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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


Jim James & Calexico, “Goin’ to Acapulco” (2007)

Out of all the surreal, WTF moments in Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan film I’m Not There, Jim James singing this Basement Tapes track in Rolling Thunder-era white face is perhaps the wildest. The performance is included in one of Richard Gere’s scenes as Billy the Kid, as an open casket of a woman is propped up and the townspeople gather around to hear James and Calexico. It’s not only James’ best Dylan covers, but arguably one of his greatest vocal performances ever, as booming horns accompany his lines about visiting Rose Marie, who likes to go to big places. A.M.


Television, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (1978)

Television, the original CBGBs garage punks, came up with the idea of turning “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” into a long, brooding guitar warhorse — an idea that a few other bands have tried since then. (Cough, Guns N Roses cough.) Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd crank gunshots out of their Fender Jazzmasters, catching all the morbid outlaw angst of the story, but with an extra dose of NYC urban sleaze. They make it worthy to stand next to their original guitar jams like “Marquee Moon” and “Little Johnny Jewel.” This 1978 live version was a bootleg fave until it surfaced on Television’s posthumous live album The Blow Up. R.S.


Eddie Vedder, “Masters of War” (1993)

Pearl Jam were just starting to break big when Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready were invited to perform at Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. They were sharing the bill with heavyweights like George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty, but their haunting rendition of “Masters of War” early in the night was a clear highlight, especially since the Gulf War was a very recent memory at the time. Pearl Jam brought the song into their live show after the outbreak of the Iraq War over a decade later, but they never quite bested this first rendition. A.G.


Rod Stewart, “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” (1995)

Dylan recorded “Groom’s Still Waiting At the Alter” in 1981, a rollicking apocalyptic blues-rocker that would’ve been good enough to make it on Highway 61 Revisited but was deemed unsuitable for the last of Dylan’s Christian albums, 1981’s Shot of Love. Dylan rectified this odd decision by including the song on subsequent editions of Shot of Love, but since people weren’t exactly running out and gobbling up subsequent editions of Shot of Love, it remained an obscurity. Yet, even if it wasn’t the most likely song for Rod Stewart to record in the early Nineties, he absolutely bodyslams it, with the raw joyful spirit of his finest Seventies moments. J.D. 


The Crust Brothers, “Going to Acapulco” (1998)

In December of 1997, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement and members of the indie-rock band Silkworm got together to play a show in Seattle to benefit the Washington Wilderness Coalition. The crowd was clamoring for Pavement songs. Instead, they got a killer covers set, including “Bitch,” “Tuesday’s Gone” and seven songs from The Basement Tapes. They opened with “Going to Acapulco,” turning a slow, mournful ode to beleaguered escape into a choogled-out guitar banger. When a recording of the show materialized under the title Marquee Mark, it immediately became a bootleg grail, just like The Basement Tapes had been decades earlier. J.D. 


Chrissie Hynde and James Walbourne, “Sweetheart Like You” (2020)

Chrissie Hynde has said that when Bob Dylan surprised the world with the release of “Murder Most Foul” a few weeks into pandemic lockdowns in 2020, “It knocked me sideways.” It helped her realize just how much Dylan’s music has meant to her, so she and Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne set about recording eight Dylan covers to get through the year. One of the best was “Sweetheart Like You,” the easygoing Infidels single, which doubles as a pickup line and a Dylan-esque statement of sympathy for the suffering of women everywhere. Hynde sings it in her typically breathy way, enunciating the words in her distinctive way and making lines like “You could be known as the most beautiful woman/Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal” cut with more pathos than that of the original. K.G.


Lou Reed, “Foot of Pride” (1993)

Leave it to Lou Reed to perform a super obscure 1983 studio outtake at a Bob Dylan tribute concert in front of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden and countless more watching on television. A tiny fraction of the audience probably recognized “Foot of Pride” (which was released on the first edition of the Bootleg Series in 1991), but it’s hard to imagine that Reed cared. The lyrics (“Like the lion tears the flesh off of a man/So can a woman who passes herself off as a male”) seemed custom-made for Reed, and he made it seem like a lost classic from the Velvet Underground catalog. Dylan has never attempted the song live, so this remains the definitive concert version. A.G.


Rosanne Cash, “Girl From the North Country” (2009)

Dylan’s good friend Johnny Cash famously duetted with him on this folk ballad for Nashville Skyline in 1969. Cash also included the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan number on a list of “essential” country songs that he passed along to his daughter Rosanne, and it was one that she chose for her album drawn from those selections, The List. With a lovely fingerpicked guitar and Cash’s pristine voice, the song becomes a tribute to two great artists from a third. K.H.


Joan Osborne, “Man in the Long Black Coat” (1995)

Dylan’s catalog is rife with spooky, ominous parables, and this tale of a woman who leaves her husband to run off with a shadowy stranger — and is never heard from again — is one of his eeriest. “In some kind of weird way, I thought of it as my ‘I Walk the Line,’” he wrote in Chronicles Volume One, “a song I’d always considered to be up there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time.” Dylan’s version on Oh Mercy sounded, in his word, “deserted,” but Osborne’s cover slows the tempo just a bit, making the song even more haunting. Almost as if she’s singing in the voice of the vanished woman herself, Osborne sounds increasingly desperate as the song continues, while the music stays muted, never giving in to her pleas. “She’s gone, she’s gone,” Osborne ad-libs at the end, and you know she is. D.B.


Bettye LaVette, “It Ain’t Me Babe” (2018)

Soul singer Betty LaVette is a peerless song reimaginer, and she puts on yet another master class in interpretation here. In Lavette’s hands, “It Ain’t Me Babe” becomes more vulnerable, bruised, dejected. The original was a highlight on Things Have Changed, her 2018 collection of Dylan covers. “When people ask me, ‘How do you make these songs your own?’ she told Rolling Stone that year. “I tell them it’s so much easier for me to sound like Bettye Lavette than it is for me to sound like Bob Dylan.” J.B.


Gregg Allman, “Going Going Gone” (2017)

Allman made his final album, 2017’s Southern Blood, as he was dying of liver cancer, creating a work similar to the swan-song LPs of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. It’s highlighted by this powerful reading of “Going Going Gone,” a raggedly beautiful intimation of suicide from 1974’s Planet Waves. Allman turns it into an honest, graceful reckoning with his own mortality, gilded with steel guitar and a Southern-soul horn section. When he sings “I’m closing the book on pages and texts/And I don’t really care what happens next,” it’s almost too real to take. J.D.


The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Like a Rolling Stone” (1967)

When Jimi Hendrix stepped onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival, in the summer of 1967, he was a complete unknown in his native land. But an hour later, he was the guitar hero of all guitar heroes. Hendrix capped his triumphant Monterey homecoming gig by telling the crowd, “I’d like to bore you for about six or seven minutes…I wanna do a little thing by Bob Dylan — that’s his grandma over there,” pointing to frizzy-haired bassist Noel Redding. “A little thing called ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Then he turned it into a screaming electric storm, blowing the minds of an audience who’d never heard him before. R.S.


Leon Russell, “Masters of War” (1970)

Leon Rusell’s 1970 cover of “Masters of War” is a mere one minute and 24 seconds long, and he stops it after the first verse, leaving the vast majority of it un-sung. But he made the genius decision to sing it to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was the height of the Vietnam War and many Americans were incredibly disillusioned by the real-life Masters of War calling the shots in that never-ending nightmare. By taking Dylan’s 1963 words and delivering them in this context, he spoke for much of his audience. And even though Dylan never spoke out against the war himself, he gave followers songs like “Masters of War” to use at their discretion. It was never used more effectively than it was here. A.G.


Willie Nelson & Calexico, “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” (2007)

The soundtrack to the trippy 2007 Dylan biopic I’m Not There is packed with amazing covers of famous songs like “All Along The Watchtower,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Maggie’s Farm,” but Willie Nelson and Calexico dug deep into his catalog for the Street Legal tune “Señor (Takes of Yankee Power).” Like many songs from that time, the lyrics make little sense, but Nelson infuses them with incredible gravitas. He has sang many duets with Dylan over the years and they even wrote the song “Heartland” together, but his voice and Dylan’s lyrics have never sounded as majestic together as they do here. A.G.


The Clash, “The Man In Me” (1979)

The mass public didn’t come around to Bob Dylan’s New Morning deep cut “The Man In Me” until the Coen Brothers used it in their 1998 movie The Big Lebowski, but the Clash beat them to it by a good 19 years when they covered it during the London Calling sessions. As heard on the “Vanilla Tapes” taken from the London Calling Legacy Edition, they transform it into a slow reggae tune, and somehow it fits seamlessly onto the same LP as “Death or Glory” and “Lost In The Supermarket.” They never played the song live (or any Bob Dylan song for the matter) and their one-off take was never meant to be heard by the public, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. The Dude must definitely would abide. A.G.


Isaac Hayes, “Lay Lady Lay” (1999)

Was any Dylan song better intended for a make-over by the make-out king of R&B? In the Seventies, Hayes reveled in recasting other people’s songs into extended, sensual, orchestral vamps. For a 1999 album of Dylan covers, Hayes returned to that turf and proved he hadn’t lost any of his moves. “It’s too early to go home … Why don’t you just chill, relax,” he improvs in the intro before amplifying the sexuality of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline song. In Hayes’ rendition, “You can have your cake and eat it too” takes on an all-new meaning. D.B.


Susanna Hoffs & Rainy Day, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (1984)

In 1984, years before he started Mazzy Star, the late great guitarist David Roback did an album called Rainy Day, covering 1960s faves with friends from L.A.’s neo-psychedelic “Paisley Underground” scene. It was hugely influential, turning postpunk kids on to the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield. Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles sang two of the highlights: Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and the Velvets’ “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” (Dylan didn’t release his own version of “I’ll Keep It With Mine” until his 1985 Biograph box.) Most singers who attempt this tune stumble over the quizzical lyrics, but Hoffs just savors the melody with a smile in her voice — the most purely beguiling version ever heard. R.S.


Grateful Dead, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” ( 9/26/72)

The Dead started playing their favorite Dylan tune in their early days, and never stopped. Of all their many Dylan covers, “Baby Blue” was the one they played most often, right up to the year Jerry Garcia died. There’s a fine 1981 performance on Postcards of the Hanging, but their toughest “Baby Blue” comes from their legendary Jersey City run, the night of September 26th, 1972. (The following night was released as Dick’s Picks Volume 11.) Garcia puts on the chill with his voice and guitar, as if he sees all the song’s dire prophecies coming true. R.S.


Siouxsie and the Banshees, “This Wheel’s on Fire ” (1987)

If anyone could translate Dylan into goth, it had to be Siouxsie. The Eighties icon rode this Basement Tapes classic from Big Pink to the Batcave. Siouxsie and the Banshees took pride in reworking Sixties classics for the black-lipstick crowd; they had a U.K. Top Ten hit with the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” one of the few goth hits about enjoying sunshine. On their 1987 album Through The Looking Glass, they covered Iggy (“The Passenger”), the Doors (“You’re Lost Little Girl”), and Dylan. Siouxsie did a trippy performance of “This Wheel’s on Fire” on Top of the Pops, vamping in her purple catsuit, doing an awesome version of the goth cobweb-gathering dance. R.S.


Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, “She Belongs to Me” (1969)

A TV star and teen heartthrob in the 1950s, Ricky Nelson had been trying to move away from his bubblegum image throughout the Sixties, signaling his new phase by dropping the “y” from his first name. By the end of the decade, he hadn’t a hit for a while, but his version of Dylan’s caustically elegiac ballad eased him back into the Top 40 with a strikingly lovely country-rock treatment in step with the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, featuring a steel guitar player borrowed from Buck Owens’ backing band and including future Eagle Randy Meisner on bass. J.D.