10 of the most surprising Bob Dylan covers
bob dylan

Bob Dylan’s latest album Shadows in the Night was released this week to critical acclaim, and it seems that public desire for the septuagenarian is as strong as ever.

The folk-rock icon is currently setting himself up for a UK No.1 album with a selection of what he calls ‘uncovers’, so we’re turning things on their head and looking at the more surprising covers of the American songsmith’s back catalogue.

1. Flogging Molly – The Times They Are A-Changin’

As part of the Chimes of Freedom record, put out in 2012 to celebrate 50 years of Amnesty International, a rabble of indie and alternative artists took on some of the Dylan classics. This version of one of the songwriter’s most famous puts the Flogging Molly signature on this folky ballad. Expect shouting, ‘1-2-3-4’ punk countdowns and Irish-American shouting.

2. Isaac Hayes – Lay Lady Lay

The king of sensual vocals puts his own spin on Dylan’s country-influenced love song. Hayes, best known for the Shaft theme tune and ‘Chocolate Salty Balls’ under the guise of South Park‘s chef, turns the sexual energy dial all the way up to eleven, proving that this cat Hayes is a bad mother…(shut your mouth) but I’m talkin’ about Isaac Hayes (then we can dig it).

3. The Heptones – I Shall Be Released

In the hands of Bob himself, ‘I Shall Be Released’ is a soft ballad number bordering on the George Harrison spectrum. When given to The Heptones, the track becomes a hugely soulful reggae number, heavy on brass and dripping with reverb. The point is often made that Dylan songs can come to life when someone else is singing (controversial we know), and the Rocksteady Heptones take is one example.

4. Nico – I’ll Keep It With Mine

One of the most talented of the ‘Warhol Superstars’, Nico’s deep-toned German vocal delivery has been one of the dividing voices in pop since the ’60s. Her version of this track from Dylan’s lauded Blonde on Blonde was released just a year after the original on her debut album Chelsea Girl.

5. The Specials – Maggie’s Farm

Coventry’s two-tone posterboys were known more for blending punk and ska than taking on folky classics, but ‘Maggie’s Farm’ was a B-side to their single ‘Do Nothing’. There’s something strange but intriguing about hearing Dylan lyrics in a thick West Midlands accent.

6. William Shatner – Mr. Tambourine Man

The zenith of all Bob Dylan covers surely lies in the capable hands of Captain James T. Kirk. William Shatner’s penchant for beat-poet delivery and total disregard for the rules of melody are well known, but perhaps his commitment to taking this 60s pop ballad and making it sound like a terrible acid trip make this one of the finest things ever on record. MR. TAMBOURINE MAN!?

7. Bobby Womack – All Along The Watchtower

Famously sent into outer space and made immortal by the late, great Jimi Hendrix, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ can probably rival ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as one of the most-covered tracks in popular music history. Bobby Womack’s version borrows heavily from the infamous Hendrix cover, but adds a distinct soul-feel and subtracts a good chunk of the lyrics (Womack mumbles his way through a lot of the verses).

8. Ladysmith Black Mambazo (with Dolly Parton) – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

We somehow overlooked this in our list of the most unlikely duets ever. The Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir rose to fame with their appearance on Paul Simon’s seminal Graceland album and their take on one of Dylan’s most famous compositions is pretty beautiful, especially when combined with the vocal might of Dolly Parton.

9. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Wanted Man

A track attributed to both Dylan and Johnny Cash – Nick Cave takes this country ballad and adds much-needed sleaze. The track originally featured on Cash’s San Quentin album but despite the fact that the ‘man in black’ was performing from within a prison, it’s the Bad Seeds version that sounds like it’s being performed by some mad outlaw.

10. Turtle Island Quartet – All Along the Watchtower

If there were prizes for great shirts whilst performing Bob Dylan, then this string quartet would win hands down. This orchestral take on ‘All Along the Watchtower’ shows that despite Dylan often being renowned for his way with words, his musical ability can often be overlooked.

What surprising Dylan covers have we missed? Let us know at @wow247music or on our Facebook page.

Read more:

Are cover versions really the graveyard of musical ambition?
21 songs that made movie scenes great
Bob Dylan performs live for just one fan

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