Amusements & Useful Devices from K. A. Wisniewski
Well, I’m officially halfway through my course on Bob Dylan, and a clear, singular reading of Bob Dylan, the artist, is seemingly further away than ever. But perhaps this is the sign of a true artist?
In the previous post on the class, I briefly noted my approach to the class by offering students listening sessions–that is, introducing students to Dylan precursors, influences and contemporaries (leading up to Greenwich Village and, roughly, 1964). This week, we’ll be moving on to two of Dylan’s most quintessential albums, Highway 61 Revisited (1965) and Blonde on Blonde (1966). There’s no going back from here! But there’s so much left to go if we’re going to get to his thirtieth studio album and 1998 Grammy Album of the Year, Time Out of Mind. (And, gosh, did I really save one week for the last twenty years! Oops!?!)
In recent weeks, students who were previously unfamiliar with Dylan’s canon have already spoken up, excitedly, “Oh, I know this song!” This most often came up when playing or mentioning some covers. Most knew Jimi Hendrix’s cover of “All Along the Watchtower” (although we as a class haven’t made it there yet) and the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” (although they couldn’t identify the Byrds as the group performing it). So far, our covers have focused on a very shortlist including Joan Baez; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Odetta. Recently, students have been very vocal in their surprise of how many Dylan songs they actually knew after all, but they often also note that they tend to prefer the covers.
Although I’ve tried to keep these conversations to a minimum, the question that often surfaces at the end of classes is a personal one: “What are your favorite Dylan songs?” and “What are your favorite covers?” Difficult questions! And I thought each might serve as two good blog posts, forcing me to think through each carefully.
Thinking through the second question first, I did a little homework and checked out the Wikipedia entry “List of Artists who have Covered Bob Dylan Songs”. And, surprised and not surprisingly, the list just goes on and on . . . There’s so much I haven’t heard before (and some musicians I’ve honestly never heard of!). The list is too expansive to include here, but do check out the links above. No matter how much of a music fan–or Dylan fan–you are, there’s bound to be a lot of surprises.
I’ve given this a little thought, but, honestly, listening to a few new tracks hasn’t swayed the opinions I had going into the semester. As a way to narrow my selections, I limited my choices to studio recordings (no live covers, which means I’ve left out a couple of Neil Young songs) and, of course, this list fluctuates depending on the mood or day–although Harrison’s “I’d Have You Anytime” is a constant. And I’ve had to leave out so much good music in creating the list, but here it is (it no particular order):
1. George Harrison, “I’d Have You Anytime”
2. Nico, “I’ll Keep It With Mine”
3. The White Stripes, “One More Cup of Coffee”
4. The Band, “When I Paint My Masterpiece”
5. Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”