Very few artists in rock history have seen more of their songs covered than Bob Dylan. It began in 1963 when "Blowin' In The Wind" became a standard song recorded by everyone from Peter, Paul and Mary to Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder. During the next few years the Byrds, the Hollies, Sonny and Cher and too many others to count dove onto the Dylan bandwagon. Elvis Presley even got into the act when he laid down a version of "Tomorrow Is a Long Time" in 1966. To honor his 75th birthday, we asked our readers to select their favorite Bob Dylan covers. Here are the results.
Not long before he signed to Columbia Records in early 1993, Jeff Buckley laid down this haunting rendition of "Just Like a Woman." He was playing it solo electric in his live show at the time, including his legendary set at Sin-é in 1993. The studio version didn't see the light of day until it appeared on the compilation album You And I earlier this year. The tune has been tackled by everyone from Van Morrison to Richie Havens, but rarely has it ever sounded this achingly beautiful.
"Just Like a Woman" wasn't the only Bob Dylan cover Jeff Buckley played in his live show. He also did "I Shall Be Released," "If You See Her, Say Hello," "Farewell, Angelina" and "Mama, You've Been on My Mind." Dylan wrote the latter song in 1964, inspired by the breakup with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo. He did play it in his live show, and the following year Joan Baez released it as "Daddy, You've Been on My Mind." Dylan's studio version finally came out on the first volume of the Bootleg Series in 1991, right around the time that Jeff Buckley began playing it live. You can hear it on the expanded version of Grace, his sole studio album.
Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready were far-and-away the youngest acts to play Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in 1992, taking the stage alongside heavyweights like George Harrison, Johnny Cash, the Band, Eric Clapton and Neil Young. They delivered an absolutely brilliant acoustic rendition of "Masters of War" that critics hailed as one of the highlights of the entire evening. Pearl Jam played it 15 times between 2003 and 2008, but it's gotten even more play at Eddie Vedder's solo shows. It got a lot of attention on his first solo tour in 2008 during the final months of the George W. Bush administration.
The 2007 Todd Haynes film I'm Not There featured six different actors portraying six different aspects of Bob Dylan's persona. It left more than a few filmgoers scratching their heads and earned a paltry $11.7 million at the box office, but the soundtrack has become an absolute classic. It features 34 different Bob Dylan covers by the likes of Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth and Willie Nelson. The most sublime take is My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James' take on the Basement Tapes classic "Going to Acapulco," which he cut with Calexico. James even sang it in the movie while wearing whiteface straight out of Dylan's 1975/76 Rolling Thunder Revue tour.
Nobody knows precisely when Bob Dylan wrote "I Shall Be Released" during the Basement Tapes period in 1967, but midway through the legendary sessions, he cut it with the Band. It wasn't heard by anyone but collectors of bootlegs until July of 1968 when it appeared as the final track on Music From Big Pink with Band keyboardist Richard Manuel on lead vocals. It was a highlight of pretty much every Band concert over the next eight years, most notably when it wrapped up The Last Waltz in 1976. It's been covered at too many charity concerts to even count, but nobody has ever sung it with the raw emotion of Manuel. Tragically, he hung himself in 1986.
Most people remember Van Morrison's 1960s garage rock band Them solely for their song "Gloria," but their 1966 is "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is every bit as brilliant. Morrison became a huge Dylan fan the moment he heard The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and he jumped at the chance to cover "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" on Them's 1966 LP Them Again. It's a rare Dylan cover that, in every way, stands up to the original. It might even be better. Dylan and Morrison finally sang it together in 1984, and Van occasionally sings it in his solo shows.
Robert Plant's 2002 LP Dreamland features covers of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren," Moby Grape's "Skip Song," the Youngbloods' "Darkness Darkness" and Bob Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee." The Dylan song was originally cut on 1976's Desire as a duet with Emmylou Harris. Plant's version never got much attention, but apparently Rolling Stone readers were really struck by it. Dylan rarely plays any song from Desire, but "One More Cup of Coffee" would occasionally pop up on the Never Ending Tour, though he hasn't touched it since 2009.
When Bob Dylan played "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" on his 1994 MTV Unplugged special, it's easy to imagine many young viewers having the same thought: "Who is this old guy covering Guns N' Roses?" The group has been playing it live since 1987, and they recorded it in 1991 for Use Your Illusion. It became a big hit on radio and MTV, and it convinced many people that the lines "hey, hey, hey hey yeah" are part of the song. They aren't. That's just Axl's little touch. It remains a part of the Guns N' Roses live show, though Dylan himself hasn't played it since 2003.
In January of 1965, Bob Dylan stepped into a Columbia studio in New York and recorded his first electric songs as part of the Bringing It All Back Home sessions. That very month, the Byrds entered a Columbia studio in Los Angeles and recorded an electric cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man." The song hadn't been officially released yet, but the Byrds got their hands on an acetate and knew it would be perfect for their debut record. It became an enormous hit, launching both the career of the Byrds and the entire folk rock movement. That summer, Dylan plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival, and the success of the Byrds' cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man" surely gave him the confidence to pull off such a daring move.
The first time that Bob Dylan heard Jimi Hendrix's rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," he was blown away. "It overwhelmed me, really," he said in 1995. "He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day." Hendrix's version hit Number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the biggest hit of his career. "Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it's a tribute to him in some kind of way," Dylan said in 1985.