First signing with Leeds Publishing and then with Witmark, Bob Dylan would record demos of his songs and the publishers would work to get these songs recorded by others. Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind’” in June of ‘63 hit # 2 on the Billboard charts. Their follow up later that year, “Don’t Think Twice, it’s All Right,” reached # 9. Although this brought initial success to Dylan as a songwriter, it wasn’t until 1965 that cover versions of his songs exploded onto the airwaves.
In April of that year the Byrds released “Mr. Tambourine Man”. It is widely considered to be the first “Folk-rock” hit. Featuring the signature sound of Jim (Roger) McGuinn’s twelve string Rickenbacker, a British invasion beat and their soaring harmonies which typified their early sound, the song became a # 1 hit. They quickly followed that single with Dylan’s “All I Really Want to Do” which peaked at #40. It was “Mr. Tambourine Man” that created the template for others to follow.
What ensued was a rush of acts covering Mr. Dylan in the folk-rock style. The results were mixed, some downright awful, others terrific, and most falling somewhere in between.
For the least interesting of these we will start with the debut album of Dino, Desi and Billy, I’m A Fool. The group consisted of Dean Martin’s son, Dino, Desi Arnez Jr. and some friend named Billy. Only through nepotism could these wimpy, uninspired, and forgettable cover songs have been recorded. The album included the Dylan songs, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “Like A Rolling Stone”, “Chimes of Freedom” and “It Ain’t Me Babe”.
We’ll follow up those with some other lightweight versions by The Seekers. They are the folks who brought us “Georgie Girl” and “I’ll Never Find Another You”. On their album A World of Our Own (1965) they gave us “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” and “The Times They Are a Changin’”. The harmonies are nice and that’s about all.
Barry McGuire’s album Eve of Destruction contained two Dylan tunes, “She Belongs to Me” and “Baby Blue” (shortened from “It’s All Over Now…”). They were both done in the typical folk-rock style of the time with his gravelly voice way upfront in the mix.
Johnny Rivers also recorded “Mr. Tambourine Man” that year in an arraignment too similar to The Byrds to be worth more than one listen.
Duane Eddy Does Bob Dylan was released in November of 1965. It featured seven Dylan penned tracks out of twelve songs on the album. Recast as twangy, reverb drenched instrumental rockers, it really doesn’t work well. Although Dylan can write a strong melody, without lyrics, the songs fall short of the mark.
More interesting is The Associations take on, “One Too Many Mornings”, their first single for Valiant Records. It’s a guitar driven tune more closely aligned with, “Along Comes Mary” than “Windy” and “Cherish” and features their intricate vocal harmonies.
Another popular band who’s first single was a Dylan cover is The Grass Roots. “Mr. Jones” (Ballad of a Thin Man)” stays pretty close to Dylan’s version. Similar to other Dylan covers recorded as singles, it was abridged to fit under the magic 3-minute mark.
The Turtles also launched their career with a Dylan cover single taking the acoustic “It Ain’t Me Babe” and giving it the folk-rock treatment. It reached #8 on the charts and provided the guide for their sound with bouncy upbeat rhythms and lots of harmonies. Their debut album of the same name also included “Like a Rolling Stone” and a very Byrds like “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”.
In what appears to be a trend, Cher kick started her journey to stardom with a folk-rock adaptation of an acoustic song from Another Side of Bob Dylan, “All I Really Want To Do”. It was credited only to Cher, but Sonny produced it and you can hear his annoying vocals throughout. It reached #15 on the charts and is described by Allmusic’s Tim Sendra as “one of the stronger folk pop records of the era”.
And now we venture into the realm of the campy. Late in ’65 The Four Seasons issued an album titled The 4 Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach…Hal David…Bob Dylan. Side one was all Burt & Hal and side two was six covers of Bob Dylan tunes. A single was released under the pseudonym “The Wonder Who” of the song, “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” that went to #12 on the Billboard charts. The story goes that Frankie Valli couldn’t get the vocals quite the way he wanted so he recorded it using a jokey falsetto voice. The best part of the song for me is the other Season’s refrain of, “why babe, why babe”.
The term folk-rock refers to the blend of folk music and rock music. Pioneered by the Byrds, the style was heavily influenced by the British invasion. One of those invasion duos from over the pond, Chad & Jeremy, released the album I Don’t Want to Lose You Baby in late September of 1965. It included two Dylan compositions, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”. While “Don’t Think Twice” with its picked acoustic guitar and harmonica is pleasant, it is too similar to Dylan’s version to be of much interest. Their version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a straight copy of the Byrds.
On Orange Blossom Special by Johnny Cash, he tackles 3 Dylan tunes. He was the first country music star to embrace Dylan as a songwriter. The single from this album was a duet with his soon to be wife, June Carter, “It Ain’t Me Babe”. He sings,” Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” in his classic baritone and for the first time ever we hear, “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind”. This is one of the songs Dylan had done as a demo but wasn’t officially released until 1991’s The Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. Previously unreleased songs will be the subject of another blog soon.
Both Joan Baez and Judy Collins performed gender altered versions of that song that year as well, retitled, “Daddy You’ve Been on My Mind”. It appears on Baez’s album, Farewell, Angelina, along with the title track, it has her renditions of, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” and “One Too Many Mornings”. Judy’s adaptation appears on her 5th album aptly titled, 5th Album. Another unreleased Dylan track at the time , “Tomorrow is A Long Time” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” are also covered.
Country artist Bobby Bare released two albums in ’65 with Dylan covers. The first, Constant Sorrow has his solid takes on, “Don’t Think Twice” and, “Blowin’ in the Wind”. Talk to me Some Sense later that year includes, “It Ain’t Me Babe”
Finally, we’ll look at two more artists that released folk versions from Dylan’s songbook in 1965.
The Chad Mitchell Trio came to prominence during the burgeoning folk revival of the 50’s and 60’s. They recorded, “With God on our Side” using simple acoustic backing with some great three-part harmony.
Odetta, who is often referred to as “the voice of the civil rights movement”, released Odetta Sings Dylan in March of ’65. It was one of the first albums entirely devoted to Dylan interpretations and one of the best. The wonderful instrumentation is just guitar, bass and tambourine and her vocals have a nice bluesy feel. The song selection is of interest having half of the 10 songs not yet released by Dylan. Highlights include the seldom heard, “Long Ago, Far Away” and “Baby I’m in the Mood for You”. Today of course we have tons of CDs dedicated solely to Dylan material which we’ll discuss in later episodes, but this set a high bar for the rest to follow.
Here is a Spotify playlist that has many of the songs we discussed.
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