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The 80 Greatest Dylan Covers of All Time

From Hendrix, Baez, and the Byrds to Cher, Adele, and the Roots, our list of the 80 greatest covers of Bob Dylan’s songs

Photographs in illustration by Bruce Fleming/AP; Yui Mok/PA Wire/AP; H. Thompson/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images;

Jason DeCrow/AP

For Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday we’ve compiled our list of the 80 greatest covers of his songs — a collective gift back to him to say thank you for everything he’s given us. The list has songs recorded by his folk peers nearly 60 years ago, and others from as recently as last year. Getting down to 80 wasn’t easy. As the greatest songwriter of all time, Dylan has inspired thousands of covers of his songs by artists from every corner of music. Our picks include everyone from Hendrix, Baez, and the Byrds to Cher, Adele, and the Roots.

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Dylan loved the ides of other people doing his songs, and it’s amazing how many songs here were recorded many times by other artists before the man himself ever released his own versions; often, they lived whole other lives, evolving and changing over the years, with his idea of the song as only a blueprint. And because there are so many kinds of Dylan songs, there’s a vast array of different kinds of Dylan covers: R&B singers love relaxing into the contours of “Lay Lady Lay”; country singers like his rootsy stuff; indie-rockers key into his sad side; heroic rock singers love scaling the peaks of open-ended classics — like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” or “Like a Rolling Stone” — finding their own way to make new meanings amidst the intersecting, and often contradictory, emotions and ideas that can roil around within one Dylan song. Even weird, tossed-off or straight-up bad Dylan songs can make for great covers.

Upon reading this, true fans will immediately think of their own favorite covers that didn’t make the list. And that’s part of the fun. This story leads in a million directions. The road always ends wherever you’re at right now.

From Rolling Stone US


My Chemical Romance, “Desolation Row” (2009)

For the Watchmen soundtrack, the glam-emo band rip through a slightly truncated rendition of the sprawling Highway 61 Revisited closer in just under three minutes, transforming an apocalyptic string of imagery into a shout-along anthem, with a solo that quotes “The Star-Spangled Banner” like the Sixties are collapsing into a singularity before your ears. If you ever thought you’d figured out what Bob meant, you sure don’t anymore. In a statement to coincide with the release, My Chem frontman Gerard way thanked Dylan, “for letting us cover the song and for not getting really mad at us for hacking out some of the best lyrics ever written.”  K.H.


PJ Harvey, “Highway 61 Revisited” (1993)

The noisy bedlam of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and its quixotic references to the road that stretches between his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota to New Orleans fit in perfectly amid the guitar chaos of PJ Harvey’s breakthrough album, 1993’s Rid of Me. But rather than record a reverent cover of one of Dylan’s most irreverent songs (mercifully, she omitted the original’s irritating slide whistle), Harvey made the tune her own with quiet, almost whispered sections, which sound a bit like a Thirties radio broadcast before they swell into a big, extraverted wave of noise. She adds falsetto harmonies to the Louie the King verse and lets her guitar rumble while wailing the word “highway” in a much more menacing way than even Dylan could have mustered. K.G.


Flatt & Scruggs, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (1967)

The grand old men of bluegrass, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, picked up a new audience with their soundtrack for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. But they didn’t do this song because they wanted to sound modern — they did it because the song already felt like elemental American roots music. They did a few Dylan tunes on their 1969 album Changin’ Times, but “Don’t Think Twice” is the real killer. They rev it up with Scruggs picking his banjo and Flatt on mandolin, singing with the fatalistic humor of elders who already know how it feels to spend a lifetime on that road. R.S.


Nancy Sinatra, “It Ain’t Me Babe” (1966)

Nancy Sinatra became a Sixties pop goddess with her 1966 Number One debut hit, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” She loved nothing more than cutting tough guys down to size, and she stomps her leather boots all over “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” She turns the song into her own feminist kiss-off, brushing off a possessive guy and rejecting all the claims of patriarchy — she shows off what she liked to call “my Nasty Jones persona.” You can tell why Lana Del Rey is so obsessed with Nancy Sinatra — what she does to this song is an act of cultural ultraviolence. R.S.


Fairport Convention, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (1969)

Dylan demoed this lilting, generous ballad for both Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde but shelved it. “Maybe it didn’t sound like a record to me,” he later said. It’s sounded just fine to many others, from Judy Collins to Nico to Dutch indie-rockers Bettie Severt. English folk-rock greats Fairport Convention’s 1969 version has a pastorale grandeur all its own, lifted by the graceful equanimity in Sandy Denny’s astonishingly pretty vocal. You can also hear Fairport’s Richard Thompson do a heartbreaking version of the song with his wife Linda on the tour for their classic 1982 breakup album Shoot Out the Lights. J.D.


Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Wanted Man” (1985)

Nick Cave was busy being born in the Eighties, crawling from the wreckage of his band the Birthday Party and mutating into a poetic goth-punk blues shaman, dressed in black with a heart to match. He did “Wanted Man” on his 1985 album The Firstborn Is Dead, raving with over-the-top outlaw braggadocio, adding a road map’s worth of new lyrics. Dylan wrote it for Johnny Cash, who used it to open his 1969 live album at San Quentin Prison. How did Cash feel about Cave’s version? Fifteen years later, he repaid the compliment by doing Cave’s electric-chair confessional “The Mercy Seat.” R.S. 


Bryan Ferry, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (1973)

The Roxy Music frontman’s first solo album was a collection of covers that subversively mixed serious Sixties rock with Brill Building bubblegum and pre-rock standards, as if “Sympathy for the Devil” and “It’s My Party” were all part of the same continuum. He opened the LP throwing down the gauntlet with a gloriously frivolous remake of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” hotwriting Dylan’s protest folk masterpiece in the vein of Roxy’s art-damaged glam-rock, complete with call and response girl-group backing vocals and silly sound effects — as if Ferry was playing the hits at some sort of apocalyptic sock hop. J.D. 


Joan Baez, “Love Is Just a Four Letter Word” (1968)

From its shifting narrative to its numerous metaphors, this ballad, which Dylan himself has never released, could be the subject of an entire college poetry-of-rock course. Who is the burdened woman at the beginning, who is “the father of your kid,” and what’s the connection between them and the disillusioned-romantic narrator, who realizes that “the holy kiss that’s supposed to last eternity/Blow up in smoke, it’s destiny”? Is he implying that “love” is a curse or just an ordinary term? But the straight-backed sturdiness of the melody is a perfect match for Baez, who was first heard singing a snippet of the tune in Don’t Look Back. The sitar that winds its way through her studio version is a tad cheesy. But when she lets her soprano fly for just one note in each chorus,  she proves to be its ideal interpreter — perhaps because she read her and Dylan’s own relationship into it? Another mystery. D.B. 


The Brothers and Sisters, “The Mighty Quinn” (1969)

A shaky concept that worked out surprisingly well, the Brothers and Sisters was a group assembled by producer Lou Adler for a one-off album of churches up Dylan covers, Dylan’s Gospel. The star of the LP is gospel-soul queen Merry Clayton, who would deliver her landmark backing vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” just a few months later. She wallops her version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and struts her way through the the Mighty Quinn,” a playfully fun-loving moment on a record that was often a little heavy-handed. Her take even surpasses Manfred Mann’s hit 1968 version. J.D. 


Sheryl Crow, “Mississippi” (1998)

Not many artists get to release a Dylan classic before the man himself, but Sheryl Crow gets to count herself among that select group. In fact, Dylan had already recorded “Mississippi” for Time Out of Mind in 1997, but he was unhappy with the production, so he offered it to Crow, who cut a footloose version of it would appear on The Globe Sessions (and influence the Dixie Chicks, who’d regularly perform a version patterned on hers). By the time Dylan released her version on “Love and Theft,” “Mississippi” was practically an oldie. K.H.


Adele, “Make You Feel My Love” (2008)

Dylan was self-consciously writing a modern standard with “To Make You Feel My Love,” his romantic 1997 piano ballad. Billy Joel rushed to cover it before Dylan’s version even came out, on Time Out of Mind. Since then, it’s become one of his most-covered tunes, cut by Neil Diamond, Garth Brooks, Engelbert Humperdinck, even Boy George. But Adele made it her own, with the tenderly vulnerable version on her 2008 debut album, 19. The lyrics “summed up exactly what I was trying to say in my songs,” she said at the time. “It’s weird that my favorite song on my album was a cover, but I couldn’t not put it on there.” R.S.


The Isley Brothers, “Lay Lady Lay” (1971)

This sultry bedroom number was slightly out of character for Dylan, but it was custom-made for Ronald Isley, who would soon be acknowledged as a maestro of getting a ladies to lay. The Isleys tried on a bunch of different styles throughout the Seventies, and for their 1971 album, Givin’ It Back, they covered a series of white folk-rockers, discovering that sweet spot where hippie free love meets R&B seduction. And they stretch it out more than ten minutes, because these guys mean business. K.H.


Cher, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (1969)

The hip audience had soured on Sonny & Cher’s brand of pop by the late Sixties, so in 1969 Cher went to Muscle Shoals in Alabama to introduce some funk and soul into her sound. She also selected some sharper material, including three Dylan songs that were, at the time, fresh and contemporary — all from his recently released Nashville Skyline. This is the most effective of the three, imbuing Dylan’s pledge of fidelity with sexy soul while retaining its country grounding. K.H.


Emma Swift, “Queen Jane Approximately” (2020)

The Australian singer-songwriter’s Dylan covers album Blonde on the Tracks turned out to be healing for us in the pandemic — and Swift herself. “Sad, listless and desperate, I began singing Bob Dylan songs as a way to have something to wake up for,” she said. Swift tackles Dylan classics ranging from “Simple Twist of Fate” to the recent “I Contain Multitudes,” but the opener “Queen Jane Approximately” best displays how she tells these songs from a female perspective. The instrumentation might be delicate, but she navigates through the lyrics with strength and compassion, almost as if she’s ending each line of “Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane” with a polite “please?”  A.M.


Bruce Springsteen, “Chimes of Freedom” (1988)

At the peak of his Eighties stardom, Springsteen signed on to the six-week Amnesty International Tour, accompanying the likes of Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, and Tracy Chapman to raise money and awareness for the human rights organization. You can hear him announce that on the introduction to his rendition of this Another Side of Bob Dylan number, from a four-song live EP recorded in Stockholm. As is Bruce’s wont, he expands the acoustic song to an anthem big enough to fill a sports stadium without sacrificing any of Dylan’s political yearning or poetic vision. K.H.


Them, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1966)

Van Morrison and his Belfast garage-R&B band Them turned “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” into an Irish soul benediction without losing any of the original’s acerbic bite; Morrison delivered Dylan’s lyrics like he was experiencing them in a Blakean reverie. “I did something totally different with that song,” Morrison told Rolling Stone. “My version — I owned it. I didn’t really connect with Dylan as a songwriter. I connected with what he was doing with the songs.” Three decades later, Beck and the Dust Brothers sampled Them’s version beautifully on the Odelay standout “Jack-Ass.” J.D. 


Johnny Cash and June Carter, “It Ain’t Me Babe” (1965)

Johnny Cash said he brought a portable record player on tour with him in the Sixties so he could listen to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan immediately before and after a show. Dylan admired the country star so much that, according to Johnny’s son John Carter Cash, when they finally met “Bob came in the hotel room, jumped up and down on the bed and said, ‘I met Johnny Cash!’ just like a little kid.” Here, with June’s harmonies softening up the chorus and a campfire harmonica a bit less wheezy than Dylan’s, Cash demonstrated how thin a line there was between country and folk — and scored a big hit single in the process. K.H. 


The Byrds, “My Back Pages” (1967)

During the recording of Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan told writer Nat Hentoff that its songs would downplay protest in favor of personal: “There aren’t any finger-pointing songs … you know, pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore – you know, be a spokesman.” That was especially true of “My Back Pages,” which implied he had grown weary of that “spokesman” role and wanted to move on in his work. With its melancholy harmonies and muted jangle, the Byrds’ rendition added a new level of wistfulness to the song – even if David Crosby, who was soon fired from the band, later complained to Rolling Stone, “It was a formula, it was a cop-out … It was, ‘Oh, let’s make “Tambourine Man” again.’ … It was a piece of shit, had all the commitment and life of a four-day-old mackerel.” No wonder the band sounds weary itself. D.B. 


Rod Stewart, “Mama You Been on My Mind” (1972)

Rod the Mod was a self-proclaimed “Man of Constant Sorrow” — but he was also a man of many Dylan tunes. In his early “Maggie May” folkie prime, he could capture a scruffy sadness in these songs that sounded like nobody else. He sang “Mama, You Been on My Mind” on his 1972 album Never a Dull Moment, with wistful accordion, mandolin, stand-up bass, Ron Wood’s pedal steel. It’s one of the loneliest things Rod ever recorded — yet one of the most beautiful. It sounds like a song he might have sung for Maggie May later, wishing he never let her slip away. R.S.


The Staple Singers, “Masters of War” (1966)

Within two years of releasing “Masters of War,” Dylan’s idols, the Staple Singers, were already covering the songwriter’s anti-war meditation as the United States escalated its involvement in Vietnam. The Staple Singers covered many of Dylan’s early material – “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” –but “Masters of War” is perhaps their finest Dylan-covering moment, with Pops Staples delivering a slow-building, tour-de-force vocal performance. J.B. 


The White Stripes, “One More Cup of Coffee” (1999)

Replace Scarlet Rivera’s violin from the original with distorted, bluesy guitar riffs and you get a signature White Stripes makeover. Jack White has covered various Dylan songs throughout his career — from “New Pony” with the Dead Weather to “Love Sick” with the Stripes — but he takes this Desire gypsy dirge to new heights, thanks to his tortured vocals and Meg’s dense drums. The cover appeared on their 1999 debut; five years later, White joined Dylan onstage in Detroit for “Ball and Biscuit” — kicking off a friendship. After venturing down to the valley below, check out the Stripes’ other Desire cover: “Isis.” A.M. 


The 13th Floor Elevators, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1967)

Roky Erickson and his band of drugstore cowboys rolled out of Austin, Texas in the mid-Sixties, pioneers in the brave new world of psychedelic rock. They blew minds from coast to coast with their massively influential version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” the centerpiece of their 1967 classic Easter Everywhere. The Elevators took a totally new approach to the Dylan songbook — instead of reverent folksy imitation, focused on the lyrics, they just cranked up their amps and let the ghosts of electricity howl through their guitars. This doomy power-drone performance rewired how people heard and played Dylan’s music. It’s a fearsome sound — one of his most terrifying songs, in its most terrifying incarnation. R.S.


The Byrds, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (1968)

Dylan had a lot of motivations for recording the Basement Tapes with the Band in 1967 and early 1968, but the primary one was to write songs that other artists could cover. One of the first groups to get their hands on a Basement Tapes song was the Byrds, who used it as the leadoff track on their pioneering 1968 country rock LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo. But Roger McGuinn misheard the lyric “Pick up your money, pack up your tent” as “Pack up your money, pick up your tent.” And when Dylan re-recorded the song for Greatest Hits Volume 2, he sang “Pack up your money, put up your tent, McGuinn/You ain’t goin’ nowhere” as a good-natured dig at his longtime friend. A.G.


Sam Cooke, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1964)

Dylan’s frequently covered protest folk-song changed Cooke’s outlook on music—the soul great’s only frustration was that he wished that a Black artist had written it. Cooke introduced “Blowin’ in the Wind” to his live set upon hearing it, and eventually it spurred him to write his towering civil rights classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” For a taste of the unique spin Cooke put on the song, you can hear an easy-swinging version on Sam Cooke at the Copa. K.H.


George Harrison, “If Not For You” (1970)

To a man, the Beatles idolized Dylan, but it was the Quiet One who ended up getting to know him best. George and Bob formed one of the most iconic rock-star friendships, enduring from their Sixties days strumming together in Woodstock to the Traveling Wilburies. After Harrison’s death in 2001, Dylan did “Something” on his next tour as a tribute, sending it out “to my buddy George.” “If Not For You” was a highlight of George’s 1970 solo classic All Things Must Pass, just a few months after Dylan debuted it on New Morning. Even better, they also sang it as a stunning stripped-down duet, in rehearsals for the Concert for Bangla Desh. R.S.


Guns N’ Roses, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (1991)

GNR started performing Dylan’s classic of Seventies frontier fatalism in 1987, and even released a live version on the 12-inch of “Welcome to the Jungle.” But the five-and-a-half-minute arena rock epic we all know first emerged on the Days of Thunder soundtrack three years later, only to be finessed for inclusion on Lose Your Illusion II. Slash finds his way back to the blues as a horde of multi-tracked Axls wail, groan, and plead around one another. And no one is really sure what’s up with that free-associative answering machine message. K.H. 


Elvis Presley, “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” (1966)

When Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner asked Dylan to name his favorite cover of one of his songs in 1969, he didn’t go with obvious candidates by the likes of the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix or Joan Baez. He instead went with Elvis Presley’s relatively-obscure 1966 take on “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” Dylan wrote the song in 1962 when his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, was studying abroad in Italy and he yearned for her to come home. His version wouldn’t come out until 1971’s Greatest Hits Volume 2, but Odetta covered it in 1965 on her LP Odetta Sings Dylan, which captured the attention of the king. His bare-bones take radiates with the heartbreak that Dylan felt when he wrote the song. “That’s the one recording I treasure the most,” Dylan said. A.G.


The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965)

Bob Dylan’s enrapt encomium upon hearing the Byrds’ 12-string dream-jangle vision of his folk sound — “Wow, man, you can even dance to that!” — remains true to this day. “Mr. Tambourine” took folk-rock to the top of the charts, played a huge role in jumpstarting the L.A. rock scene, and, in Roger McGuinn’s dappled vocals, proved that singing like Bob Dylan might have unlikely commercial potential. When the Byrds first heard a demo of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” they weren’t sure they could use it (David Crosby, for one, thought it was too long). As McGuinn later recalled, “I had an idea of how to save ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ I’d been playing around with some Bach licks on the 12-string and thought, ‘What if I put an intro like this . . . and we change it to a Beatle beat?! It worked! We got a Number One hit and were allowed to record the rest of the album!” Template for reverent rock reimaginings of Dylan had been set.  J.D.


Nina Simone “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (1969)

Though Dylan has a rep in some circles as a cranky fellow, he maintained acquaintances of mutual respect with many of his peers. He first met Simone on the New York folk circuit in the early-Sixties, and she came to cover his material regularly throughout her career. This Highway 61 Revisited song is one of three Dylan numbers she included on her 1969 LP To Love Somebody. Her piano gives it a soft, shuffling rhythm and her vocal is gentle and exploratory—where Dylan rambled across the countryside he sang about, Simone floats. K.H.


The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “All Along the Watchtower” (1968)

From the moment it arrived on John Wesley Harding, the cryptic “All Along the Watchtower” has been analyzed and picked apart. Is its conversation between a “joker” and “thief” (in which “businessmen, they drink they wine” and “the hour is getting late”) metaphorical or apocalyptic? Political or personal? But one thing nearly everyone agreed upon is that Hendrix’s gale-force version of the song, from Electric Ladyland, may be one of the few times Dylan was bested on one of his own tunes. Dylan’s original was taut and acoustic. But from the metallic shard of its opening chords to its howling wah-wah solo, Hendrix’s interpretation truly does sound like the end of the world. Unlike so many others who covered Dylan songs before and since, Hendrix didn’t approach his version with awestruck reverence. Instead, he dismantled and attacked it, adding a sinister quality to its lyrics; even his shrieking notes he elicits from his guitar sound like screaming doomsday voices. As Dylan himself reportedly said to Hendrix, “I don’t know if anyone has done my songs better.” D.B.