“Love and Theft” – Versions of Dylan

You’ll forigve my invocation of the c-word when I say that in the world of recorded music, the songs of Bob Dylan have yielded a lot of cover versions. Many of these are great, but none beat their original. Even Hendrix’s brilliant, incendiary ‘All Along the Watch Tower’ is only the equal of its stark, quietly foreboding predecessor. Many of them are just dreadful, though it would be invidious of me to name names.

While I fight the temptation to be invidious, I’ll grant, straight up, hand on heart, that this may not be the testament of a true Dylan-olator: I’ve always thought hunting out every single concert bootleg to be more or less a waste of time, and I will concede the odd shaky moment within Dylan’s oeuvre. But just the odd one. There aren’t many. There’s not much Bob can do wrong in my book, or on my record player. His own versions of his own songs for me remain definitive.

That being said, I love hearing Dylan interpreted well. In no particular order, then, here are ten nods to Bob I’d put alongside the original versions, some familiar, some less so. (Jimi’s in there, of course):

1. Richie Havens, ‘Just Like a Woman’
2. Nina Simone, ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’
3. Joan Osborne, ‘Man in the Long Black Coat’
4. Martin Simpson, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’
5. Anais Mitchell, ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’
6. The Roaches, ‘Clothes Line Saga’
7. Guy Davis, ‘Sweetheat Like You’
8. Emmy Lou Harris, ‘Every Grain of Sand’
9. The Band, ‘I Shall Be Released’
10. Jimi Hendrix, you know the one, last but not least…

Nina could have been in there more than once, and somehow I nearly forgot about The Band, which isn’t something I do often. Great versions, all. Go listen.

If you know any more I ought to hear, send ‘em my way.

JH, 12/5/2013.

6 Responses to ““Love and Theft” – Versions of Dylan

  • Russ Harris
    6 years ago

    Woddabout that one “rock me mama like a wagon wheel, rock me anyway you feel ….y’ know it’s shameful but the name of the band has slipped my mind and I do rather go on “to Ramona” by The Flying Burrito Brothers surely worth a nod

  • Jack, have you heard Eric Taylor do “I Shall Be Released”?

    • Eep! I have, and moreover, I’ve sung it on stage with him. Ahem. Don’t let him know of my oversight, eh David?

  • Matt Hill
    6 years ago

    Thanks for this, Jack. This version of “Sweetheart like you” brought a song alive that I’d previously found difficult to love.

    My favourite Dylan cover is this glorious version of “Jokerman” by Caetano Veloso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgaSNPhQ9vo

    There are some great songs Dylan wrote but never recorded a good version of. “I’ll keep it with mine” and “Nobody ‘cept you” are both tantalisingly unfinished on the Bootleg Series (though those versions aren’t without their charm). I never liked Nico’s version of “I’ll keep it with mine”; there’s a good version by an act called Dean & Britta on Spotify. There’s a decent version of “Nobody ‘cept you” by someone called Wilder Adkins.

    I love the Jeff Buckley version of “Mama, you been on my mind” – though I prefer the original.

    I quite like tapping a favourite Dylan song into Spotify and listening to various covers by artists who are unknown to me. A bit like rotating a diamond to see it catch different angles of light.

    • That is one marvelous ‘Jokerman’! Love this guy’s voice, he’s hit the heart of the piece, inhabiting it. The drums are great, too.

      Glad you liked the list, and Guy Davis especially. He’s one of the best of the country blues revivalists to have cropped up over the last fifteen years or so, along with Corey Harris, Erib Bibb et cetera. He sits in the character of the song so well, I think; his phrasing has that conversational, Southern-Black lilt you get with Lightning Hopkins and those guys.

      I’ve never cared for Nico’s “I’ll keep it…” either, though I’ve tried. Seemed like the hip thing to do at the time. Accordingly, I couldn’t do it. Now that I think of it, there’s a really good version somewhere by a guy called Greg Trooper. I’ll find those others you mentioned. I do enjoy the unfinshed Bootleg version, too, once it gets going.

      Always fascinating to hear what’s done with Bob’s songs. Absolutely like rotating that diamond…

  • Personally, I think there are a number of Dylan’s recordings that have been surpassed by other interpretations:

    I prefer Mark Lanegan’s version of ‘Man In The Long Black Coat’.

    There’s Nick Cave’s wild rewrite of ‘Wanted Man’ which I think is far greater than the original, not least because of how much further and deeper he took the song.

    The Link Wray version of ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ is joyous and rocking, although nothing like the original.

    Richard Hell and the Voidod’s version of ‘Going, going, gone’ is also much more pleasing to me than the original.

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