Today – May 24, 2012 – is Bob Dylan’s 71st birthday.
Two years ago, in celebration of Bob’s big day, I asked: “What is your favorite Bob Dylan song?” Many of you posted your answer through the “leave a comment” link below and helped produce a very interesting list.
To get the party started this year, I pose another question for your consideration: “What is your favorite cover version of a Bob Dylan song?”
Since the release of his first album on March 19, 1962, no songwriter has had a greater influence on the world of music than Bob Dylan.
One indication of the breadth and depth of Dylan’s influence could be measured in the vast number of singers and bands who have recorded a cover version of a Bob Dylan song. (It might, however, be easier to add up how many singers and bands have not recorded a cover version of a Bob Dylan song.)
From among the limited number of artists that I know of who have taken on the task, here is a not-so-brief overview.
Probably the most well known covers are those of “Blowing In The Wind” by Peter, Paul & Mary (released as a single in June, 1963, one month after Dylan put out his rendition of the song on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan); “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds (in 1965); and “All Along The Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix from his 1968 double album Electric Ladyland.
The Byrds did covers of so many of Bob Dylan’s songs that, in 1995, Columbia Records put out an entire album of them and called it The Byrds Play Dylan. Joan Baez recorded and released an all-Bob album in 1968 entitled Any Day Now.
I know of at least two smaller record companies who went to their roster of artists and enlisted enough of them to record a Bob Dylan song to compile the recordings into a Bob Dylan “tribute album.”
Red House Records released A Nod To Bob in 2001 for Dylan’s 60th birthday and A Nod To Bob 2 in 2011 for his 70th. Telarc Records, a Blues label, put out Blues On Blonde On Blonde in 2003, a compilation of Blues-inflected covers of songs from Dylan’s 1966 double LP Blonde On Blonde.
More than a few individual Bob Dylan songs have been the subject of multiple cover versions by a surprisingly diverse list of artists.
For example, “I Shall Be Released,” written by Bob in 1967, was recorded by The Band in 1968, Joe Cocker in 1969 and Bette Midler in 1973, to name a few. (Dylan did not release his recording of “I Shall Be Released” until 1971.)
Already in 2012, Amnesty International put together a fund-raising collection containing 4 CD’s full of Dylan covers entitled Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan. Bonnie Raitt included two Bob Dylan songs – “Million Miles” and “Standing In The Doorway” from Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out Of Mind – on her outstanding new CD: Slipstream.
Among my favorites (and on my long iPod playlist I call “Covered Dylan”) are the following performances.
“Just Like A Woman” by Richie Havens from his 1967 LP, Mixed Bag.
“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” by Nina Simone from her 1969 LP, To Love Somebody.
“With God On Our Side” by Buddy Miller from his 2004 CD, United Universal House of Prayer.
All of those are very highly recommended and essential listening.
In closing, Rodney Crowell, a highly successful and extremely well regarded songwriter in his own right, shared his feelings (and, I would guess, those of many other songwriters) about Bob Dylan’s songs in the opening line of his song “Beautiful Despair” from his remarkable 2005 CD The Outsider.
“Beautiful despair is hearing Dylan when you’re drunk at 3 a.m. / Knowing that the chances are no matter what you’ll never write like him.”
Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!
May you stay forever young.