Bob Dylan is an institution. He transcends the plain of mere recording artist. Today, the words Bob Dylan evoke tenets of religion more so than fandom; there is not a lot to be said about him that hasn’t already been said. His genius is undisputed, and his legacy continues to be fortified. Perhaps the greatest testament to Dylan’s colossal contribution to music is the volume in which his songs have been recorded by other artists. As one of the most influential songwriters in the history of music, his tunes have been continuously covered since he arrived on the scene over 60 years ago. Some versions have been huge hits, such as with Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds and Adele. Yet some of the best evidence of Dylan’s greatness are the incredible versions that have gone relatively unnoticed. Here are eight Overlooked Bob Dylan Covers.
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” – Elvis Presley (1966)
This heartfelt ballad represents a young Dylan’s take concerning the yearning for love. Written in the early 60s, the song focuses on Bob’s relationship with then girlfriend Suzy Rotolo. The first Dylan version of the song was not officially released until 1971 on his Greatest Hits Vol. II album. It was American folk/blues singer Odetta’s 1965 release of the tune that inspired 31-year-old Elvis Presley to record the song. Presley released it in 1966 on the album “Spinout”. Like almost every other number Elvis covered, he makes it his own. The lyrics were some of the deepest Bob ever wrote but Elvis takes them to another level of emotional depth. Dylan is said to consider “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” by Elvis to be the favorite version of any of his covers.
“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” – Flat and Scruggs (1967)
This tune is yet another example of Dylan’s early genius. “Don’t Think Twice” was written in 1962 and released a year later on the monumental album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”. In 1967, the groundbreaking bluegrass band Flat and Scruggs included “Don’t Think Twice”, along with four additional Dylan numbers, on their album “Changin’ Times”. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs are two of the finest and most important musicians in the history of American music. With Scruggs on banjo and Flatt on mandolin, both in top form, the song takes on a lighter tone accentuated by a beautiful fluidity.
“Meet Me in the Morning” – Freddie King (1975)
Dylan has never been considered a pure bluesman, but he certainly possesses the instincts. “Meet Me in the Morning” is one of the best examples of those instincts. From his classic 1975 album “Blood on the Tracks”, the song tells a bluesman’s classic tale of woe. It is only fitting then that the song was covered by a classic bluesman. Freddie King was a pioneering electric-blues guitarist from Chicago by way of Texas. On his edgy 1975 album, “Larger Than Life”, King gives Dylan’s song the ultimate blues makeover. Along with his fierce vocals, Freddie drenches the tune in a nasty electric guitar vibrato, fervently presenting Dylan as pure blues.
“Lay Lady Lay” – Isaac Hayes (1999)
Dylan reportedly penned this tune to be the theme song for the film “Midnight Cowboy”, but conflicts forced the studio to go another direction. Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” was admirably used instead. Dylan ended up including “Lay Lady Lay” on his groundbreaking 1969 album “Nashville Skyline”. Bob intentionally uses a lower register with a rich vocal to emphasize his artistic evolution. The song itself is an aching, tender tale of love sickness. In 1999 for the album “Tangled Up in Blues”, Isaac Hayes puts his unmistakable imprint on the Dylan standard. The passion and vibe are beautifully intensified by Hayes’ velvety vocals. Where Bob’s original feels like a passionate plea, Isaac’s version takes on the tone of a silky serenade.
“Girl from the North Country” – Rosanne Cash (2009)
In 2009, Roseanne Cash released an album of covers called “The List”. The “list” refers to an inventory of songs recommended to her decades earlier by her father, Johnny. Roseanne explains: “When I was 18, I went on the road with my dad…We started talking about songs, and he mentioned one, and I said I don’t know that one. And he mentioned another. I said, ‘I don’t know that one either, Dad,’ and he became very alarmed…He spent the rest of the afternoon making a list for me, and at the end of the day, he said, ‘This is your education’”. Dylan’s 1963 classic “Girl from the North Country” was one of the songs that made the list. Though Johnny recorded a version with Bob in 1969, Roseanne’s solo effort better encapsulates the spirit of the song. Her dense vocal is wonderfully haunting.
“Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” – Dierks Bentley (2010)
This tune is one of Dylan’s lost gems from the 1970s. Released on the album “Street-Legal”, the multi-layered song deals with themes of pursuit and longing set against biblical imagery of the American west. Reports of the origin have varied through the years. Dylan once claimed the inspiration was actor Harry Dean Stanton. When Dierks Bentley elected to release a bluegrass album in 2010, “Señor” was one of the covers he decided to include. Country star Bentley is joined on the track by bluegrass virtuosos the Punch Brothers and their vocalist Chris Thile. Bentley does not cover the Dylan song; he makes it his own. No doubt influenced by Tim O’Brien’s 1996 cover, the faster tempo gives the number a less ominous feel while accompanied by a breathtaking and beautiful bluegrass arrangement. This is truly the marriage of Dylan and Bluegrass. The result is marital bliss.
“Tangled up in Blue” – The Charlie Daniels Band (2014)
Bob recorded this iconic song in late 1974 and released it on the masterpiece album “Blood on the Tracks”. The content details shifting perspectives of time as related to a romantic relationship and the composition is one of Dylan’s most revered among fellow musicians. Country music legend Charlie Daniels was one of those musicians. It was Bob who gave Charlie his first big break when he used him as a session player on his “Nashville Skyline” album in 1969. In 2014, the Charlie Daniels Band released an album of Dylan covers which included “Tangled up in Blue”. According to Daniels, “the arrangement is different, it kind of rollicks along…It’s also one of my very favorite Bob Dylan tunes. We tried to do it a whole lot different from the way Dylan did it and I think we accomplished that”. CDB’s version is both fantastically original and blisteringly melodic.
“One More Cup of Coffee” – Tom Jones (2021)
From his 1976 album “Desire”, Dylan originally recorded this song as a duet with Emmylou Harris. It’s the story of a visitor to a gypsy camp and the mysterious woman he loves. The legendary Welsh singer Tom Jones included the tune on his 2021 album “Surrounded by Time”. Jones stated, “I’ve always been a big fan of Bob Dylan, so I wanted to do a Dylan song on this album, and I didn’t want to do anything that had been overdone… For me all these years later when I hear the line about going down to the valley below, I don’t just think about the reality of going too far, but also the hangover. I can’t be that person anymore, but I start singing that song, and I’m right back there.” Tom’s version is more deliberate. It features a restrained tempo and to no surprise, a stunning vocal delivery.