In the world Bob Dylan covers, here are some criminally missed ones
Every-since Bob Dylan released his album of Frank Sinatra covers, I have had Dylan on my mind. I started thinking about the best covers Dylan, i.e. the covers he has done. After a day in this mind frame, I decided to flip the coin. What are the best covers of Dylan songs? Once I had gone through the obvious ones, Jimi Hendrix-All Along the Watch Tower, Guns ‘n Roses-Knocking on Heaven’s Door and the bad ones Avril Lavigne-Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Then I got to thinking about all the interesting and somewhat missed covers of Bob Dylan. Here are nine that I thought summed up this brief!
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, 1966, Bob Dylan didn’t know what to do with, or 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. Might Quinn first appeared on the much malgined album Self Portrait. 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, as Might Quinn shows. 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 in 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 was 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 a his original love lost ballad. What Cabot shows is that it was 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 the listening.
The Dead Weather-New Pony
Jack White as never hidden his love of Bob Dylan. During the first White Stripes gigs, they covered often 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 2009 debut Horehound. New Pony originally appeared on 1978’s Street Legal. The original is slightly pedestrian. It doesn’t really go anywhere 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 meancing, 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 is found something else. From the opening farcical flute intro to the bubble gum pop production, tabla rhythms, soul backing vocals and Shatners 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 year he has tackled at least 6 Dylan covers. On his second album, the Firstborn Is Dead, he covered 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 did was take 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 is the main event 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 how the arrangement is totally different 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.