Happy birthday to Mr. Bob Dylan, who is 69 today and probably never expected to live this long. I'm glad that he did. His work of recent years is as strong as his earliest stuff; I particularly love Time out of Mind.
At the risk of drawing accusations of heresy, however, I will say that Dylan's songs often sound better when other people sing them. He's a unique stylist, but it's an acquired taste. These are my five favorite versions of Bob Dylan songs, as covered by other people. Leave your own recommendations in the comments section.
1. "I Shall Be Released," The Band. Sorry, no other version of this song comes close. Nina Simone's cover is also amazing, but this is the definitive version.
2. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Warren Zevon. Recorded near the end of his life as part of Zevon's last studio album, The Wind, this version rips your heart out and stomps it through a grate. Zevon's plea "Open up, open up" as the song fades is almost too painful to listen to.
3. "Sweetheart Like You," Guy Davis. My favorite song off my second-favorite Dylan album, Infidels (favorite: Blood on the Tracks), covered by a blues master you need to be listening to.
4. Rosanne Cash, "Girl from the North Country." If you have not yet acquired The List, you're missing out. Rosanne Cash covers 13 songs from a list of 100 Essential Country Songs her father gave her when she was 18; John Leventhal's spare, crystal-clear production makes it sound like we're in the studio with her.
5. Bryan Ferry, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall." This particular cover got sold for a television commercial, and while I object to that (and can't even remember the product being advertised), it ensured that many more people heard it, which is no bad thing. It says a lot about Dylan's genius and versatility that his songs can be covered as everything from classic country to post-punk pop.