Selection by Aaron Galbraith, commentary by Tony Attwood
This is our celebration of the best, and the more unusual, cover versions of Dylan’s music. You can find our previous articles here.
You might also enjoy: Over 200 of the greatest cover recordings of Dylan songs (with more to come)
13th Floor Elevators (1967)
Tony: Blimey (as we say in England) I wasn’t expecting this. Apparently this came out in 1967; listening to it without knowing the band or the date I wouldn’t have put it that early.
It seems to be a complete undermining of the essence of the of the song through the accompaniment – and yet now I come to think of it this is not the case because it is a song of goodbye, farewell, get lost, go away. It is just that Dylan treated it in a different manner in his recording, and that’s what I have always associated it with.
But as I think on lines like “strike another match,” yep, some of those comments are pretty cruel and nasty.
However, does this re-interpretation work? Well, obviously yes in the sense that it made me listen to the lyrics in a new way. But as a piece of music I would want to play again, or indeed play to my friends, no. So if any of my friends have got to this page and are thinking “Why have you put this up Tony?” the answer is, it was Aaron’s choice! As indeed most of the rest are – but I’ve come in with one of my own at the end.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band (1972)
My expectation was that we were going to be on safer ground here.
This was released in 1972, and as far as I can work out, it was the 30th new recording of the song. Quite amazing.
It’s much more approachable, and the instrumentation is once more unusual but this time not painful. Enjoyable with a few unexpected chords and a neat coda, but beyond that…. Hmmm…. Yes, I’d leave it playing, and if I was on the dance floor yes I’d have fun doing a modern jive interpretation. But am I going to play it again and suggest it to others?… No, perhaps it hasn’t really stood the test of time.
Link Wray (1979)
The drum roll at the start tells us we are yet again going off in a different direction – and the anger that is completely missing from Dylan’s original musical interpretation but which is in the lyrics, is again found here. Indeed the percussionist is having a great time. But I’m not sure the beautiful melody should be removed quite so much just to allow Link Wray to shout and declaim.
However he is a guitarist and a half and that instrumental break was really worth waiting for. Goodness I wish I could play a 10th as good as that. In fact I was sorry when the vocal verses returned. The change with the vagabond however, is clever and was unexpected. Really worth a listen.
Chocolate Watch Band (1966)
In this case, there’s been a lot of imagination put into how to treat this song and yes this is fine… but it’s not really taking me to that magical “somewhere else” that I somehow seem to demand of music these days. I really didn’t understand why it was necessary to shout out the title line several times at the end. True that is a reflection of what the lyrics say, but I got the impression he was just announcing that the recording was over to the engineer who was by this time hiding on the floor.
Interesting and enjoyable instrumentation, and then for no reason at all the singer shouts. Why? And then he says something after “gun” – I don’t know what. And then…
Well, no I really couldn’t stand it. It’s an effort that in my days as a lecturer (having failed to make it as a musician) I’d have marked down as “trying too hard” adding perhaps “without any good reason”. So no, I couldn’t play it through to the end. If you do, and something good happens after the “high heels” stuff, perhaps you could write in and let us know. That’s where I left it.
Echo & the bunnymen (2000)
A 21st century version, which takes us back a little to the original, which is good in the sense that I couldn’t have stood going any further in the direction Falco was taking us. And the accompaniment (on a synth? not quite sure) is ok but after a while, it is just… there.
Although the mass of recordings of this song has slowed down, they are still continuing, and without Aaron’s permission I’ve had a little search for something that really does give me something new – remembering that I was alive and listening to music when the original came out. So it’s been with me for much of my life.
It was hard going – and normally I am not this picky. But I’ve found one version that really I can listen to all the way through, and indeed play more than once. Sorry to subvert your role Aaron, but this one really is something.
Roddy Hart and Gemma Hayes
To me this does meet our vision within the “Beautiful Obscurity” title for the series. And what makes this work so beautifully are the harmonies. Indeed if I were to put in a complaint is that we don’t have more harmonies. I don’t mind waiting until the end of the first line, and we do get more thereafter, but even so – the harmony singing is what takes this from “worthy of a second listen” right up to “put it on my song list in the car”. And you don’t get higher than that!
Do listen to this. It’s beautiful. Just as was Dylan’s original. This was recorded in 2011. It took 46 years, but it was worth it.
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