As we’ve discussed in a previous blog, Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, had him sign a songwriting contract with Witmark Publishing to earn royalties by having his songs covered by others before his own career really took off. He wrote many songs that he never officially released on his own albums until Biograph and The Bootleg Series began. This blog will feature songs that were composed prior to his “going electric”.
One of his earliest creations, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Willie” was “borrowed” from the tune, “Brennan on the Moor”. To be kind we will refer to this as the folk process and not plagiarism, a process Dylan used many times and will be the theme of a future blog. The Clancy Brothers and Robbie O’Connell do the most popular and probably the best version of this song.
“Let Me Die in My Footsteps” is an earlier composition about the threat of nuclear war and one of his first protest songs. It was first covered by Happy Traum under its original title, “I Will Not Go Under the Ground” in September of 1963. It was also included on the Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, and Flint album Lo and Behold. That album from 1972 contained all Dylan songs that at the time hadn’t been released by Dylan himself. Albums of all Dylan covers will also be the subject of a future blog.
“Baby, I’m In the Mood for You” was originally recorded by Dylan in 1962. The first release was by Odetta on Odetta Sings Dylan, which is an album worth seeking out. Dion did a fine full-band electric cover of it on Bronx Blues: The Columbia Recordings 1962-1965. A surprisingly good variation was done by Miley Cyrus on The Jimmy Fallon Show.
April of ’64 brought us the premier of, “Long Ago, Far Away” by The Brothers Four. It’s a straightforward folk version featuring acoustic guitar and their harmony vocals. It too can be found on recordings by Odetta, The Kennedys, and Black Country Three.
American singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon introduced us to “Walkin’ Down The Line” in an arraignment similar to the one Ricky Nelson had a hit with. The Dillards did an excellent bluegrass rendition in ’63 and it’s been covered by dozens of artists including Joan Baez, The Flatlanders, and Pete Seeger with Arlo Guthrie. My personal favorite is by Eilen Jewell. Glen Campbell shows off his picking skills with his mostly instrumental translation on, “The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell”.
Peter, Paul, and Mary shared manager Albert Grossman with Bob Dylan and he encouraged them to record many of his songs, probably because he shared in the songwriting royalties with Dylan. They were the original interpreters of the gospel-tinged, “Quit Your Lowdown Ways”. Another group who often covered Dylan, Manfred Mann, do a terrific guitar-driven installment on their album Nightingales and Bombers. The Hollies decided to release an entire album of Dylan songs, which is one of the reasons Graham Nash quit, which included this song. It has their characteristic 3-part harmonies and contains some tremendous guitar playing by the underrated Tony Hicks.
“Tomorrow is a Long Time” has been recorded by over 70 acts through the years from Elvis to Chrissy Hynde of The Pretenders. We’ll revisit this song in more depth in a later blog and just touch on a few now. Ian and Sylvia were one of the earliest performers to attempt this on their Four Strong Winds album in their typical folky way with their vocals blending beautifully. Rod Stewart, whose album formula was to always include a Dylan Cover, does a great variation on Every Picture Tells a Story. On her album from 1972, Sandy, Sandy Denny sings a lovely adaptation.
“Walls of Red Wing” is another of Dylan’s protest songs that didn’t see the light of day until Joan Baez released it on her all-Dylan album, Any Day Now. This song was additionally done by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott.
Dylan came to prominence and endeared himself to the greater folk community with his protest songs. “Who Killed Davey Moore” is a further example of one that he never released at the time he wrote it. Pete Seeger performed it first, live at his historic 1963 Carnegie Hall concert. French singer Graeme Allwright recorded a cover in 1966 that’s worth a listen.
At the time they dropped Paul Revere’s name and were known simply as The Raiders, they provided an absorbing take of “All Over You”. The McCoy’s (Hang on Sloopy) trying to update their image and appeal to a different audience likewise put down an interesting variation.
Powered by the distinctive sound of Pop Staples guitar, The Staple Singers covered “John Brown” on the album titled Pray On in 1967. Maria Muldaur, who has issued her own album of Dylan tunes, executed a fine version on Yes We Can from 2008.
The melody and many a lyric from the song, “The Leaving of Liverpool” were appropriated for Dylan’s, “Farewell”. He probably first learned this from The Clancy Brothers whom he often crossed paths with in the Greenwich Village folk scene. Dion with the Wanderers does a good turn with this. Judy Collins who often covered Dylan and who later put out an album of only Dylan covers, does a pleasant edition of this too.
A rather obscure Dylan number, “Eternal Circle” about an attempt to connect with an audience member while performing can be found on the aforementioned Lo and Behold by Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, and Flint. It’s also been covered by Mary Lou Lord and The Dylan Project.
“Deliverance Will Come” is a traditional song that Dylan commandeered to compose “Paths of Victory”. Once more Odetta pioneered the release followed by Pete Seeger and Anne Murray, of all people. The Byrds recorded this when they briefly reformed to add some new material to their box set in 1990. It has the vocal sound of the classic era Byrds.
Dylan’s “Only a Hobo” was basically a rewrite of his earlier “Man on the Street”. Rod Stewart does the definitive track on his album Gasoline Alley.
There are over two dozen covers of “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”. The Byrds tackled it on Turn! Turn! Turn! In ’65 in their folk-rock style of the time displaying their trademark harmonies. English folk rockers Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span both put their unique spin on this tune. Again this can be heard on Lo and Behold and in addition has been done by Irish singer Mary Black, country-bluegrass artist Tim O’Brien, and left-wing activist Billy Bragg who all do credible renditions.
“Percy’s Song” is another of Dylan’s “finger-pointing songs” that wasn’t released until Biograph. Fairport Convention, with Sandy Denny taking lead vocals, do a terrific take. Arlo Guthrie, backed by some great players on Washington County, gives a strong interpretation.
“Mama You Been on My Mind” has already been touched upon in the 1965 edition of this blog series but many other recordings have been done in the years since. Early in Linda Ronstadt’s recording career, she did a gender-altered rendering that hints at the greatness that will soon follow her. True to Rob Stewart’s album blueprint, he covers this on Never a Dull Moment and again proves that he’s a gifted interpreter of Dylan’s catalog. Ricky (now Rick) Nelson, Jack Johnson, and Steve Howe from Yes all provide convincing takes. There’s a bootleg floating around of George Harrison attempting this during the Let It Be sessions.
This blog is comprised of songs that were written before Bob “went electric”. This final song, initially done as an acoustic number and performed that way on The Bootleg Series Vol VI- Live in 1964, has the feel of a rock song and you can hear a little of the Beatles influence in it. He did attempt a full band version of it on the sessions for Bringing it All Back Home.
In the twisted Warren Zevon universe, it made perfect sense for him to cover “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” while he was dying but he was such a gifted songwriter himself he didn’t need to perform many covers to fill an album. This is why it’s surprising to hear him early in his career as half the duo Lyme and Cybelle record ”If You Gotta Go, Go Now”. Manfred Mann had a big hit with this in the UK. It’s been done by artists as varied as Mae West (yes, that Mae West), Rick Nelson, The Cowboy Junkies, and The Flying Burrito Brothers. My favorite 2 readings are Fairport Convention’s French language take, retitled “Si Tu Dois Partir” and Cadillac Moon’s inventive presentation from Bob Dylan Uncovered.
Stay tuned for more Bob Dylan uncovered blogs.