Dylan Covers

April 18, 2009 at 2:30 am (By Rodjean)

While driving today I heard Bob Dylan’s song, “Lay Lady Lay.”It is hard to think of anyone with as much talent for writing music and as little a gift of vocal range. It got me thinking of how many recording artists have done covers of Dylan songs. Here is one of my favorites:

Stevie Wonder does a version of the same song that makes my hair stand on end. Do any of you have particular favorites?


  1. Ron said,

    Not directly related, but I love the songs of Brian Eno, but he has a rather pedestrian voice. Not as bad as Dylan’s, just not exciting. Now seeing as he has been the producer for U2 for 20 years now, I’ve always wanted Bono to cover some of Brian’s songs…which would be fantastic!

  2. rodjean said,

    Hi Ron:

    Could you point me to your favorite Bian Eno song?

    Covers interest me the most when they change something integral to a song without changing the song itself. The tempo changes, or the beat. You hear the song from the perspective of a different gender.

    Another Dylan cover I enjoy is this version of Positively Fourth Street. Not a change, but a little more hurt and haunting, less strident than the original.

  3. Ron said,


    I have no one single favorite Eno song, but here’s Blackwater which is one of my favs

    Third Uncle, Here He Comes, King’s Lead Hat, Energy fools the magician, Spirits Drifting…. all excellent.

    Get Before and After Science , and Another Green World and listen to them completely!

  4. Ron said,

    Wait, I forgot!

    The True Wheel, Dead Finks Don’t Talk, Burning Airlines Give You So Much More, I’ll Come Running, Taking Tiger Mountain, Fat Lady of Limbourg….

    Well, you get the Eno idea!

    Cool video of The True Wheel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bPbToMJmCI

  5. callimachus said,

    “All Along the Watchtower” by Hendrix is a gimme. So’s “My Back Pages” by the Byrds.

    I work with people who swear Dylan’s a great singer.

    One of the funniest moments of the “Band Aid” recording session in 1985 was Stevie Wonder teaching Bob Dylan how to sing like Bob Dylan.

    Tom Waits is a guy whose voice is utterly at odds with his material. But that’s how it works. That kind of emotion and sentimentality can only be sung by a man if he sounds like he inhabits the roughest dives in town and sleeps on park benches. His stuff comes acxross as mere schmaltz when sung by anyone else (and they try; lord do they try), viz. “Downtown Train” (Rod Stewart), “Jersey Girl” (Springsteen).

    Shane McGowan of the Pogues figured out the same thing independently of Waits. He can write stunningly confessional, vulnerable, and heartfelt lyrics because he sings like he just bashed out someone’s teeth with a whisky bottle. Right after the guy did the same thing to him.

  6. rodjean said,

    Years ago I heard a radio story about a contest in which people tried to imitate Dylan. There were different categories: pre-electric folkie, initial rock star era, revival era. My favorite was other songs sung in a Dylanesque style. Somebody did a version of “Like a Virgin” with a voice a phrasing that sounded like it came off “Blonde on Blonde.”

    I have been away from my computer, and unable to sample the songs each have you have suggested, but I intend to. Thanks.

    Very few of us are chameleons. Whatever we do, whether painting, lawyering, writing, speaking, caregiving, or anything else, we do it with our own voice; our own style. It is why scholars analyze word patterns and syntax to try to determine whether the same person wrote all of the plays attributed to Shakespeare; why experts can (usually) determine if a purported Vermeer is genuine.

    In these days of corporate decision making, blurred responsibility, and plausable deniability, it is nice to finish something and think, “I did that and I gave it my very best.” To take responsibility.

  7. Maxwell said,

    Leonard Cohen, of course, is a more perverse Dylan with even less vocal range.

    Among the younger set, I would submit Joanna Newsom as a potential heir to Dylan. Her voice is incomparably awful at first, jarring and off-tune; but like Waits’, it turns out to be exactly right for her material. Like Dylan, she’s an incredible lyricist.

    Finally, an old friend of mine who’s a teacher once told me that she asked her class of inner-city high school students who they felt was the modern equivalent of Dylan. After some discussion, the popular answer turned out to be Tupac Shakur.

  8. Callimachus said,

    Then there’s Liz Phair, especially her first album circa 1994, which went a long way below the radar before it got a label release. The weakness in her vocals worked in songs that were frank, in-your-face, coy, and blunt. It was all in a package of authenticity, like a home-made Valentine instead of store-bought one.

    To turn the question on its head, there are some Dylan songs that seem to me ONLY possible in Dylan’d voice. And they are the most personal ones — which are the nasty ones, like “Positively Fourth Street.” That’s a real person singing his authentic feelings.

  9. Richard Lawrence Cohen said,

    World Party doing “All I Really Wanna Do.” Cosmic bass and organ driving the song into ecstasy.

    Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” of course. Many of Joan Baez’ versions, particularly on the album “Farewell Angelina” : the title song, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” and “A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall.”

    He IS a great singer. He does the most important thing: he gets the lyric over to the listener. I believe he does it better than anyone except Sinatra. In fact I believe he has learned from Sinatra’s phrasing. Think of him as Sinatra with a lousy voice.

    Back during the days of World-Aid and the “We Are the World” video, there was a few seconds showing Stevie Wonder tutoring Dylan in how to sing Dylan’s snippet of the song. Wonder did a dead-on Dylan impersonation.

    Hi, Annie! Nice new blog!

  10. Richard Lawrence Cohen said,

    The madonna was his for free:

    …and still is:

  11. rodjean said,

    Richard: I agree that Dylan is great at phrasing, as was Sinatra. In fact, I like some of his songs better when he sings them that when other who are more melodic do so. I prefer his Mr. Tambourine Man to The Byrds.

  12. Callimachus said,

    Agreed tha tmost of the Byrds covers fail because they’re TOO GOOD. To smooth, clean, polished. McGuinn is just too much of a nice guy to do Dylan. [Memories of Roger McGuinn backstage at the old Brandywine Club, circa 1984, patiently signing his name to everything in sight thrust at him by a set of collectors who only wanted the signature to boost the value of the album/poster/photograph. whatever and probably had never listened to the music and probably never would.

    Their version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” is probably the worst attempt to come to mind for me.

    Sinatra shocked purists when he played lazy with the beat, hung so far off it you swore he’d never make the train, but he always did. He played with the rules and pushed them, but he didn’t break the fundamental ones. Dylan? Reminds me more of the vocal stylings of Richard Harris in “Camelot” or William Shatner.

  13. rodjean said,

    To move beyond the beat, as Sinatra did, requires an intuitive mastery of timing. Timing is at the heart of

    music, drama, humor, sports, marketing, politics, investing, war, sex, . . .

    Take your pick.


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