Uncovering Dylan – “Blowin’ in The Wind”
Welcome to our first blog! Back in 2006, my partner, Tom, and I started Paradiddle Records and released our first CD of Bob Dylan cover songs called Bob Dylan Uncovered. The idea behind the title was for artists to find unique interpretations of Dylan’s songs, no straight covers, to “uncover” new ways to present his music. Since then, we have released two more volumes of Dylan Uncovered, and we are working on volume 4.
In releasing the first volume, we discovered that we were not unique in our love of Dylan covers. We were introduced to a whole community of people who collected and enjoyed the voluminous Dylan cover songs available.
It seems every month, there are new Dylan covers to enjoy. So, we decided to start this blog focusing strictly on Dylan's cover songs. Each issue will examine Dylan's covers - from new releases to looking back and examining past contributions to this large body of work.
How many Dylan cover songs are there?
There is a Wikipedia site that includes more than 1,500 covers by 600 musicians covering 300 unique songs. http://bit.ly/3IxDKZN
Expecting Rain, a website devoted to Dylan covers, lists 85 albums dedicated to Dylan covers, but stopped updating them in 2010. We compiled a list using various sources – our own list, Expecting Rain, Wikipedia,A Wikipedia site, and Porfirio Bolero and came up with 333 albums. Additionally, our song list has over 12,000 entries-that's a lot of covers to listen to! Who knows how many more have come out since then?
If you go to Spotify to the playlist curated by The Digital DJ, you’ll find over 6300 unique Dylan covers.
It’s hard to say how many there really are.
According to Secondhand Songs, the most covered Dylan song is “Blowin’ in The Wind”. At least 375 different artists have recorded the song. That’s a lot of artists, and it’s probably a lot more than that. We have compiled a list of 395 American versions with an additional 86 foreign covers.
Dylan claims it took him 10 minutes to write.
Dylan played an early version of the song for Gil Turner in the basement of Gerdes Folk City. Turner’s band, The New World Singers, (Gil Turner on vocals, banjo; Bob Cohen on vocals, guitar; Delores Dixon on vocals; Happy Traum on vocals, guitar) played it on stage right after Dylan showed it to them. They were the first to perform the song.
Broadside published the song in the May 1962 issue.
The Chad Mitchell Trio were the first to record a version of “Blowin’ in The Wind”, even before Dylan. They released in it January 1963 on their In Action album, which in September 1963 was retitled, you guessed it, Blowin’ in The Wind. Dylan released it on May 27, 1963, although he first recorded it about a year earlier on July 9, 1962. In 1963, there were 17 different versions of “Blowin’ in The Wind” that were released by various artists, 27 if you count the instrumental and foreign versions.
Bobby Darin recorded "Blowin' in the Wind" on July 30, 1963, for inclusion on his album, Golden Folk Hits. What makes this version interesting is that his backing musicians were Roger McGuinn (who has his own special connection with Dylan covers that will be the subject of a future blog), Glen Campbell, James Burton, and Phil Ochs, all on guitar, and singing harmony. The album came out at the end of 1963.
Peter, Paul & Mary released one of the better-known and probably the most commercially successful versions in June 1963 on their Moving album. This was just three weeks after Dylan released it on Freewheelin’. Supposedly, they recorded it in one take. If that’s true, many people made a lot of money in those two minutes and 57 seconds. It was one of their biggest hit singles, selling 300,000 copies the first week of its release. In August of 1963, it reached number two on the Billboard Pop Charts. It was the fastest-selling single in Warner Brothers' history up to that point (1). Total sales of the single exceeded one million copies and reportedly made Dylan $5,000 from the publishing rights. (2) In 2022 dollars, that’s $44,000. In 1964, they released a 7” single in Germany of “Blowin’ in The Wind” (“Die Antwort weiss ganz allein der Wind”-literal translation “The Wind Alone Knows The Answer”) backed with “Pretty Mary”. They also covered several other Dylan songs over the years.
The song was adopted as an anthem by both the civil rights and anti-war movements. Peter, Paul & Mary performed the most famous live cover version of the song on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963, a few hours before Martin Luther King delivered his `I haHaveve a Dream' speech. https://youtu.be/cuAl5cMTJ7A
Peter Yarrow remembers singing it during the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Other artists to record the song in 1963 included The Kingston Trio, Jackie DeShannon, Marie Laforet, The New Band of Spike Jones, The Staple Singers, Johnny Tillotsin, The Harry Simeone Chorale, Nina & Frederik, Odetta, Jerry Jackson, Jimmy, Wane & Betty and the Travelers. Most of these are straightforward in their interpretation of the song in the folk tradition. Lena Horne did a showtune version. Why? Beats me.
1964 saw 28 versions (including instrumentals and foreign) of “Blowin’ in The Wind” released. Many musical styles were represented,, including contributions by Eddy Arnold and The Needmore Creek Singers, Marianne Faithfull, and The Andrew Oldham Orchestra & Chorus. These are all straightforward in their folk approach.
Sam Cooke also recorded it that year. “When he first heard that song he was so carried away with the message, and the fact that a white boy had written it, that . . . he was almost ashamed not to have written something like that himself.” (3).
In 1965, Marlene Dietrich, with accompaniment directed by Burt Bacharach, tackled the track. She also released the song in Germany.
Other notables that year were Trini Lopez, Cher, Johnny Rivers, The Four Seasons, The Jerry Lewis Singers and Pete Seeger.
In 1966 the song was a top 10 hit once again. This time for the 16-year-old Stevie Wonder. It also went to #1 on the R&B Charts. He released it on his 1966 album Up-Tight. On his follow-up album, Down to Earth, released later the same year, he covered “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
Also, in 1966, Elvis Presley made some recordings at his home in Hollywood that have since been released, including a version of “Blowin’ in The Wind”. Elvis released it in 1997 on Platinum - A Life in Music.
Other 1966 versions were released by Cliff Richard, The New Christy Minstrels, Dionne Warwick, Eddie Albert, and John Davidson. The Dione Warwick version turns the song into an upbeat celebration. The worst version that year might be by The Doddletown Pipers. I won’t include the link to that one to protect your eardrums from harm.
In 1967, Joan Baez finally released her version. 1968 saw only three new versions. In ’69, pop stalwarts The Hollies and Supremes made their contribution. The California Poppy Pickers also did a version, but I can’t figure out why.
The Hollies version had a big impact on the future of their band and the future of Graham Nash. Their Dylan cover record prompted him to leave the band.
In those days,proposed the Hollies propose to record a whole album with Dylan covers. Nash hesitated. Dylan is great, but .that is not the point, and David Crosby did great things with Dylan songs with his Byrds. “But an entire album of Dylan covers? Something about it sounded cheesy.” Eventually he is persuaded by producer Ron Richards, who does believe in it.
“But once we got into the studio, everything went wrong. The guys decided to make Dylan swing. The arrangements whitewashed the songs, giving them a slick, saccharine, Las Vegasy feel. They emasculated them, obliterated their power. We did a version of “Blowin’ In The Wind” that sounded like a Nelson Riddle affair. It was a hatchet job, just awful.
“That was it, as far as I was concerned. No more Dylan. I put my foot down. I was convinced the Hollies had lost their focus. I thought we weren’t getting anywhere and perhaps we needed some time apart.” - Wild Tales by Graham Nash (2013)
The 60’s saw many Jazz greats embrace the song and release instrumental versions. Duke Ellington in ’65 and Saxophonists King Curtis and Lou Donaldson in ’66. Jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff and tenor saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman put out versions in ’67. Shirley Scott, Stanley Turrentine, Don Shirley and Junior Mance closed out the decade with their versions.
In 1992 only two version came out, but they could not be more diametrically opposed in style. Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s electric version on the Weld album contrasted sharply with the version by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir now known as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Other notable contributions to the “Blowin’ in The Wind” covers catalog include a 2007 version by Mountain, replete with a Leslie West guitar solo.
The Persuasions do a wonderful acapella version as only they can (2010). Also, in 2010 a German label, Classic Hits, released an entire CD of just “Blowin’ In The Wind” covers. It was a compilation of several of the versions we have mentioned here.
Scott Hoying, Julia Harriman & Mario Jose do a beautiful version (2016).
Willie Nile succeeds in rocking out “Blowin’ in The Wind” while maintaining the intensity of the message behind the song. 2017 also saw a wonderful version by Kina Grannis.
The McCrary Sisters are an American gospel Quartet from Nashville and do one of my personal favorites versions on their 2010 release Our Journey. It’s a perfect soulful/gospel treatment.
There are so many covers of “Blowin’ in The Wind” I couldn’t possibly talk about all of them. It has been done in every style imaginable -folk, rock, blues, reggae, country, choral, gospel, MOR, Broadway, punk, jazz, orchestral, bluegrass, and lullaby. Instrumental versions in every style are out there. There are good versions and plenty of not so good versions.
We have made a Spotify playlist of many of the songs we talked about in this blog. You can access here: spoti.fi/3kuV5KS
Now I’ve only addressed versions released on album or CD. There are some interesting versions on You Tube as well.
Here a young Springsteen pays homage to Bob with his version of “Blowin’ in The Wind” followed by a nice version of Bad Moon Rising. https://youtu.be/Vm4LoTmsSh8
Here Lea performs it on The Voice Kids 2019 in Germany. Real nice version. https://youtu.be/ksYPR6AV6xw
Carson McKee & Kami Maltz do a very straight version, but they sound great. https://youtu.be/prfapviVEX8
From the movie Forest Gump here’s Jenny Gump performance of “Blowin’ In the Wind”: https://youtu.be/P8GiY6P9r3U
The McCrary Sisters Live https://youtu.be/-mS2uOJbZmg
Bee Gees “Blowin’ in The Wind” - 1963 (The are so young here!) https://youtu.be/duOxS_p6xG8
Neil Young - “Blowin’ in The Wind” (Live at Farm Aid 2013) https://youtu.be/kWURZKtQw9E
This one is amazing-Stevie Wonder and Glen Campbell “Blowin’ in The Wind” 1969 Live. https://youtu.be/t8YazOALrCo
Let’s end with this one - Johnny Cash - Blowin' in the Wind  on David Letterman https://youtu.be/5QhHa9LiTrc
Dylan Live on TV March 1963 – first time he sang it on TV. There is an upright bass and banjo somewhere in. the background. In typical Dylan fashion he just walks off the stage as he’s playing it. https://youtu.be/vWwgrjjIMXA
We could go on and on. I’d love to hear your opinion about the good, the bad and the weird versions of ““Blowin’ in The Wind””. I’m sure I missed some classics and some rare finds. If you’d like or complete list of “Blowin’ In The Wind” covers sendd me an email.
Please email us your comments at email@example.com.
- “Blowin’ In The Wind” Still Asks the Hard Questions 10/21/2000 – Brian Naylor
- “Blowin’ In The Wind”: the immortalization of Bob Dylan 11/19/2018 – Jochem Markhorst
- Dream Boogie: The Triumph or Sam Cooke (2005), Peter Guralnick