Doing Dylan

Doing Dylan

best bob dylan covers
Bob Dylan, San Fransisco, 1979 (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

With Bob Dylan generating a lot of interest at the moment thanks to the fantastic Martin Scorsese directed documentary Rolling Thunder Revue currently screening on Netflix, we thought it time to have a look at some of our favourite Dylan covers.  Check out the brilliant interpretations here, including smash hits from Jimi Hendrix and Bryan Ferry, rarely heard gems from The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, and one that all gig-going Baby Boomer Aussies will remember, the epic "Knocking On Heaven's Door" from the Andrew Durant Memorial Concert.

Some music fans don't rate Bob Dylan as a singer. Some people actually think he can't sing, which is crazy because if you listen closely enough, you'll hear that he never misses a note. He just chooses to keep it raw and to twist his phrasing around to keep it exciting and to serve what he is trying to express in a song. Slick and smooth are just not qualities he's interested in. But regardless of what some people might think of him as a singer, there doesn't seem to be any dispute in regards to Dylan's quality as a songwriter. And it's not only his own records and performances that attest to that; the vast number of Dylan covers, by so many of the biggest and the best, goes way beyond just suggesting that he is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, songwriters of the last 60 years.

Here are a dozen examples that prove the point, and keep an eye out for Part 2 soon! 

Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower

Kinda hard to go past this one. Hendrix's performance here is so strong that the song will be forever thought of as his, but Dylan wrote it and first recorded on his John Wesley Harding record in 1967. Also check out Jimi's great version of Bob's "Please Crawl Out Your Window", recorded for the BBC in 1969.

Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & Trinity – This Wheels On Fire

If you were a teen in the 60s, you'd probably remember this version of the song that Dylan wrote and first recorded with The Band in 1967. You'll definitely know if you're a fan of Absolutely Fabulous.

Bryan Ferry – A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

One of a couple of covers that made Ferry a bona fide pop star in Australia in the 70s, this is one of the great Dylan covers. 30-odd years later, he recorded a whole album of them; Dylanesque is its title, and it is a surprisingly excellent record.   

From The Andrew Durant Memorial Concert – Knocking On Heavens Door

This all-star cover of Dylan's brilliant song from Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (which Bob also acted in) is particularly poignant; it was performed as the finale to the Memorial Concert for the guitarist Andy Durant of Melbourne band Stars who sadly fell victim to cancer at the age of 25 in 1980.  Check out the cast here – Jimmy Barnes, Ian Moss and Don Walker (don't forget Chisel also performed this one), Brod Smith, Renee Geyer, Richard Clapton, the guys from Stars and more.   

The Byrds  - Mr Tambourine Man

Maybe the first evidence that Bob Dylan's songs could be made into great pop records was The Byrds' stunning first single, released in mid-1965. This record had a huge impact – including on The Beatles – and was the first of many Dylan songs that The Byrds recorded.

Bruce Springsteen – Chimes of Freedom

Bruce no doubt cut his teeth on Dylan, but his fine cover of Bob's "Chimes of Freedom" - also covered by The Byrds on their Mr Tambourine Man LP – is the only one he has officially released, on a 1988 EP he put out to support the multi-artist Human Rights Now! Tour in benefit of Amnesty International.   The EP version was recorded in Stockholm, this version is from around the same time in 1988, in Copenhagen. 

Rolling Stones – Like A Rolling Stone

A cover of Dylan's most iconic single was a surprise and quite brace inclusion on the Stones' 1995 Stripped album, which was a clear attempt at getting back to basics. A faithful and fine version recorded live in London in July of the same year, it was the first single off the album.  

George Harrison – If Not For You

All the Beatles were Bob-heads but George most of all – he even ended up in a band with Bob (The Traveling Wilburys). This lovely version of one of Bob's prettiest tunes is from George's classic 1970 triple-LP All Things Must Pass.

Manfred Mann – The Mighty Quinn

In 1968, Bob's publisher circulated a disc of unreleased Dylan tunes to A&R men and artists in the hope that the tunes would get covered. It worked a treat, and a number of those songs ended up as massive hits. Julie Driscoll's "This Wheel's On Fire" was one of them, and this classic Manfred Mann hit was another. Manfred Mann had previously hit with another Dylan tune "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" in 1965.  

The Sports – Ballad of A Thin Man

Stephen Cummings' old band The Sports bowed out in an unusual way back in 1981. Their final release was a 10" EP named The Sports Play Dylan (and Donovan). Bob was not particurly fashionable at the time, so a lot of music-biz types were no doubt left scratching their heads. Which, with its "something is happening here but you don't know what it is" refrain, was exactly the sort of response the song was addressing. 

Chris Wilson – It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry

Another elegant Melbourne Dylan cover from the recently-passed and already much-missed roots & Blues giant Chris Wilson. From Chris' classic 1994 Live At The Continental album.  

Robert Plant – One More Cup of Coffee

A fabulous version from Plant's 2002 album Dreamland. The original is one of the many exotic delights on Bob's 1976 album Desire


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