Last week, we talked about what I consider to be the top five best Bob Dylan songs of all time. As part of that list, I told you how the numerous versions of Tangled Up In Blue make it such a great song, writing:
The cover version of this song by KT Tunstall is an absolute joy, and remains possibly my favourite cover of a Bob Dylan song ever.
Naturally, that got me thinking about the countless other covers of Dylan’s work.
From The Byrd’s insanely popular version of Mr. Tamborine Man to Guns n’ Roses take on Knockin’ on Heavens Door which changed the way we all listen to any version of that song (honestly, can you ever hear that again without singing “hey hey hey, hey yeah?” I didn’t think so), so many artists have done a wonderful job of covering Bob Dylan over the years.
The more I thought about those covers, the more I wanted to listen to them, and the more I listened to them, the more I wanted to share with you some of my favourites.
Here then, is my take on what I consider to be the greatest Bob Dylan cover songs of all time, based -as always- on little more than personal enjoyment.
Ready? Here goes.
5. Johnny Cash and June Carter – It Ain’t Me, Babe
I’ll be honest with you, I really didn’t know that this would make the top five until the last minute.
I mean seriously, with so many options to choose from, I could have really picked any number of tunes.
Ultimately, what it came down to was this:
When the two sing this one, it’s believable. It stops being a cover. Heck, it stops being a song at all and becomes something more real, something honest.
I love the way Johnny seems to get right to the point whilst June adds a sense of melody, melencholy and -dare i say it- majesty to the whole thing.
4. Rage Against the Machine – Maggie’s Farm
I remember hearing *about* this song long before I actually heard it, and being convinced that it just couldn’t possibly be any good.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Rage Against the Machine fan, but I just couldn’t fathom how Zack De La Rocha’s snarling, permantly pissed off vocal could wrap itself around Dylan’s lyrics and not have it sound like a complete mess.
Even the first time I actually heard it, I couldn’t get into it.
In my mind, there was Rage, and there was Dylan, and never the twain shall meet.
Yet meet they did. Not just meet, but colide, crash and smack together in a frenzy of ferocious energy, unbridled aggression and Rage’s trademark musical swagger.
The result is a beast of a song which strips away the air of jovility which prevails in the original (from 1965’s Bringing it All Back Home) and replaces it with the straight up frustration and anger that you have to believe was seething in Dylan’s heart when he wrote it.
3. Jimi Hendrix – Like a Rolling Stone
Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower (from 1967’s John Wesley Harding) is widely regarded as the greatest cover of a Bob Dylan song ever.
Hendrix didn’t just record a version of the song, he completely made it his own, so much so that more people associate the song with him rather than with Dylan.
“He [Hendrix] had such a talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.” – Bob Dylan on Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower
All that being said, I do genuinely believe that the Jimi Hendrix version of Like a Rolling Stone is even better than hsi most famous Dylan cover.
It’s at once both laid back and bursting with energy, smooth and yet raw, elegantly simple but sublimely complex.
In other words, it’s a masterful cover delivered with ease and a certain sense of cool that was -and forever remains- unique to Jimi Hendrix.
2. Counting Crows – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
As if I was going to get through this list without mentioning my favourite band of all time, Counting Crows.
Adam Duritz & co. have covered a couple of Bob Dylan songs, including a stunning rendition of Girl from the North Country (originally released on 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan), but it’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere (The Basement Tapes / Greatest Hits Vol. II) that stands out as not only their most popular cover, but also their best.
When Counting Crows perform this song, they add several new layers to it, each one more joyous and uplifting than the last.
It’s for this reason that the ‘Crows version of You Ain’t Going Nowhere makes it onto every “happy songs” or “uplifting music” playlist I make. Indeed, if there’s a time that I need an injection of some good feelings, I know I can always trust this song to do the job.
And when I’m already feeling good anyway? This song just takes it to a whole new level.
1. KT Tunstall – Tangled Up in Blue
And finally, we come to the one song that inspired this whole list in the first place.
I don’t quite recall when I first saw KT Tunstall jamming on Tangled Up In Blue, but I know it wasn’t by watching Jools Holland on the BBC, which is where this performance took place.
What I do know, is that the moment I heard it, it become not only one of my favourite covers of all time, but one of my favourite songs.
Glorious, energetic, and bursting with unbridled passion, Tunstall owns this song in a way that few artists could ever be said to own a Bob Dylan song.
I mean just listen to it, and tell me that isn’t the most wonderful thing you’ve ever heard.