At least once a year, I go into a week or so of complete obsession with Bob Dylan’s catalogue. This years bout was spawned when I received the soundtrack for the forthcoming Dylan bio-pic, “I’m Not There.” The two-cd soundtrack is filled with one amazing cover after another, by some of the most relevant and talented musicians today. When perusing the 34 tracks, I was pleased to see it didn’t read like Dylan’s greatest hits. Of course someone covered “All Along the Watchtower,” but the majority of the album delves in to the depths of Dylan’s catalogue from his earliest recordings to his Christian rock album of the late 70′s.
The song I was most excited to see represented on the album, is one my absolute favorite Dylan songs – “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” (listen to the song here) off Dylan’s thrid album “The Times They-Are A-Changing.” I consider “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” as one of the great American protest songs, while I imagine most folks would give that honor to the title track of the album. Unlike “The Times They Are A Changing,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” plays as a defeated dirge, in the narrative story style of earlier great American song writers. It’s not brash or hopeful, it’s matter’o'fact and woeful. And sadly, it sounds like a story that could be easily repeated today – where is our generation’s Bob Dylan to write about Abu Ghraib and The Jena 6? While Mason Jennings does a fine cover for the I’m Not There soundtrack, it lacks the authenticity of the original. It doesn’t break my heart the way Dylan singing it does.
The soundtrack and the devoted listening it has inspired has had me thinking about my other favorite Dylan songs, though sadly none were featured on the album. “Girl from The North Country,” sung with Johnny Cash on Nashville Skyline, an album which featured a number of Dylan’s most beautiful vocals. (Which is not as oxy-moronic as it sounds, Dylan’s voice on “Lay Lady Lay” is perfectly melodic.) The other song in contention for greatest Dylan song ever (in my mind) is the wonderfully vindictive – “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I am also a sucker for “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” – which is just about my favorite song title of all time.
And all this listening and loving of Dylan has got me wondering what your favorite Dylan song is? What about your favorite Dylan cover?