“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.