See what I do for you guys? What I’m willing to subject my ears to?
Dylan – Bob Dylan!!
I’ve never really been able to get past the vocals to actually listen intently to a Bob Dylan song, but I have to say I surprised myself by really getting into his song “Positively 4th Street“. The song’s about being betrayed and, as one commenter put it on YouTube, it’s ‘a classy and poetic Fuck You’ song. And they’re right – the lyrics are just perfect and biting, yet the melody of the song easily grabs you, and belies the harshness of the song’s true intent.
Now here’s the kicker – the version I really got into wasn’t actually Dylan! In searching YouTube people can title the vids however they want. I found one, clicked on it and listened. It sounded like Dylan to me, only slightly more understandable. It was only after playing it that I read the description. It was actually a version from a Post Productions tribute album that I got into. Apparently it’s really hard to track down a (good?) Dylan version. I found the one above and I was like “Yeah, okay, there’s the voice; that’s why I don’t listen to Dylan”
The first time I heard any of the song was a bit of it done by Katey Sagal on “Mary“. Those lyrics always stayed with me. Periodically I would think about but never look for it. Finally I googled that little snippet and found out what the song was. I really wish I could find a video or even just an audio clip of her doing the entire song. But, for now, this will have to do. She sounds beautiful.
The cover that Dylan, himself, touts as his favorite was done by Johnny Rivers. I’m a fan of Rivers’ work. It has that Johnny Rivers sound yet it also sounds very folky, and even more melodic and matter of fact than my favorite version from Post Production. Not sure if I’m totally on board for this one, sad to say.
The Byrds do it slightly more up-tempo, yet they sound very Dylanesque. But not so Dylanesque that it makes my ears bleed. This also seems to be the shortest version of the song that I’ve found. They do it live and although not done angrily, somehow, I can hear the bitterness more clearly in this than in any other one that I’ve found. Or maybe that’s just a product of listening to so many versions in a short span of time.
You can hear The Beatles doing some of the song during a video of their “Let It Be” Sessions (at the 0:50 mark). An official version was never released though. This is another one I would have loved to hear a full recording of.
Jerry Garcia, lead singer of The Grateful Dead, and creator of The Jerry Garcia Band, is another example of a musical legend that I’m just not into. His rendition with Merl Saunders grabs me from the first note. It sounds bluesy and the guitar is so masterful. Jerry’s vocal is a bit wistful and just slightly sad. I really enjoyed this one a lot.
Lucinda Williams opens this with more of a country-sounding vibe. It’s not twangy, thank goodness. Though I’m not a fan of her voice, I do like the way it serves to bring out and illustrate the hurt feelings behind the song.
The punk group X sounds a bit taunting in their performance of the tune and they take it back to that “Fuck You” place with their hard guitars and shouty … not so melodic vocals. They don’t seem to have any regard for a harmonious, engaging way, and they succeed on that point. But you still want to listen.
Bryan Ferry keeps it very straightforward and heartfelt. The piano is a nice departure from the omnipresent guitar-focused versions out there. It gives it more of a simple, plainspoken honesty.
English group Simply Red brings in more orchestration on this classic. The lead singer Mick Hucknall kind of sounds like Dylan, a bit, here. Just not as eardrum-destroying.
Unfortunately, for this next cover, I was only able to find a Grooveshark audio clip. But it’s really good. Violent Femmes brings the rock and the punk and the rockabilly excitement to this song and turn it into, as they say, “a catchy little ditty”. It’s a bit raucous but fun and cool. It’s also so danceable that you might not even pay attention to the lyrics on the first few listens. I do like it very much, though.