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Top 11 Covers of Bob Dylan Songs
“If I wasn’t Bob Dylan, I’d probably think that Bob Dylan has a lot of answers myself.”
— Bob Dylan
- “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by the Wonder Who?
Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” was written for girlfriend Suze Rotolo, who had left him to take an extended trip to Italy. The song was released on 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, which shows the singer and Rotolo on the album cover.
In 1965, the Four Seasons found themselves with “Let’s Hang On” high on the charts with “Working My Way Back to You” scheduled for release. When Philips Records refused to release the Seasons’ entertaining take on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” under the group’s name, the song was credited to the Wonder Who?
Despite his exaggerated falsetto, most fans recognized Frankie Valli’s lead vocals.
Four Seasons’ producer Bob Gaudio told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he met Dylan in 1990. “I was introduced to him by Neil Diamond when we were recording The Jazz Singer. I apologized for our Wonder Who, extremely playful version of his not-so-playful ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’ He replied: ‘I wasn’t sure the first time I heard it that it was my song.’
The Wonder Who? version
- “Girl from the North Country” by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash
Dylan also recorded “Girl from the North Country” for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Dylan wrote the song in London in 1962, where he met folk singer Martin Carthy. Among other traditional ballads, Carthy shared “Scarborough Fair,” which Dylan incorporated into “Girl from the North Country.”
The Freewheelin’ album was a favorite of Johnny Cash; it prompted the country singer to write Dylan a fan letter on its release. The two struck up a friendship at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival. In 1969, Dylan and Cash recorded “Girl from the North Country,” which was released on Dylan’s Nashville Skyline LP in 1969.
Dylan + Cash version
“Girl from the North Country” by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash
- “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” by Judy Collins
Dylan recorded “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” one of his best scorched-earth breakup songs, for 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home. In the notes of the Biograph box set, Dylan explains the song’s inspiration. “I had carried that song around in my head for a long time and I remember that when I was writing it, I’d remembered a Gene Vincent song. It had always been one of my favorites, ‘Baby Blue’ … ‘When first I met my baby, she said how do you do, she looked into my eyes and said my name is Baby Blue.’ It was one of the songs I used to sing back in high school. Of course, I was singing about a different Baby Blue.”
Dylan performed the song with an acoustic guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival after his electric set was poorly received. That performance led many to believe the song was a kiss-off to the folk music audience. Judy Collins sang her version on her 1993 Judy Sings Dylan … Just Like a Woman LP.
Judy Collins version
- “Maggie’s Farm” by Richie Havens
Like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Maggie’s Farm” was included on Bringing It All Back Home and performed at the Newport Folk Festival. The difference is that at Newport, “Maggie’s Farm” was part of Dylan’s electric set, and featured guitarist Mike Bloomfield.
Reports differ about how angry the folk crowd was about Dylan’s electrified debut. “There are reports of me being anti-him going electric at the ’65 Newport Folk festival, but that’s wrong,” said folk icon Pete Seeger in the documentary No Direction Home.
“I was the MC that night. He was singing ‘Maggie’s Farm’ and you couldn’t understand a word because the mic was distorting his voice. I ran to the mixing desk and said, ‘Fix the sound, it’s terrible!’ The guy said, ‘No, this is what the young people want.’ And I did say that if I had an axe, I’d cut the cable! But I wanted to hear the words. I didn’t mind him going electric.”
Richie Havens performed many Dylan compositions, including “Just Like a Woman,” “All Along the Watchtower,” and “Lay Lady Lay.” Havens recorded “Maggie’s Farm” for his 1968 LP Something Else Again.
Richie Havens version
- “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Harry Nilsson
Dylan’s 1963 Bringing It All Back Home LP served as a bridge between folk and rock music. Its first side signaled his new direction into rock and included what would become his first charting single, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Its title is a nod to beat author Jack Kerouac, whose novel, The Subterraneans, was published in 1958.
The song’s iconic video was filmed during Dylan’s 1965 tour of England by director D.A. Pennebaker for his documentary Don’t Look Back. Donovan and Joan Baez helped write the cue cards for the one-take segment, which was filmed in the alley behind London’s Savoy Hotel. Poet Allan Ginsberg and songwriter Bob Neuwirth are seen talking on the side.
Harry Nilsson’s take, produced by John Lennon during his “Lost Weekend” period, was released on the 1974 Pussy Cats album.
Harry Nilsson version
- “If Not for You” by George Harrison
On May 1, 1970 George Harrison joined Bob Dylan in a session where they recorded songs that included Dylan’s “Gates of Eden” and “Song to Woody” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” The results were not considered good enough to release. One of Dylan’s songs recorded that day, “If Not for You,” would again be recorded by Dylan on Aug. 12, 1970.
Dylan’s version would open his 1970 New Morning LP. In November 1970, George Harrison released All Things Must Pass, a triple album that included Harrison’s take on the song. Olivia Newton-John’s version became a hit single in 1971.
George Harrison version
- “I Shall Be Released” by The Band
Bob Dylan was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in 1966. While he withdrew from public scrutiny to recuperate in Woodstock, he worked on new songs with the musicians who would become The Band. “We started doing this stuff with Bob during the day and then in the evening we would work on our stuff,” guitarist Robbie Robertson told Uproxx. “And it was just such a great feeling of freedom, a musical freedom. We thought nobody will ever hear these.
“And out of that comes this tremendous freedom of what The Basement Tapes were. And we had no idea that this was going to end up going out into the world and people would hear this.”
The Basement Tapes, released by Dylan in 1975, included an early version of “I Shall Be Released.” The Band recorded the song for their 1968 debut LP, Music From Big Pink, with Richard Manuel providing lead vocals. Dylan would re-record the song in 1971 with a new arrangement and lyrics for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II.
The Band version
- “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by the Byrds
Like “I Shall Be Released,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere was recorded by Dylan during his Woodstock hiatus. Columbia Records sent a demo of the song to the Byrds, who released it as a single in 1968.
Roger McGuinn admits that when the Byrds recorded the song during their Sweetheart of the Rodeo sessions in Nashville, he made a critical mistake with Dylan’s lyrics. “When it comes to Bob, he doesn’t like you to mess with his lyrics,” McGuinn told SNJ Today. “I got it wrong with ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere.’ I sang ‘pack up your money and pick up your tent’ and he had written ‘pick up your money and pack up your tent.'”
When Dylan re-recorded the song for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II, he chided the Byrds’ singer with the lyric, “Pack up your money, pull up your tent, McGuinn.”
The Byrds version
- “The Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann
Like the Byrds, Manfred Mann enjoyed chart success with covers of Dylan’s songs. The band’s “The Mighty Quinn” was a Top 10 hit in 1968. Dylan would not release his version, titled “Quinn the Eskimo,” until 1970’s Self Portrait album. Manfred Mann lead singer Mike D’Abo told author Jon Kutner how the band discovered the song.
“We met in a publisher’s office as Bob Dylan was making some new material available to other artists. We heard about ten songs and I thought ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’ would be the one to do, but Manfred liked ‘Quinn the Eskimo.’ It was sung in a rambling monotone but Manfred had recognized its potential.
“If nothing else, Manfred was a brilliant arranger and very good at extracting the meat from a song. He sold me on the idea of doing this song, but I had to make up some of the words as I couldn’t make out everything he was saying. It was like learning a song phonetically in a foreign language. I have never had the first idea what the song is about, except that it seems to be ‘Hey, gang; gather ’round, something exciting is going to happen ’cause the big man’s coming.’ As to who the big man is and why he is an Eskimo, I don’t know.”
Manfred Mann version
- “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” was included on Dylan’s 1966 Blonde on Blonde LP. The line “Everybody must get stoned” made it controversial; branded a “drug song,” it was banned by some radio stations. The single still reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart.
“Rainy Day Women” was recorded in Nashville with producer Bob Johnston. Keyboardist Al Kooper, who played tambourine, described the session in his book Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards. “Dylan was teaching us ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’ one night when Johnston suggested it would sound great with a brass band, Salvation Army style. Dylan thought it over and said it might work. But where would we get horn players at this hour?
“‘Not to worry,’ said [trumpeter] Charlie McCoy and grabbed the phone. It was 4:30 a.m. when he made this call. Now I am not exaggerating when I say that at 5:00 a.m. in walks Charlie’s friend, a trombone player. He was clean-shaven, wearing a dark suit and tie, wide awake, and eager to please … and … he was a helluva trombone player. He sat down and learned the song, Charlie played trumpet with him, they cut three takes, and at 5:30 a.m. he was out the door and gone.”
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers recorded the song for Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.
Tom Petty version
- “All Along the Watchtower” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix first heard Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” months before it was released on the 1967 LP John Wesley Harding. Hendrix, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell began recording in January 1968 at London’s Olympic Studios with Traffic’s Dave Mason and Brian Jones of the Stones. Redding, unhappy with the session, left and Mason took over on bass. Eventually finished in New York, the song was released on 1968’s Electric Ladyland.
Hendrix’s version was a departure from Dylan’s acoustic original. In a 1967 interview, Hendrix said of Dylan, “I could never write the kind of words he does. But he’s helped me out in trying to write about two or three words ’cause I got a thousand songs that will never be finished. I just lie around and write about two or three words, but now I have a little more confidence in trying to finish one.”
Jimi Hendrix Experience version
July 22, 2021