It’s a reminder that this former Disney Channel megastar has great pipes and a fundamental grasp of American roots music in the way much like Bob Dylan. (Well, not the first part.)
The Black Keys “The Wicked Messenger” – 2007 – One of the most popular bands going adds the disturbing seriousness to the John Wesley Harding two-minute deep cut, what is a simple ballad on death becomes a elaborate story of violence and more, almost a feature-length adaptation.
Sonic Youth “I’m Not There” – 2007 – From the sensational Bob Dylan bio-pic of the same name, the garage rock innovators take on this undiscovered gem Dylan recorded with The Band. It resonates so deeply with Dylan’s overall oeuvre, themes of freedom and disguises, forms and formlessness.
Odetta “The Times They Are A-Changin’” -1965 – This woman was just as legendary a folk singer in her own right and contemporary of Dylan who died just a few years ago. The progression is Odetta’s version is more soulfully enduring. Dylan wasn’t remembered for his vocal skills, but Odetta was. She gives the anthem with hip-shaking rhythm that Bob Dylan was too much of short-haired white boy to realize the song could rise to the next level with.
DM Stith “Gates Of Eden” -2010 – This cover does more with melodic instrumental sound than Dylan had ever played for the original. (It was just him and the guitar.) DM adds track after track of building instruments and noises, taking the religious epic to new heights, giving it new meaning. A song takes on interesting dimension with the speed of a van screaming down the highway rather than hobo walking through a cemetary.
The Byrds “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” – 1968 -This version is a Country-fried twist from arguably the greatest Dylan cover band of all time, The Byrds. They made huge hits out of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “All I Really Wanna Do,” and “My Back Pages.” This version is the opening track from the Byrd’s ode to classic country, Sweethearts of the Rodeo. They slow the song down and remove every second verse lyric. It’s a genius re-invention that allows the musicians the space melodically personalize their instruments.
Rhett Miller “Champaign, Illinois,” (“Desolation Row”) – Not so much of a cover but news verses, set to the old chords from the 11-minute Highway 61 Revisted closer, but revolving around the southern Illinois city known asa former insutrial city, but also the home of the University of Illinois. Rhett’s new words continue in the Felleni-esque allegorical display that defined the original song, some of the finest lyrics Bob Dylan ever written.
Guns N Roses “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – 1991 – It’s great that Axl Rose could take Bob Dylan’s cowboy ethos and transport it to the land of hair metal. All the stuff I said about Hendrix and “All Along The Watchtower” can apply here, because of Slash’s great solo, the added depth of melody and Axl does have a great voice.