Let’s face it: Bob Dylan didn’t/doesn’t have the prettiest voice in pop music. But his strength as a songwriter, especially early on, allowed listeners to become familiar with his songs through the performances of others.
Joan Baez, as noted previously, was an early advocate and performer of Dylan’s music, as were Peter, Paul, and Mary, who had two Top 10 songs written by Dylan way back in 1963, Blowin’ in the Wind which hit the charts in June and got to #2; and Don’t Think Twice, It’s all Right, charting in September, and ending up at #9.
But it was 1965 that Dylan really broke through, both as a performer and an artist being covered. The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man hit the charts in June 1965, reaching #1. Cher’s All I Really Want to Do started its climb to #15 in July, and It Ain’t Me Babe by the Turtles charted in August, eventually getting to #8. Meanwhile, Dylan had his first hit with Like a Rolling Stone, which started its ascent in July, eventually getting to #2 in September, blocked from the top of the charts by the Beatles’ Help!
Mojo magazine compiled a list of top 10 Dylan covers, while Paste magazine has listed what it considers the 50 Best Bob Dylan Covers of All Time. Meanwhile, Dylan Cover Albums.com boasts 30,000 covers. The podcast Coverville recently offered its fifth Bob Dylan Cover Story in seven years.
Of course, this cover thing can go both ways. Here’s a list of songs covered BY Bob Dylan. While quite a few were from his early career, there were also a bunch from the 1970 double album, Self Portrait. I know this very well, because I bought that LP for my high school girlfriend; then we listened to it, not quite as impressed as we had hoped we might be. In particular, there was a quite peculiar version of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer; I remain convinced to this day that was done in retaliation for a snarky S&G song called A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission), in which Simon parodies Dylan; “Albert” in the song is almost certainly Dylan’s manager at the time, Albert Grossman.
Bob Dylan Covers Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (but doesn’t almost everyone?)