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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 3

March 9th, 2017 9 comments

It has taken a while for Volume 3 of the Dylan covers to appear — longer than it took for Dylan to respond to the Nobel Literature committee. As it stands, there will be two more Dylan cover mixes after this.

The fun thing about compilations of Dylan covers is to play off the featured versions against the originals: which one is better than the other? In some cases it’s a difficult exercise because the respective versions have their own merits. How do you compare Dylan with Tina Turner?

But for me the surprise winner in this game is Mike Stanley, who turns one of my least favourite Dylan arrangements (and I know I’ll make many eternal enemies and absolutely no friends for thinking so), Subterranean Homesick Blues, into the great song it is. Stanley’s eponymous 1972 album featured the likes of Joe Walsh, Todd Rundgren, Joe Vitale and Patti Austin, but somehow he failed to make it really big in the mainstream. He is still recording, but is also a popular DJ in Ohio, and appeared as himself on The Drew Carey Show.

Of course, many Dylan songs are so quintessentially Dylan that they cannot be bettered, no matter how good the cover is. Like A Rolling Stone, covered here with imagination by Major Harris, is one such song. Check out the Song Swarm of it; there are many good attempts, but Dylan inhabits the song so much that everything else is just a copy. Frankie Valli doesn’t even try to give Queen Jane Approximately his own voice: he sings it like a Dylan parody.

Dylan recorded Queen Jane Approximately on the same day as Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, which features here in Gordon Lightfoot’s version (a face-off Dylan wins handily). Lightfoot scored a #3 hit with it Canada in 1965, shortly after the song appeared on Highway 61 Revisited. Bob Dylan is a great Lightfoot fan, having once said that when he heard a Lightfoot song, he wished “it would last forever”.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-strummed covers. PW in comments.

1. Randy Crawford – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (1989)
2. Major Harris – Like A Rolling Stone (1969)
3. Freddie King – Meet Me In The Morning (1975)
4. Blood, Sweat & Tears – Down In The Flood (1972)
5. Michael Stanley – Subterranean Homesick Blues (1972)
6. Indigo Girls – Tangled Up In Blue (1995)
7. Townes Van Zandt – Man Gave Names To All The Animals (1992)
8. Chris Whitley – Spanish Harlem Incident (2000)
9. Mary Lou Lord – You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (2002)
10. Cowboy Junkies – If You Gotta Go, Go Now (1992)
11. Moon Martin – Stuck Inside Of Mobile (With The Memphis Blues Again) (1993)
12. George Harrison – If Not For You (1970)
13. The Youngbloods – I Shall Be Released (1972)
14. Waylon Jennings – I Don’t Believe You (1970)
15. The Four Seasons – Queen Jane Approximately (1965)
16. Staple Singers – Masters Of War (1964)
17. Gordon Lightfoot – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (1965)
18. Tina Turner – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (1974)
19. The O’Jays – Emotionally Yours (Gospel Version) (1981)
20. The Angels Of Light – I Pity The Poor Immigrant (2005)

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 2

December 1st, 2016 11 comments

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Only a few weeks after I posted the Any Major Dylan Covers Vol. 1 Mix, the Nobel committee announced the Bobster as this year’s literature laureate. Coincidence? I doubt it. The only logical conclusion we can draw is that the folks at Nobel HQ is Stockholm are keen readers of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart, and that my mix persuaded them to give Dylan the gong. Bob, it seems, does not really want the award, and he is unlikely to thank me for my part in his Nobel Prize award. If only I could please everybody…

Anyhow, the first mix attracted a fair number of comments. Some of them addressed one of the great debates in pop history: is Bob Dylan’s voice an instrument of art or is it a punishing aural assault? It’s the kind of question that provokes internecine warfare even between Dylan fans.

My view? I think Dylan’s voice is, in itself, quite unpleasant. In most other artists, that nasal whine might be considered objectively offensive — even Trump supporters, who enthusiastically embrace the objectively offensive, would find it offensive. His lower register on the country-flavoured albums — on songs like Lay Lady Lay and Just Like A Woman — is more tolerable, but you’d be hard-pressed call it beautiful.

But the tone of his voice, however you perceive it, is not really important. Indeed, one can acquire a taste for it, just as people acquire a taste for things as revolting as tequila, broccoli or mayonnaise. What is important is how Bob Dylan uses that voice. At his best, Dylan doesn’t so much sing his songs as he inhabits them — and that is the mark of a great singer. In so many of his songs, his vocals not only drive the narrative, but they are a character in it.

That works best when Dylan has a stake in the songs he sings. There are very few singers who can spit venom quite as Dylan. In Hurricane, that anger is on the verge of boiling over; but this is not just anger. With his delivery, with the encunciation of single syllables, he also communicates an utter contempt for the system which he is singing about. The effect is devastating; no other singer could do Hurricane to such great effect as Dylan does it. What does it matter that his voice isn’t lovely? Likewise, the menacing derision for the subjects of his contempt which he conveys in his vocals on mean-spirited songs like Positively 4th Street, Ballad of A Thin Man or Like A Rolling Stone hits you in the gut. Not many singers can do that.

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Dylan might have an ugly voice, but he has an extraordinary way of delivery — especially, as I’ve said, when he is invested in the words he is singing (which might explain why few of his covers of other people’s music are particularly outstanding). To be sure, there are also many Dylan songs which are immeasurably improved by cover versions.

One such song is All I Really Want To Do, from Dylan’s 1964 LP Another Side of Bob Dylan. I really like Dylan’s version, especially the idea of a songwriter laughing at his own lyrics. But in The Byrds’ version, a comprehensive reinvention, the song becomes a thing of special beauty. As does the lovely Every Grain Of Sand, which is okay when sung by Dylan, but sublime in Emmylou Harris’ treatment.

And this is the genius of Bob Dylan’s music: as it is with Beatles songs, they can be interpreted and reinvented them to good effect in so many ways. This second collection of Dylan covers testifies to this.

Incidentally, in the first post of Dylan covers I promised three mixes. Clearly, that is not enough. I’m up to five mixes now.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-strummed covers. PW in comments.

1. The Band – When I Paint My Masterpiece (1971)
2. The Byrds – All I Really Want To Do (1965)
3. Simon & Garfunkel – The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1964)
4. Nina Simone – Ballad of Hollis Brown (1965)
5. Sam Cooke – Blowin’ In The Wind (1964)
6. Solomon Burke – Maggie’s Farm (1965)
7. Billy Preston – She Belongs To Me (1969)
8. The Flying Burrito Brothers – To Ramona (1971)
9. The Hollies – I Want You (1969)
10. The Piccadilly Line – Visions Of Johanna (1967)
11. Arlo Guthrie – When The Ship Comes In (1972)
12. New Riders Of The Purple Sage – You Angel You (1974)
13. Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson – Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (2015)
14. John Mellencamp – Farewell, Angelina (1999)
15. Steve Earle & Lucia Micarelli – One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below) (2012)
16. Everly Brothers – Abandoned Love (1985)
17. Thea Gilmore – I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (2003)
18. Jennifer Warnes – Sign On The Window (1979)
19. Leon Russell – It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (1971)
20. Joan Baez – One Too Many Mornings (1968)
21. Caravelli Orchestra – Wigwam (1977)

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Any Major Bob Dylan Covers Vol. 1

September 15th, 2016 20 comments

Any Major Dylan Covers Vol. 1

A few years ago a reader suggested that a mix of cover versions of sings by Bob Dylan might alleviate the discomfort many feel at hearing the great songwriter’s voice. As a fan of cover versions I was keen on the idea. So I created a Dylan covers folder and began collecting. Something like eight years later I’m ready to present a series of Any Major Dylan Covers.

This will be a series of three CD-R length collections — 62 songs plus three bonus tracks. As always, I set myself strict rules: no artist may feature twice, and no song may be repeated — except one, which will end the series.

Since these are supposed to be covers of Dylan songs, he must have released the songs first. That means that those tracks he wrote for others, or which others recorded before he released them, don’t qualify — except two, which I’ll address in a moment. A song like Blowin’ In The Wind might have been recorded first by others (Dylan historians have no consensus on that), but it is so essentially a Dylan song that it can’t be excluded.

Dylan never released Wanted Man before it was first recorded by Johnny Cash on the St Quentin live album. So it isn’t really a cover. But it broke my heart to consider not including a Dylan/Cash hybrid, so — in best Cash fashion — rules be damned. In the spoken intro Cash says he wrote the song with Dylan at the Cash home, but Dylan has the sole writing credit. Anyway, the great list-song writer has his lyrics performed by the great list-song singer.

The first volume kicks off with the best of all Dylan covers: Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower. Hendrix had received a pre-release acetate of Dylan’s recording, and his version was recorded only two months after Dylan’s. From there on it was Jimi’s song. Bob was cool about it. In the liner notes to his Biograph collection, he wrote: “Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way. I liked Hendrix’s record, and ever since he died, I’ve been doing it that way.”

But Dylan has also said that the version of any of his songs he treasures most is Elvis Presley’s 1966 interpretation of Tomorrow Is A Long Time, a song Dylan recorded in 1962 but didn’t release until 1971 as a live track from eight years earlier. So Elvis’ version isn’t really a Dylan cover, but rather of the folk singer Odetta’s recording.

But how great is Kris Kristofferson singing Quinn The Eskimo?

Which brings me to two acts who are notably excluded in this series: Odetta and Peter, Paul & Mary had a great reputation for singing Dylan songs (Odetta, in turn, was something of a mentor to the budding songwriter from Minnesota). Their exclusion was not deliberate: where I had candidate songs by them, there were others which were a better fit.

Mr Tambourine Man is covered here by Johnny Rivers — so I’ll leave you to wonder which Dylan cover by The Byrds will feature in this series? And what will we have Joan Baez singing? And whose version of Blowin’ In The Wind will feature?

The mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-busked covers. PW in comments (you are welcome to leave a message there).

1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – All Along The Watchtower (1968)
2. Merry Clayton – Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (1975)
3. Elvis Presley – Tomorrow Is A Long Time (1966)
4. Johnny Cash – Wanted Man (1969)
5. Hoyt Axton – Lay Lady Lay (1975)
6. Marshall Crenshaw – My Back Pages (1999)
7. Jeff Tweedy – Simple Twist Of Fate (2007)
8. Bruce Springsteen – Chimes Of Freedom (1988)
9. Kris Kristofferson – Quinn The Eskimo (2012)
10. Emmylou Harris – Every Grain Of Sand (1995)
11. The Pretenders – Forever Young (1994)
12. Richie Havens – Just Like A Woman (1968)
13. Them – It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (1966)
14. The Grass Roots – Mr. Jones (Ballad Of A Thin Man) (1966)
15. Johnny Rivers – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
16. The Turtles – It Ain’t Me Babe (1965)
17. Stereophonics – Positively 4th Street (1999)
18. Eels – Girl From The North Country (2006)
19. Lloyd Cole – You’re A Big Girl Now (2001)
20. Josh Kelley – To Make You Feel My Love (2004)
21. Norah Jones – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (2002)
Bonus track: Ani DiFranco – Hurricane (2000)

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