A song list to celebrate the music poet’s 80th birthday
Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday kind of sneaked up on me. While as I have noted before my sentiments are mixed about his music, there is no doubt Robert Zimmerman is one of the most significant artists of our time. I feel Dylan’s life has been extensively covered, so instead of putting together yet another biographical write-up, I’d like to celebrate the music poet’s birthday with a list of songs I dig.
It’s hard to believe Dylan has had a close to 60-year recording career. That’s just mind-boggling! I’m generally more drawn to his early work. I will also admit I’m much less familiar with his post mid-’70s catalog. This playlist starts with the first Dylan song I ever heard many moons ago: Blowin’ in the Wind. I still think it’s great. The post wraps up with a tune from his last album Rough and Rowdy Ways, a true late career gem that really surprised me!
Blowin’ in the Wind – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (May 1963)
The Times They Are a-Changin’ – The Times They Are a-Changin’ (January 1964)
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – Bringing It All Back Home (March 1965)
Like a Rolling Stone – Highway 61 Revisited (August 1965)
Just Like a Woman – Blonde on Blonde (June 1966)
Lay Lady Lay – Nashville Skyline (April 1969)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (July 1973)
Tangled Up in Blue – Blood on the Tracks (January 1975)
Hurricane – Desire (January 1976)
Goodbye Jimmy Reed – Rough and Rowdy Ways (June 2020)
The idea of putting together a playlist of great Bob Dylan covers came when I listened to Them and their fantastic version of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue. I have to give credit where credit is due. The impetus to revisit the Northern Irish garage rockers who launched the musical career of Van Morrison came from Max at PowerPop and his post about Them tune Mighty Like a Rose.
With so many artists having covered Dylan tunes, finding examples was very easy. The hard part was to limit the list to ten tracks, even though I deliberately focused on his ’60s albums for all but one track. I just couldn’t help it – Dylan’s early phase is the one I know and like the best!
Stevie Wonder/Blowin’ in the Wind
Kicking off this playlist is the great Stevie Wonder who included Blowin’ in the Wind on his studio album Up-Tight released in May 1966. His cover also came out separately as a single, yielding a No. 9 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Originally, Dylan recorded the track for his second studio album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. I love how Wonder took a folk song and turned it into a beautiful soul tune.
Leon Russell/It’s a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall
When Leon Russell covers a tune, you just know you gonna get something great. It’s a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall was included on his sophomore solo album Leon Russell and the Shelter People that came out in May 1971. The tune is another track from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.
Tracy Chapman/The Times They Are a-Changin’
Tracy Chapman’s version of the title track from Dylan’s third studio album The Times They Are a-Changin’ is one of my favorite renditions in this playlist. This is from a special concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden that took place on October 16, 1992 to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary as a recording artist. It was captured on a live double album appropriately titled The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration and released in August 1993. Dylan’s original recording first appeared in January 1964.
Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash/It Ain’t Me, Babe
I simply couldn’t leave out The Man in Black from this collection. Here’s Johnny Cash’s version of It Ain’t Me, Babe featuring June Carter Cash. It was included on The Essential Johnny Cash, a compilation that appeared in February 2002 to commemorate Cash’s 70th birthday. The original was part of Another Side of Bob Dylan, his fourth studio album from August 1964.
The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man
Not many other things get me as excited as the beautiful jingle-jangle sound of a Rickenbacker electric guitar. I also couldn’t think of anyone better in this context than Roger McGuinn and The Byrds who covered various Dylan tunes. My favorite remains Mr. Tambourine Man, their first single released in April 1965. The tune also was the title track of their debut album that came out in June of the same year. Dylan’s original was included on Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth studio album from March 1965.
Them/It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Now on to the tune that trigged the idea for the entire list. Them’s rendition of It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue has to be one of the best Dylan covers of all time. They included it on their second album Them Again from January 1966, the last to feature Van Morrison who subsequently launched a solo career and remains active to this day. Dylan’s original is another track from Bringing It All Back Home.
Mick Ronson & David Bowie/Like a Rolling Stone
Until today, I had never heard of this version of Like a Rolling Stone, which appeared on Mick Ronson’s final solo album Heaven and Hull from May 1994. For this tune, the ex-Spiders From Mars guitarist teamed up with the former band’s frontman David Bowie. What a cool rendition! Dylan first recorded the track for Highway 61 Revisited released in August 1965. The maestro’s sixth studio album remains my favorite.
Joe Cocker/Just Like a Woman
A covers playlist definitely has to feature who perhaps is the ultimate master of the cover: Joe Cocker. His take of Just Like a Woman was included on his debut With a Little Help From My from My Friends released in May 1969. That album’s title track may well be the ultimate rock cover. As for Dylan, he first recorded the tune for his seventh studio album Blonde on Blonde from June 1966.
Jimi Hendrix/All Along the Watchtower
This next tune was another must to feature. Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower, which appeared on Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, just is absolutely killer! No disrespect to Bob Dylan, who after all penned the song, but after listening to Hendrix, one could be forgiven to forget about the original. Admittedly, I had known this cover for many years before I first heard Dylan’s rendition, which he included on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding released in December 1967.
Indigo Girls/Tangled Up in Blue
I’d like to wrap things up with a beautiful cover of one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, Tangled Up in Blue. It first appeared on his 15th studio album Blood on the Tracks from January 1975. In October 1995, Atlanta folk rock duo Indigo Girls released a live album titled 1200 Curfews, which features this incredible eight-minute version of the Dylan gem.
Today, my recurring music history feature is hitting a bit of a milestone with the 50th installment. While 50 sounds like an impressive number, it means I still have 315 dates left to cover! The music nerd in me tells me that’s actually not a bad thing! Plus, it turns out there’s lots of fodder for March 22, so let’s get to it.
1963:Please Please Me, the debut studio album by The Beatles, appeared in the UK. According to The Beatles Bible, the record was rush-released to capitalize on the success of the singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me. Both singles were on the album, along with their b-sides P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, respectively. The remaining 10 tracks were recorded during a marathon session on February 11, 1963, which lasted just under 10 hours. The other fun fact about the record is that George Martin initially had planned to call it Off The Beatle Track – kind of clever, though he obviously abandoned the idea. Naming it after a successful single probably was also part of the plan to maximize sales. As was common on the early Beatles albums, Please Please Me featured various covers. Here’s one of my favorites: Twist and Shout, co-written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and first recorded by U.S. R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961.
1965:Robert Allen Zimmerman, the genius known as Bob Dylan, released his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. It marked his first top 10 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and his second no. 1 studio release in the UK, following The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. Perhaps more significantly, Bringing It All Back Home was also Dylan’s first album to feature recordings with electric instruments; in fact, on the entire A-side, he was backed by an electric band. The b-side was acoustic. Four months later, on July 25, the electric controversy turned into a firestorm with Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Here’s Maggie’s Farm. It was the much faster and more aggressive performance of that song at Newport, which caused most of the controversy there.
1971:John Lennon released his fifth solo single Power to the People in the U.S., 10 days after its debut in the UK. Credited to Lennon and Plastic Ono Band, the non-album tune peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Lennon’s second most successful single to date. In the UK, the song climbed to no. 6. It performed best in Norway where it hit no. 3. Power to the People was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios in Berkshire, England as part of sessions that also yielded tunes for Lennon’s second solo album Imagine. “I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing,” Lennon reportedly said. “I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” Quickie or not, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his best tune.
1974: The Eagles dropped their third studio album On the Border. After two country-rock records, the band decided they wanted a more rock-oriented sound. Therefore, most of the album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had previously worked with then-future Eagles member Joe Walsh and The James Gang, among others. It also marked the band’s first record with rock guitarist Don Felder. Here’s Already Gone, featuring Felder on lead guitar and Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single. It’s one of my favorite rockers by the Eagles.
1975:Led Zeppelin hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their sixth studio album Physical Graffiti. The double LP, which includes recordings spanning from January 1970 to February 1974, maintained the top spot for 6 weeks and marked Zeppelin’s fourth no. 1 record in the U.S. The album also topped the charts in the UK and Canada. Viewed as one of the band’s strongest albums, Physical Graffiti was certified 16x Platinum in the U.S. in 2006, which means sales of more than eight million copies – unreal from today’s perspective! Here’s the bombastic Kashmir, co-written by Jon Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It’s one of the most unusual rock songs I know; frankly, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, though over the years, I’ve come to dig it.
1977: Stevie Wonder released Sir Duke, the third single off his 18th studio gem Songs in the Key of Life. Both are long-time favorites in my book. The tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington marked Wonder’s fifth and last no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’70s. It also topped the R&B chart and became a hit internationally, reaching no.1 in Canada and top 10 positions in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. I just love the groove of this tune. The horn work is outstanding – take it away, Stevie!
1980:Pink Floyd scored their only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), where it would stay for four weeks. Given the Roger Waters song, off Floyd’s 11th studio album The Wall, was their most pop-oriented, radio-friendly tune, perhaps that’s not exactly a surprise. It also became a chart-topper in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand. I can confirm firsthand that it was played to death on the radio in Germany. On a lighter note, I also recall a funny incident at a school party when I was in seventh grade. For some reason, which I can’t remember, we had a little get-together in our classroom. When our English and homeroom teacher walked in, the song was blasting out of a boom box. He couldn’t suppress a brief smile before looking serious again. What happens when you think you don’t need no education is now vividly on display among some young people in the U.S. and other countries, who continue to hang out in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as if nothing had happened.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube
While one can argue it’s a bit arbitrary to look back at what happened on a specific date in rock history, oftentimes, I find it interesting what comes up. Plus, I haven’t written about July 24. As in previous installments, this post isn’t meant to be a catch-all. Instead, it’s a selection of events involving artists I like. Here we go:
1964:The Rolling Stones were playing the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England. At some point, a group of folks in the crowed started spitting at the band. After Keith Richards had spotted one of the perpetrators in front of the stage and that guy had ignored his warning to cut it out, he lost it and kicked him in the mouth. Things got out of hand quickly, and angry fans trashed the place. The Blackpool city council didn’t like the riot and banned the Stones from playing at the venue. The ban lasted a remarkable 44 years. Then, in March 2008, as reported by The Independent, Blackpool’s council leader at the time Peter Callow declared, “It’s time to bury the hatchet and extend the hand of friendship. I want to say: ‘Come back, Mick. All is forgiven.'”
1965:The Byrds topped the UK Official Singles Chart with Mr. Tambourine Man, their first and only no. 1 single in the UK. Written by Bob Dylan, the tune was the title track of their studio debut that appeared in June that year. Three months earlier, Dylan had initially released the song as part of his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. The Byrd’s cover is a beautiful example of Roger McGuinn’s signature jingle-jangle Rickenbacker, a guitar sound I never get tired of.
1967: British national daily The Times ran a full-page advertisement declaring “the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” According to The Beatles Bible, it was “signed by 64 of the most prominent members of British society, which called for the legalisation of marijuana.” The signatories included all four members of The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein.
1972:Get It On by T. Rex is at no. 1 on the UK Official Singles Chart, the first of four successive weeks. The British glam rockers recorded the tune for their second studio album Electric Warrior that came out in September 1971. Like all tracks on the album, Get It On was written by guitarist and lead vocalist Marc Bolan. It became the second no. 1 for T. Rex in the UK after Hot Love, a standalone single from February 1971. Retitled Bang A Gong (Get It On) in the U.S., the song peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s most successful chart performance here.
Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, This Day In Rock, The Independent, UK Official Singles Charts, YouTube