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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


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.