Let’s get this out of the way right now. Terrific as they are, this list won’t include Hendrix’s extraordinary retooling of “All Along The Watchtower,” The Byrds’ jingle-jangly “Mr. Tambourine Man,” or Joan Baez’s sublime “Farewell Angelina.” You already know them. I hope at least a few of these choices will be fresh, maybe even annoying, but perhaps future favorites of yours.
1. Emmylou Harris: “Every Grain of Sand,” Wrecking Ball. Nonesuch (CD).
From Harris’ masterful collaboration with Daniel Lanois, her angel’s voice is joined by jumbo acoustics in a large, holographic soundfield with bold dynamic pop.
2. Neil Young: “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. Sony (CD, DVD, out of print LP).
Backed by Booker T. and the MGs, Young snarls and snakes his way through “Tom Thumb’s Blues,” while his vintage Les Paul shreds the stage between verses. The sound rocks.
3. Tracy Chapman: “The Times They Are A-Changin,’” 30thAnniversary Concert Celebration. Sony (CD, DVD, out of print LP).
From the same amazing tribute concert, Chapman’s cover, featuring simply her acoustic guitar and smoky voice, is notably moving and strikingly contemporary.
4. Jimi Hendrix: “Like A Rolling Stone,” Historic Performances Recorded at The Monterey International Pop Festival. Reprise (LP).
At his first U.S. gig Hendrix brings a stoned but smoldering and thoroughly riveting intensity to this classic, with blistering licks to boot. There are many vinyl and CD reissues, but I like the original LP (with Otis Redding on Side 2) for its rough “you-are-there” immediacy.
5. Jerry Garcia Band: “Simple Twist of Fate,” Jerry Garcia Band. Arista (CD and LP).
There are countless Grateful Dead and Garcia Band Dylan covers, some terrific, some not. But this one, from a live 1990 gig, offers a snail’s paced yet engrossing take on one of Dylan’s most heartbreaking songs.
6. The Small Faces: “The Wicked Messenger,” First Step. Warner Bros. (LP).
New arrivals Ronnie Wood and Rod Stewart kicked off their (Small) Faces debut with this tight, rollicking, and thoroughly original take on a highlight from the great John Wesley Harding.
7. The Byrds: “My Back Pages,” Younger Than Yesterday. Sundazed/Columbia (mono LP).
The Byrds bring a jaunty sadness to this tune in good mono sound. For a great jam-band take check out the Roger McGuinn-led version from the 30th Anniversary Concert.
8. The White Stripes: “One More Cup of Coffee,” The White Stripes. Third Man (LP).
Primitively effective, with Jack’s pinched growl, distorted guitar, and Meg’s Bam-Bam Rubble drumming. Crude but equally effective analog sound.
9. Fairport Convention: “Percy’s Song,” Unhalfbricking. Island (LP).
The Sandy Denny/Richard Thompsonled Fairport Convention did a lot of Dylan covers, but “Percy’s Song” from Unhalfbricking is my favorite.
10. P.J. Harvey: “Highway 61 Revisited,” Rid Of Me. Island (LP).
P.J. Harvey delivers a somewhat deranged but brilliant take on one of Dylan’s most deranged nightmares. The sound is crude, compressed, perfect.