Covers of Bob Dylan Rage-Soaked Anthems

Bob Dylan Street Art
Street Art from Verona, Photo by Richard Mcall

Endurance and influence are ultimate tests of aesthetic value.

Does the work survive repeated reading, viewing, or listening? Does it influence the next generation of artists? Does it remain relevant across borders and time? Many of the songs of Bob Dylan’s classic political albums – Highway 61 Revisited, Bring It All Back Home, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Desire, and John Wesley Harding – remain stunningly relevant rage-soaked anthems against political and cosmic injustice.

Consider PJ Harvey’s terrifying version of “Highway 61 Revisited” which reimagines the story of Abraham and Isaac not as testament of faith, but as an exemplar of brute, unchecked divine power:

Well, God said to Abraham “Kill me a son”
Abe said “Man, you must be putting me on”
God said “No”
Abe said “What?”
God said “You do what you want to, Abe but
The next time you see me coming, you’d better run”
Abe said “Where do you want this killing done?”
God said “Out on that Highway 61”

Or Ani DiFranco’s “Hurricane”, a song against the wrongful conviction of middle weight contender Rubin “Hurricane” Carter that speaks as loud to 2017 as to 1976:

Rubin Carter was falsely tried
The crime was murder one, guess who testified?
Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game
Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
An innocent man in a living hell

Rage against the Machine never raged harder than in their cover of “Maggie’s Farm”:

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks
The National Guard stands around his door
I ain’t gonna work, nah
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s pa no more
I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s ma no more

Eddie Vedder’s version of “Masters of War”, sung in 1992 at a tribute to Dylan just after the Gulf War was a prescient protest for the next twenty-five years:

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good?
Will it buy you forgiveness?
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
And I hope that you die
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I’ll stand o’er your grave
‘Till I’m sure that you’re dead

The punk ethos of Ramones’ version of “My Back Pages” equals and maybe exceeds the original:

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.

Finally, any list of Bob Dylan covers is incomplete without Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower.

 All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants, too
Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl

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