Ever-since Bob Dylan released his new album of Frank Sinatra covers, I have had Dylan on my mind. I started thinking about the best covers Dylan had produced. After a day trawling through Dylan’s various interpretations of other artists songs, I decided to flip the coin. What are the best covers of Dylan songs? Once I had gone through the obvious ones, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Guns ‘n Roses‘ ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ and the bad ones Avril Lavigne‘s version of the same song. So, here’s nine interesting and somewhat overlooked covers of Bob Dylan.
Yo La Tengo – I Wanna Be Your Lover
Taken from the I’m Not There soundtrack, ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’ is a little like Todd Haynes’ film. At the time of recording in 1966, Bob Dylan didn’t know what to do with the song, or to make of it. The track had more in common with his previous two albums Bringing it all Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited, than with his next album Blonde On Blonde. Starting life as a parody of The Beatles‘ ‘I Wanna Be Your Man.’ The track festered on a tape, in a vault until it was included on 1985’s compilation Biography. What Yo La Tengo effectively do is update its jaunty pace with lo-fi garage rock vibe, and Jagger-esque vocals.
Julie London – The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)
Another ‘lost’ track, ‘Mighty Quinn’ first appeared on the much maligned album Self Portrait album. Recorded when Dylan was questioning himself: both his past and future, many dismissed the album as throwaway, but it is chocked full of strong tracks, such as Mighty Quinn. Julie London might not be the obvious choice to cover Dylan. However when you hear her version, you realise that she take a badly recorded jam track, into something beautiful and touching. Her soaring vocals really suit the arrangement perfectly. The tempo is slower, but through London’s almost languid vocals the track takes on another meaning. Dylan’s Quinn sounds like a furious warrior, whereas London’s sound tender, just and fair.
Wanda Jackson – Thunder on the Mountain
2006’s Modern Times was a turning point for Dylan, it showed that he was still capable to releasing exciting and vibrant music, instead of going through the motions. It’s inclusion on Wanda Jackson’s 2011 album the Party Ain’t Over makes sense. Jackson had something to prove, backed by Jack White and friends Thunder on the Mountain starts at higher pace than the original and continues with its foot to the floor for the rest of the track. Jackson, and White, successfully take an upbeat Dylan number and turn it into a full blown rocker, with this playing, any party ain’t over!
Sebastian Cabot – Boots of Spanish Leather
This is a bit of an anomaly in the canon of Dylan covers, actor Sebastian Cabot tackles the track as if it were a poem. His version is full of emotion that the original can only hint at, Cabot’s vocal delivery has more in common with a soliloquy than with Dylan’s original love lost ballad. Cabot shows that it’s Dylan’s gift as a wordsmith and the rich imagery this gift gives, that makes his songs. It doesn’t matter how they are performed, if you get that emotional level correct, the song will speak to those listening.
The Dead Weather – New Pony
Jack White as never hidden his love of Bob Dylan. During the first White Stripes gigs, they often covered misunderstood and maligned Isis. A 7 minute behemoth, from 1976’s Desire, with no verses or chorus, on the White Stripes debut album they tackled One More Cup of Coffee, also from Desire. So it was no real surprise when he included New Pony on the Dead Weather‘s 2009 debut Horehound. New Pony originally appeared on 1978’s Street Legal, the original is slightly pedestrian, it meanders and the backup singers and sax solo add little to the song. However in the hands of the Dead Weather, and Alison Mosshart’s banshee like vocals, make the song sound menacing, contemporary and vital.
William Shatner – Mr. Tambourine Man
Just as Sabastian Cabot was an anomaly, as it William Shatner’s cover of ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. While Cabot found the essence of the song through its words and arrangement, it seems that Shatner uncovered something else. From the opening farcical flute intro to the bubble gum pop production, tabla rhythms, soul backing vocals and Shatner’s vocal delivery, this is all about fun.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Wanted Man
Just like Jack White, Nick Cave is a big Dylan fan. Over the years he has tackled at least six Dylan covers all told. On his second album, the Firstborn Is Dead, he attempted ‘Wanted Man’. While this is a track Dylan wrote with Johnny Cash, Dylan’s presence can be felt in its pours. What Cave brings to this track, is a menacing undercurrent until the maelstrom reaches its peak at the end, Cave totally changes this from the original, and makes it his own.
The Walker Brothers – Love Minus Zero
‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ originally appeared on Dylan’s fifth album Bringing it All Back Home in 1965. 11 months later it appeared on the Walker Brothers debut Take it Easy with the Walker Brothers. What Gary, Scott and John Walker took a simple love song and through clever production, turned it into a bombastic blue eyed soul track. The tempo is slower and with a luscious string section, but its Scott’s baritone that’s the main attraction here.
Elvis Presley – Tomorrow is a Long Time
Bob Dylan once said that Elvis Presley’s cover of ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ was his favourite cover of his songs. Ever. After the first time I heard this, I have to agree with Bob. What makes this an interesting cover is totally different arrangement from the Dylan’s lo-fi folkie original. Presley’s team has found the core of the track, a melancholy lament, but through the injection of a laconic lead guitar and throbbing bass, Presley’s baritone croon gives that track a totally different vibe.
What’s your favourite Bob Dylan cover?!