A few weeks ago, I wrote about how hard I found the exercise of choosing my fifty favourite Beatles songs. And as I signalled then, there are/were very few modern artists that present similar challenges.
Bob Dylan is one of them. So I spent some time musing about my top 50 Dylan songs, then went down a rabbit hole. I sort of wasted my precious time looking into the cover versions of just one song: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.
Here’s a collection of some of my favourite cover versions of the song, set into context by the original. This is by no means a comprehensive list, that was never my intention. While there are many songs that have been covered hundreds, sometimes thousands of times, what intrigues me is when there is great variety in the treatment. Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right just happens to be a classic example. By the way, I’ve linked twice in this post to the “official” Bob Dylan site. Worth a visit if you haven’t been there before.
Here’s the original Dylan version. All the way back to 1962/63. All the way back to his time with his first girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, a mentor of sorts, someone who helped make the album cover iconic, not just the album. Sadly Suze passed away a few years ago.
Then here’s Messrs Travers, Stookey and Yarrow (the surnames of Mary, Paul and Peter as in Peter, Paul and Mary) singing the song “live” a few years later. Mesmerising. Completely different treatment.
Soon after Dylan had written the song, PP&M actually helped the song get to prominence by covering it on their incredible album In The Wind. They may even have helped get Dylan himself to prominence by covering Blowin’ In The Wind on that album and even naming the album after that song. It behooves me to include their album version here as well, a faster, more frenetic, staccato approach.
I’ve heard many people swear by John Mayer’s rendition. I hadn’t appreciated it enough to begin with, but over the years it’s grown on me. I was probably biased against him: after all, he was born twenty-five years after the song was written and aired. But I found this 2011 version on the web, and quite liked it.
While wandering around YouTube looking for covers I hadn’t heard (and there were many), this one, by Camille Schorderet, caught my attention. And no, I didn’t include it just to pretend not to be ageist. I actually liked the treatment. Something striking about the juxtaposition of streetwise and hardened lyrics delivered in softly innocent strides.
Staying with the somewhat younger, here’s the Marcus Mumford/Justin Hayward-Young version. They were both born after my first child, so there. There’s something fascinating about hearing the same song sung solo, in duet and as a triplet. With video you sometimes get facial expressions and nuances that help augment the experience too.
Just making sure you don’t think I’ve gone soft and moved away from my Sixties and early Seventies focus, and to get properly this side of the Atlantic — (yes, both Mumford and Hayward-Young are British, but Mumford was actually born in the US) — here’s Davey Graham’s bluesy version.
Venturing a little further north of Davey, time for a little John Martyn. I could listen to John singing the Shipping Forecast, the Weather Forecast or even the football scores. His characteristic alterations of the phrasing makes it an altogether more plaintive lament, and somehow more vulnerable and personal as well.
Still with the small island. Still bluesy, but heavier on the electric. Here’s one of my favourite Slowhand versions.
Now before you start thinking I only listen to male singers, here’s a lovely three-person female version. The Indigo Girls. They had me at Closer to Fine and I’ve not really strayed away. Here they’re with Joan Baez, fittingly. I’ve heard the one they do with Brandi Carlile, which is pretty good, but I prefer this. Again a different tempo, a three-voice monologue if such a thing is possible.
Now for some classic Elvis treatment, a bit bluegrassy but all the way silver-tongued and hip-slinking Presley.
Change of scene. What happens when a prog-rocker who just happens to play a welter of stringed instruments sublimely gets going on a Dylan classic? Here’s Steve of Yes to show you Howe.
Joan Baez was such an incredible influence on Dylan that it wouldn’t be right to leave out her own interpretation of Bob’s classic. So here it is. Unvarnished brilliance. No further comment needed.
Staying with the gentler sex, here’s Melanie. No she’s not singing in a brand new key, but it’s a whole lot slower than most other version. Velvet melancholy.
The late 1960s had some amazing talent in the folk-rock space, and one of my favourites was Jose Feliciano. So here he is giving us his version. I can’t believe he turned 70 a couple of weeks ago.
I guess even fewer people today listen to Maggie Bell and Stone The Crows. If Janis Joplin needed a Glaswegian doppelgänger she wouldn’t have needed to look for long. Here’s a superb Kozmic Blues version from Maggie and band.
There’s always space in my heart for a rocker-turned-crooner version, so here’s Bryan Ferry doing his thing, suitably soft-spoken, embellished with harmonica as needed.
On to Nashville style. Chet Atkins and his ensemble. A different era, yet hauntingly similar to the rest.
Time for a rabbit hole. Here’s Jerry Garcia and friends doing their bit. Don’t Think Twice is at 2:37:16 in the video below. In preparing for this post I found myself listening to the whole tape. Amazing.
Just in case my hippie roots were showing too strongly, back to more modern interpretations. Here’s Metric, well half of Metric anyway, showing how they do it.
For those more inclined to country and western, here’s the nearest I can get to it. Randy Travis.
Finally, here’s the version that made Bob Dylan say “I relinquish it to you”. Rambling’ Jack Elliott. First hear the 1960s version, to give you the baseline. And then make sure you listen to the one below, where you’ll find out why Ramblin’ Jack got his name, amongst other things.
Now you know why I love the music of the 1960s and early 1970s. I could spend all day just listening to one band; or one album; or even one song.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.