51 Great Bob Dylan Covers: A Chronological Guide

I’m a sucker for cover tunes. I’m always curious to hear a fresh new take on a song, almost any song. It’s like a conversation between two artists, a nod, a wink, a genuflection. Sometimes it’s pure fun; other times, disastrous and ill-advised. Since Bob Dylan is my favorite songwriter, I’ve made a small hobby out of listening to cover versions of his songs. Below are some of my favorites.

Note: I’m taking this chronologically, according to the dates in which the original songs were written (not the dates of the cover versions). In some instances I might be wrong, since the origin of some tunes is open to debate. Also, I’m not saying these are the only great versions of Dylan songs; I decided not to make myself too crazy over this, or to make this list go on forever.

One last thing before I lose you to the scroll: If you are interested in Dylan covers, you need to check out this extraordinary data base of songs featured at Dylancover.com.

Tomorrow Is a Long Time, Elvis Presley Honorable mention: Nick Drake, Nickel Creek.

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Blowin’ in the Wind,” Stevie Wonder

Girl from the North Country,” The Lions Honorable Mention: Roseanne Cash, The Eels.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Mavis Staples (from Bonus Disk, “No Direction Home” DVD)

The Times They Are A-Changing,” Keb Mo¬† Honorable Mention: Mason Jennings

When the Ship Comes In,” Arlo Guthrie Honorable Mention: Marcus Carl Franklin.

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Percy’s Song,” Fairport Convention

“Spanish Harlem Incident,” James Mercer (The Shins)

“To Ramona,” The Flying Burrito Brothers

It Ain’t Me Babe,” White Antelope (The Fleet Foxes) Honorable Mention: The Turtles.

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It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” Dave’s True Story

Can’t Leave Her Behind,” Stephen Malkmus & Lee Ranaldo

Like a Rolling Stone,” Drive-By Truckers Honorable Mention: The Creation.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,Nina Simone

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Positively Fourth Street,” Bryan Ferry

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Pledging My Time, Luther Johnson

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” Cat Power

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Absolutely Sweet Marie,” Flamin’ Groovies

I’ll Keep It with Mine,” Marianne Faithful

As I Went Out One Morning,” Mira Billote

All Along the Watchtower,” Jimi Hendrix

Wicked Messenger,” The Black Keys Honorable Mention: The Faces.

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” Norah Jones

To Be Alone with You,” Maria Muldaur

Lay Lady Lay,” Magnet & Gemma Hayes

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You,Ann Peebles

If Not for You,” George Harrison

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Sign on the Window, Jennifer Warnes

When I Paint My Masterpiece,” The Band Honorable Mention: Emmylou Harris

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Goin’ to Acapulco,” Jim James

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” The Byrds

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I”m Not There,” Sonic Youth

Billy,” Los Lobos Honorable Mention: Gillian Welch

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Antony and the Johnsons

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On a Night Like This,” Buckwheat Zydeco Honorable Mention: Los Lobos

Forever Young (A Capella), Audra Mae & Forest Rangers Honorable Mention: Pretenders

You Angel You,” New Riders of the Purple Sage

Tangled Up in Blue,” Jerry Garcia Band Honorable Mention: Vitamin String Band

A Simple Twist of Fate,” Mary Lee’s Corvette

You’re a Big Girl Now,Lloyd Cole Honorable Mention: The Go-Betweens

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” Madeleine Peyroux

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Buckets of Rain,” Neko Case

O Sister,” Andrew Bird

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Changing of the Guards,” Patti Smith

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Senor (Tales of Yankee Power),Willie Nelson with Calexico

“New Pony,” The Dead Weather

I Believe In You,” Sinead O’Connor Honorable Mention: Cat Power

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Pressing On,” John Doe

Every Grain of Sand,Emmylou Harris

Dark Eyes,” Iron & Wine with Calexico

Everything Is Broken, R. L. Burnside

Make You Feel My Love,Adele

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10 comments

  1. hudson says:

    most of these are rubbish.

    immature artists immitate

    mature artists steal
    and good ones take what they steal and turn it into something better or at least differnt

    which these highly payed and famous poofs fail to do

  2. hudson says:

    nina’s great by the way

  3. Mike says:

    The number of artists who cover Dylan is an expression of the power of his songs. However, we all know that nobody sings Dylan like Dylan.

  4. Frank says:

    thank you Mr. Preller for taking the time to share these intrepretations with us. I love it … made my day

  5. Raph says:

    A lot of choices are here to drop artists names and the lists shows the author does not really know the topic. Many of the listed covers are way off from being the best.

    Obviously the author laid his hands on a copy of the “I’m not there” CDs and just plugs all the covers – even if the are mediocre !!!!

    Sure Fairport’s Percy’s song deserves to be here, but what about their cover of I’ll keep it with mine ? Way better than the banality listed by a voice-less Faithfull.

    As far as Hard Rain, nothing compares to Edie Brickel’s version.

    And it goes on and on:

    Just like tom thumb’s blues ? Nina is a great singer, but that was not one of her good performances and surely Neil Young’s far outshines it. Neko case’s buckets of rain, or TEARS to me is a case of not knowing the very nice cover by Bette Middler….

    And where is I shall be released ???? There must be 51 excellent covers of that song, staring with the amazing live cover by Chrissie Hynde at the 30th, and also the excellent, dylanesque version by Tom Rapp/Pearls before swine.

    Arlo’s When theh ship is OK, but his Gates of Eden is way better !!!

    I believe in You by Cat Power clearly erases any other version, but her Memphis blues again is at best ordinary.

    But the worst case is Madeleine Peyroux (an otherwise fine vocalist) destruction of “You’re gonna make me lonesome”, while the outstanding live rendition by Shawn Collins goes unmentionned….

    As many such lists done by journalists in too much of a hurry to do proper research, and concerned by mentionning top artists once: This list is a farce.

  6. jimmy says:

    Thanks for those responses. It’s always gratifying whenever anything you generate — even a list of songs — can get some attention and reaction.

    Thanks to the link from the fabulous “Expecting Rain” site, this post attracted more readers than anything I’ve previously done on this blog. I guess Bob deserves some credit, too. I’m glad to contribute to the conversation, share some favorites, and possibly help somebody find a song they’d enjoy.

    Mike, Frank: Thanks for your comments. Ralph, what can I say? Opinions will vary and, when it comes to personal reactions to art, I don’t believe one can be so dogmatic — or should ever be so shrill. That said: I look forward to checking out the Shawn Collins version of “lonesome,” I haven’t heard it yet.

    I have a soft spot for some of these tunes. The Arlo song, well, that connects to my childhood — my sister owned that record — and I’ve loved it for a long time. Is it the best ever? The top 51 of all time? I can’t go there — and didn’t. This was simply a list of some of my favorites; it’s impossible for anyone to be wrong about that.

    JP

  7. JulianT says:

    Well despite whatever anyone can say about these covers this simply just shows the incredible originality, diversity, versatility and evolution of Dylan’s material throughout his long career. I’m really looking forward to see what else he has in store for us.

  8. Neil Maclean says:

    Have a look on Youtube at Christy Moore doing Hattie Carroll and see what you think

  9. Zehani K says:

    Dear Ralph/Jimmy,

    It’s Shawn Colvin & yes quite remarkable interpretation.
    It’s on her album “Cover Girl – 1994.
    Regards/Kader

  10. Jimmy says:

    Julian — exactly!

    Neil — thanks for the tip, it’s wonderful, and Moore is such a class act. I particularly liked the blend of electric and acoustic; it’s like a stripped-down take on the 1975 Rolling Thunder version. Just grabbed it off iTunes.

    Again, thanks!

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