Best Ever Bob Dylan Covers

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By guest writer Philip Osborn

I hope you enjoyed looking through my best-ever cover versions listed on the blog a little while ago. As mentioned then, in compiling my lists, I found Bob Dylan had volumes of artists prepared to cover his songs, so some respect needed to be given. I concluded he was due his own list.

There have been many hundreds of covers recorded, too many to make a definite best-of-list. Again, these are just my personal favourites and in no particular order. Five decades of songs, so plenty of artists have taken on the task. It seems his golden era of the 60’s is a favourite source of material as many of the covers are songs from this period. Some choices are a completely different take on the songs, while others are faithful to the original renditions (although generally fleshed out with more instrumentation).

Here we go!!!!

All Along The Watchtower-Jimi Hendrix (1968) Original (1967)

I guess this is recognised as the best cover of a Bob song, and I tend to agree. Totally reinvented the song and Dylan was overwhelmed with Jimi’s version. Apparently they took months of recording and re-recording, heaps of overdubs to get the final masterpiece.

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall- Leon Russell (1971) Original (1962)

Loose funky barroom piano drives this cover, with Leon at the peak of his form, with great musicians in tow to complement singing in his southern drawl. Love it.

Ring Them Bells-Sarah Jarosz (2011) Original (1989)

One of my favourite songs, a rough gem when sung by Bob is now an exquisite haunting acoustic version that is smooth and polished in one of Americana’s new finds. Runner up as a close second is Joe Cocker’s take which has his usual soul and passion.

Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright- The Waifs (2004) Original (1963)

From a live double album recorded in Sydney. Was originally on an EP issued in 2003. One of Bob’s most covered songs, but I particularly like this version. It creates a happy rollicking, toe tapping country hoot.

Buckets Of Rain- Jimmy LaFave (1997) Original (1975)

Great Austin, Texas based singer who does lots of Bob covers. Really like this one. His raspy vocal is perfect and there is a fab live version on you tube with lovely accordion backing.

Desolation Row-Chris Smither and Bonnie Raitt (2003) Original (1975)

World weary voice that is made to cover Bob songs, Bonnie complements him with backing vocals and slide guitar. Lovely flat picking guitar from Chris. A gem combo.

Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues- Nina Simone (1971) Original (1965)

Great interpreter of other artist’s songs, this is one of her best. No one sings a song quite like Nina. She owns it with a heartbreakingly sad performance that is powerful at the same time.

Everything Is Broken-Ollabelle (2006) Original (1989)

Probably not known to most of you. Based in NYC and has Levon Helm’s daughter Amy in the band. They do a sweet folk version here with nice violin, so unlike Bob’s rocker. Finely crafted.

Trying To Get To Heaven-Lucinda Williams (2012) Original (1997)

Lucinda is such a good fit to do Dylan. It builds slowly and is full of her lovesick lamenting delivery. Poetic and emotive.

With God On My Side-The Neville Brothers (1989) Original (1964)

From the great ‘’Yellow Moon’’ album and immaculate sparse production allows Aaron to draw the attention totally to the lyrics about warfare. Bob apparently loves this too.

Shelter From The Storm- Cassandra Wilson (2002) Original (1975)

Unique singer who mainly presents her songs in a jazz styling. This is beautiful and its more acoustic bluesy accompaniment draws you into her world which is full of lyrical poetry.

Highway 61 Revisited- Dave Allen (2005) Original (1965)

Recorded for a music mag bonus CD and it is the best version of this great song I have ever heard. A true driving stomper and love the spoken vocal. Hope for more of Dave doing Bob songs.

Gotta Serve Somebody- Marianne Faithfull (2002) Original (1979)

From one of Jools Holland’s mixed artist releases and a great version. big production creates a powerful mood and Marianne’s raspy sassy vocal suits the song. Some gems do turn up on these CD’s.

Boots Of Spanish Leather- Rebecca Barnard (2006) Original (1964)

Melbourne based singer who had a jazz background but does a fab version of this song, delicate vocal supported with tasteful guitar playing by Shane O’Mara. Flawless.

The Times They Are A Changin’-Eric Bibb (2012) Original (1964)

I do like this artist and he does a fine soulful version. His deep rich voice is quite compelling. Banjo accompaniment works well.

Just Like A Woman- Nina Simone (1971) Original (1966)

Again the High Priestess of Soul Nina produces an excellent version of this song. Glorious light and shade and lovely piano give this a magic touch. Sadness and loss viewed now from the woman’s side.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door-Warren Zevon (2003) Original (1973)

Most go for the Gunners version but too bombastic for me. This is poignant given he was dying of cancer at the time of recording. A man facing death delivering an emotional telling of this tale.

Mr Tambourine Man- The Byrds (1965) Original (1964)

Jingle jangle morning folk rock invents a unique sound and goes straight to number 1.This is distinctive for the harmonies and electric jangling guitars.

Simple Twist Of Fate- Sarah Jarosz (2013) Original (1973)

Have included another one of this artists versions of Bob. Very sparse vision of the song with simple bass backing and her beautiful voice.

Forever Young-The Pretenders (1994) Original (1974)

Bob’s great lyrics and Chrissie Hynde makes this one her own, A strong emotive performance. Soothing and graceful.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry-Chris Wilson (1994) Original (1965)

Melbourne blues singer with the big voice and harmonica in hand does his take on Bob and it’s a beauty. From “Live At The Continental” intimate and personal.

Girl From The North Country- The Waterboys (1988) Original (1963)

Appeared on a remastered copy of “Fisherman’s Blues” as one of the bonus tracks. Full of Irish vigour and Mike Scott is such a great singer.

Make You Feel My Love-Adele (2008) Original (1997)

Fabulous singer and her rendition is perfect, touching and soulful. Full of the heartache and longing that the lyrics present.

Down In The Flood- Derek Trucks Band (2009) Original (1967)

From the Grammy winning album “Älready Free’’ Derek’s swampy southern slide guitar and vocal by Mike Mattison is raw gritty R&B.

Visions Of Johanna- Chris Smither (2006) Original (1966)

From this troubadour’s “Leave the Light On” CD. Acoustic folk blues in his low grumbling voice provides all the intimacy set to a slow waltz.

Blowin’ In The Wind- Peter Paul & Mary (1963) Original (1963)

Enchanting cover with stunning harmonies and a great lead vocal by Mary. Folk singing at its best. It was a Number 1 song in the USA and one of Bob’s most popular.

Every Grain Of Sand-Emmylou Harris (1995) Original (1981)

From the brilliantly produced “Wrecking Ball” record. This demonstrates her ability to create a mood and her beautiful interpretive skills. She sang this at Johnny Cash’s funeral.

I Shall Be Released-Jeff Buckley (1993) Original (1971)

Live performance from 1993 and released on an extended CD released in 2003 after his death. A gifted singer who showed here how to deliver a raw and pure simple song.

Mighty Quinn-Manfred Mann (1968) Original (1970)

Brit Pop, penny whistle, singalong fun, groovy and a number 1 in the UK.  Bob recorded it in 1967 during the Basement Tapes sessions but it actually did not get released till 1970 on Self Portrait

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go –Madeleine Peyroux (2004) Original (1975)

Remakes it into a cruisey jazz shuffle, sounds like a Billie Holiday performance from the 1940’s, singing behind the beat.

Drifters Escape-Thea Gilmore (2011) Original (1967)

From a CD covering all the songs from “John Wesley Harding”. Particularly like this one, remaking the song now a thumping rocker with driving guitars. A relatively unknown artist.

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue-Them (1966) Original (1965)

Van’s unique voice and the band delivers a full rounded version that still sounds fresh today. Bass and organ based, it’s a powerful song. Early Them does sound a bit like The Stones here.

Standing In The Doorway-Bonnie Raitt (2012) Original (1997)

Again Bonnie shows us the ability to interpret songs and this one is aided by Joe Henry’s great organic production.

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again-Cat Power (2012) Original (1966)

Very catchy, foot tapping cover with bigger production including brass to give it extra bite.

Like A Rolling Stone-The Rolling Stones (1995) Original (1965)

From the live “Stripped” album. Had to put this in the list given the link. It is good and Mick playing harmonica is a bonus.

Love Minus Zero/No Limit-Jackson Browne (2012) Original (1965)

One of the best covers on “Chimes Of Freedom”, not many where good. Classic Jackson with lovely instrumentation and performed true to the original.

Lord Protect My Child-Susan Tedeschi (2005) Original (1991)

Gospel, Blues and Soul are all wrapped up into this version. Susan has a great voice and the band is top notch. Original by Bob was recorded in 1983 and finally released on a bootleg in 1991.

Love Sick-Mariachi El Bronx (2012) Original (1997)

An acquired taste I guess but it is strangely enjoyable.LA based band doing a Mexican twist on songs and were brave enough to take this one on. It’s different!!!

Kansas City-Marcus Mumford (2014) Original (1975)

From the New Basement Tapes with various artists covering lost songs from 1975 Basement Tapes recordings. Do like his voice and great musicians make it a true find.

That’s about 40 songs.

Enough to give you an idea of the vast array of different performers that have been compelled to give praise to Bob Dylan and so many styles in which to present his songs. I think they all stand up well on their own and with Bob’s great lyrics as a base, you can’t go wrong really can you???

Enjoy assessing my list.  Comments welcome.

Philip Osborn

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Author: Rob Dickens

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5 Comments

  1. Excellent list. Thanks. There were a few I didn’t know about. I’m liking Them’s version of It’s All Over Baby Blue. Cool. I covered Mr. Dylan’s, I Don’t Believe You. Here is a link to it below. It came out sweet. I used a nice B3 organ and a pedal steel guitar to get a Dylan-Esq blend.
    https://youtu.be/MjX0C7b9wEg

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  2. Joan Osborne @ Cafe Carlyle, NYC, thru 3/18/16.

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  3. I enjoy collecting Dylan covers. Thank you for the Thea Gilmore mention. I had her song from the Chimes of Freedom album but never knew of the complete JWH cover.

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    • Thanks for the comment Ron. Guest scribe Philip came up with some great choices and the Thea Gilmore one was right on the money

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