D is for Dylan covers

There was a quite peculiar version of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer; I remain convinced to this day that was done in retaliation for a snarky S&G song.


Let’s face it: Bob Dylan didn’t/doesn’t have the prettiest voice in pop music. But his strength as a songwriter, especially early on, allowed listeners to become familiar with his songs through the performances of others.

Joan Baez, as noted previously, was an early advocate and performer of Dylan’s music, as were Peter, Paul, and Mary, who had two Top 10 songs written by Dylan way back in 1963, Blowin’ in the Wind which hit the charts in June and got to #2; and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, charting in September, and ending up at #9.

But it was 1965 that Dylan really broke through, both as a performer and an artist being covered. The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man hit the charts in June 1965, reaching #1. Cher’s All I Really Want to Do started its climb to #15 in July, and It Ain’t Me Babe by the Turtles charted in August, eventually getting to #8. Meanwhile, Dylan had his first hit with Like a Rolling Stone, which started its ascent in July, eventually getting to #2 in September, blocked from the top of the charts by the Beatles’ Help!

Mojo magazine compiled a list of top 10 Dylan covers, while Paste magazine has listed what it considers the 50 Best Bob Dylan Covers of All Time. Meanwhile, Dylan Cover Albums.com boasts 30,000 covers. The podcast Coverville recently offered its fifth Bob Dylan Cover Story in seven years.

Of course, this cover thing can go both ways. Here’s a list of songs covered BY Bob Dylan. While quite a few were from his early career, there were also a bunch from the 1970 double album, Self Portrait. I know this very well because I bought that LP for my high school girlfriend; then we listened to it, not quite as impressed as we had hoped we might be. In particular, there was a quite peculiar version of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer; I remain convinced to this day that was done in retaliation for a snarky S&G song called A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission), in which Simon parodies Dylan; “Albert” in the song is almost certainly Dylan’s manager at the time, Albert Grossman.

Bob Dylan Covers Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (but doesn’t almost everyone?)

ABC Wednesday – Round 8

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

40 thoughts on “D is for Dylan covers”

  1. I’m not sure I ever heard the Boxer sung by Dylan. Can’t access your link either (blocked in my country because of copyright). Paul Simon remains my No 1 favourite since 40 years! but I like Dylan a lot too. While I’ve got all of Simon’s albums I have only got some of Dylan’s though. Among them his 2006 album Modern Times which I really like.

  2. having taught for 25 years I wonder how many children I have introduced to Bob Dylan’s songs with my limited chord knowledge on the guitar. Leaving on a Jetplane was a particular favourite. Still one of my all time favourite sons after a glass of wine when friends are round and I grab my guitar! Yes, they soon depart! lol!

  3. I love the way you give us so much information Roger. I’m afraid I’m a bit nerdy and was never into Dylan. I do know some of his songs ramble through my head now and then but I could never get past his voice.

  4. Love Bob Dylan and his music and what a great post for the D Day! Your posts are always so interesting, Roger, and I always learn something and that is always good! Have a great day!

    Sylvia
    ABC Team

  5. Great post for the D day. I’ve always liked Dylan’s performances (well maybe not always but most of the time) but there are some exceptional performances of his songs by others. One of my favorites is the late Nina Simone’s version of I shall be released.

  6. I wasn’t a Dylan fan, but didn’t know he wrote hit songs for the other stars. I always learn something new each week when I visit.

  7. Thank you, Roger! Learned a lot about the number of singers who covered Dylan songs. I am a dyed-in-the-wool Dylan fan from 1963. Why didn’t I think of doing my favorite popular musician for D-Day?! But glad you did.

  8. Great songwriter and lyricist, the truth of those early songs. I loved his recent Theme Time radio show, music in his blood.

  9. What a great reminder of some wonderful songs…They just don’t write them like that anymore…anyway I can’t undstand most of the lyrics nowadays…Am I dating myself.. Yes. that’s OK.

  10. I was just getting started in this world when Bob Dylan came along. My parents weren’t fans but my brother was and my son is too.

  11. Fascinating! I notice you mention Leonard Cohen, Canada’s Poet Laureate and my late husband’s idol for both his poetry and music. We saw him in Ottawa and thoroughly enjoyed the show – better than listening to the records.

    Leslie
    ABCW Team

  12. Great D post… Dylan in my books is an exceptional poet and songwriter, but never really became a die-hard fan… he doesn’t have a voice to move me. I agree that is an unusual version of The Boxer.

  13. Thank you for an interesting post, Roger. I don’t know much about Bob Dylan or his music. I thought he was a protest singer. In that case he must be good.
    I like “Blowing in the Wind” .

  14. Love it. I am a huge Dylan fan.

    My thoughts are with you and yours regarding the passing of your mother. Always a reminder to make each interaction, each visit count while the people one loves are still around.

  15. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was one of the many songs that I learned to play the ukulele on.
    Dylan has to be one of the music icons from our era, for sure.

  16. Perfect choice for today. Agreed, bad voice, priceless songs from my past and always when passing thru Hibbing to get to the Boundary Waters in northern MN I shake my head in wonder.
    p.s. Your mother’s passing and the notes on her service were touching…thanks for sharing.

  17. A note on Dylan’s version of the Boxer: From what I’ve heard, this was recorded at the same time as Nashville Skyline which is considered by some Dylan’s best vocal album. Some call it his “sweet” voice (lay lady lay). When recording the Boxer, he multitracked his sweet voice with his raspy voice and couldn’t decide which he liked better, so he kept them both. I always wondered who he dueted with!

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