This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Some say, and I include Norma, the Assistant Musicologist amongst these, that although Bob Dylan was the finest songwriter in the second half of the 20th century, they'd prefer other musicians performing his songs.
I don't go along with this thesis but I recognise that there are some fine covers of Bob's songs, and even two or three that are superior to his versions. In the interest of cordiality, today's column is devoted to other people performing his songs.
After his motor cycle accident in 1966, Bob retired to Woodstock, New York, to rest and recuperate. Probably not just from the accident but also from the grueling touring schedule on that first tour where he played rock & roll to stunned or delighted audiences (I was in the latter category).
Also, just down the road a bit, was the band that accompanied him on that tour, The Hawks. They later became better known as The Band.
A couple of the group rented a big pink house where they all got together to play music. As is his wont, Bob wrote a bunch of songs (he can't help himself) and they recorded them to distribute to other musicians he thought might like to play them.
This recording eventually became public as the first rock bootleg album, "The Great White Wonder.” It was later released as an official album called "The Basement Tapes.” One of the recipients of the song collection was PETER, PAUL AND MARY.
They had a bit of a hit at the time with the song Too Much of Nothing.
ROD STEWART goes right back to the early days, from Bob's breakthrough album, "The Freewheeling.”
Bob's version of Girl from the North Country was gentle and thoughtful. Rod's is pretty good as well, but it's a bit more rock & roll, or something.
JUDY COLLINS was an early champion of Bob's songs (along with PP&M and Joan Baez).
The song of hers I've selected isn't quite so early. It's from her really interesting album "Whales and Nightingales,” easily her second best album. The song comes from the A.M.'s favorite Bob album "New Morning.” It is Time Passes Slowly.
I couldn't have a column on Bob covers without THE BYRDS being present. They were responsible for one of the two best Bob covers ever.
I'm not going with that one as I've used it before a couple of times. Instead, it's a song that Bob didn't ever release (until all those official "Bootleg" series of albums reared their heads).
The song is Lay Down Your Weary Tune.
NINA SIMONE recorded quite a number of Bob's songs over the years.
That's good for me as I have a choice of what to include (omitting some that others have performed). Actually, it isn't so good as I would have liked to include several so it was a tough choice deciding which one.
In the end I went for Just Like a Woman.
TOM RUSSELL and BARRENCE WHITFIELD made a couple of really good albums together – "Cowboy Mambo" and "Hillbilly Voodoo.”
These were about half covers and half songs that Tom had written. Tom is a fine songwriter and terrific singer and his albums are worth searching out (there are a lot of them).
From the second album I mentioned we have Blind Willie McTell, a song Bob only released on one of his "Bootleg" series of albums although it was originally supposed to be on "Infidels" until Bob decided to omit it.
MADELEINE PEYROUX is welcome in these columns, especially so if the A.M. has any say in the matter.
Madeleine is equally at home at singing songs of Bessie Smith, Patsy Cline, Édith Piaf, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Mercer and Bob Dylan. Of course, it's Bob in whom we're interested today.
This is her interpretation of You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.
I Shall be Released is one of the most recorded of Bob's songs. I wasn't going to include it until I listened to the version by SARAH JANE MORRIS.
I was quite tired of the song but hearing Sarah Jane really pricked up my ears. She is an English jazz, rock and R&B singer, and a songwriter herself. She also appears in plays, particularly of a musical bent, and usually quite challenging roles. Like me, listen with pricked up ears.
MARIA MULDAUR recorded a whole album of Bob's Songs. She's not the only one who has done that.
That album had the song Heart of Mine, also the name of the album, that I think is the best ever cover of one of Bob's songs. I'm not using though, as I've included it several times before. Instead here is On a Night Like This.
I'll end with the song that inspired today's column. Well, the version of the song that I'm including was the inspiration.
Way back in 1969, record producer Lou Adler had the idea of setting Bob's songs in a gospel milieu (as both he and gospel music were big at the time). Lou gathered together the cream of the backup singers and did just that. It goes to show that really fine music can emerge even when produced as a rather cynical exercise.
The album is called "Dylan's Gospel" and was released with The Brothers and Sisters as the performers. Incidentally, many of the singers on the album turned up in the film 20 Feet From Stardom.
In this case we have MERRY CLAYTON singing the lead on a song known variously as Quinn the Eskimo and The Mighty Quinn. Take your pick.
Okay, that last track isn't the end. As a bonus and as this is all about BOB's songs, I thought I had to include the man himself.
Here from a recent album is a rather atypical song from him (if any of his could be called typical). The song is Duquesne Whistle.