The 20 best Bob Dylan cover songs

Published June 27, 2013

Trying to make a definitive list of the greatest Bob Dylan cover songs is a hair-pulling task; it's also a good way to get yourself disinvited from the annual music critics' potluck dinner. After all, Dylan is the most covered solo act ever. What to leave out? But we're all about Bob this week, so why not throw caution to that blowin' wind. (And yes, we really did include Miley Cyrus.)

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20. Dixie Chicks, Mississippi: Dylan originally gave this drifter's escape to his pal Sheryl Crow (who did a nice, if pop-slick, job). But the Chicks' hollerin' Natalie Maines made things personal: "My clothes are wet, tight on my skin / Not as tight as the corner that I painted myself in."

19. Neil Young, Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues: Just for the way Neil whines that hilariously dramatic, but so-cool, opening line: "When you're lost in the rain in Juarez / And it's Easter time too."

18. Miley Cyrus, You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go: First, go find it on YouTube. At least be informed before you bash. Now: I bet you big money Bob himself loves this version, an unfettered, deeply felt outpouring of what, to a young earnest woman, feels like the worst hurt of her life. The pain goes away, but she doesn't know that yet.

17. Johnny Cash & the Avett Brothers, One Too Many Mornings: Considering the duet partners — guys who know a thing or two about feeling low — this breakup lament is surprisingly upbeat compared to the original.

16. Cat Power, Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again: One of several life-affirming cuts on our Top 20 list from the all-world soundtrack to I'm Not There, director Todd Haynes' weirdo 2007 Dylan flick. This one is a rolling road-trip special.

15. Ron Wood, Seven Days: Not officially a Stones cover, but thanks to Mick & Keith's cohort, it sure riffs 'n' rocks like one.

14. Rage Against the Machine, Maggie's Farm: A protest song about protest songs — and a declaration of independence that Rage unloads like buckshot.

13. Counting Crows, You Ain't Goin' Nowhere: Adam Duritz wanted to be the Dylan of his generation. It didn't happen. But this "basement tape" probably still felt pretty darn good to sing.

12. Darius Rucker, Wagon Wheel: A Dylan "demo" fleshed out by Old Crow Medicine Show, this galloping narrative is a current No. 1 hit for two good reasons: It's innately catchy and it's performed by the most soulful voice in modern country music.

11. Edie Brickell, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall: Such a sweet, childlike voice singing such harsh, grownup images. From the Oliver Stone-Tom Cruise flick Born on the Fourth of July.

10. Norah Jones, Forever Young: She performed this weeper at Steve Jobs' memorial service. It's on YouTube. Prepare to sob.

9. Nina Simone, I Shall Be Released: Soul and sex and gospel all in one — hot and holy.

8. Guns N' Roses, Knockin' on Heaven's Door: Axl Rose is a complete loon, but his fatalistic approach to songcraft paid off in swaggering ways for this dirge.

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7. Karen O & the Million Dollar Bashers, Highway 61 Revisited: An absolutely bonkers rendition of an absolutely bonkers song. Is that a kazoo?!

6. Eddie Vedder, Masters of War: No offense to Pearl Jam's epic catalog, but this was the song Vedder was born to sing. A withering, unflinching antiwar statement.

5. The White Stripes, One More Cup of Coffee: Jack and Meg ratchet up the high-plains-drifter vibe. She plods away on drums while he, with his worried vocal and moody guitar, rides through town looking for trouble.

4. The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man: Oh, that tasty '60s jangle.

3. Jimi Hendrix, All Along the Watchtower: Sacrilege at No. 3? Maybe. My email address is below, kids.

2. Jim James & Calexico, Goin' to Acapulco: Definitely not a Dylan "hit," this cover was nevertheless used as the emotional kicker to Haynes' I'm Not There. My Morning Jacket's Jim James provides the bittersweet, unforgettable vocal, all parts syrup and impenetrable loneliness: "It's a wicked life but what the hell / The stars ain't falling down."

1. Garth Brooks, To Make You Feel My Love: Billy Joel, Adele and Kelly Clarkson have all done exceptional takes on this straightforward ballad from 1997's Time Out of Mind, the Grammy winner for Album of the Year. But Bob himself complimented Garth's spare, twilight reading as one of his favorite interpretations of one of his songs. High praise for a sublime vocal.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.