Dylan cover of the day No 7: Ballad for a Friend

If you have been on Untold Dylan for more than a couple of minutes there is a chance you’ll have come across me raving over “Ballad for a Friend” recorded when Bob was 21.  I won’t repeat the whole review here, but if you feel like a read it is here.

The point is that I rate it as one of the all-time greatest Dylan songs, for reasons that I very ramblingly explain (or not) in my review.

And as with so many songs that I rate as utterly extraordinary in the Dylan collection, this one has been ignored by one and all, even to the point of no one doing a cover version that I can find… except one.

Now I think the performers and arranger here totally miss the entire point of the song, the numbed desperation and sadness of a young man experiencing the death of a friend.  But I’m including this, plus yet again, Dylan’s original (in case you’ve never heard it or want to hear it again) just to make the contrast and point out that merely doing a Dylan cover isn’t enough.

You need to understand the music too.  Dylan first:

and now the cover…


  1. Often mistakenly said to be written by Dylan, the traditional song “He Was A Friend Of Mine”, sung bt Dylan, speaks of a friend who ‘died on the road’ whereas in Dylan’s “Ballad For A Friend’, a diesel truck runs him down.

    To me the way the lyrics are emoted along with the guitar playing has often led me to confuse the two songs.

    So I question if Ballad qualifies as a ‘masterpiece’ in and of itself.

  2. I find the foot tapping in Ballad annoying though a trained musician may appreciate more than I what Dylan is doing with the chords and so on, but I go with what my ears like – what else can a poor boy do?

  3. On the wonderful TMQ bootleg , Eary Sixities Revisited ,vinyl yet!, Dylan sings both “He Was A Friend” and “Ballad For A Friend” close together.

    Just having re-listened to them, I do notice the difference more in the guitar playing as you mention, but on “He Was” Dylan’s plays the mouth organ…wow… rather than tapping his foot….and boys oh boys…. Tony…

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree….and there’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned!

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