If the Nobel Prize for Literature is to recognize literary merit, I regret that Philip Roth has not received the award. He has deserved it for a long time. In the course of a long career John Updike distinguished himself in every literary form without ever winning the recognition of the award. His disappointment was refracted through satire in one of his lesser stories about Henry Bech, his fictional alter ego.
I can’t justify the award to Bob Dylan last week, but I can enjoy it and observe that he is far from the least deserving recipient. In any event, the award provides an apt occasion to enjoy his work and to reflect on “tradition and the individual talent,” to borrow the title of T.S. Eliot’s essay.
I sought to share my enjoyment of Dylan’s work through several covers of his songs on the day his award was announced last week. Here I thought I would offer a few covers of his songs by British artists who picked up the folk thread in Bob’s reworking of the tradition in his early songwriting.
Rod Stewart’s first love was folk music. On his second solo album he gave Dylan’s “Only a Hobo” (below) a glorious treatment.
Fairport Convention began as a British version of the Byrds. The group included such fine musicians as Richard Thompson and the late Sandy Denny. It has maintained itself in various forms through the years and is still up and running. They naturally gravitated to Dylan’s reworking of the tradition in “Percy’s Song” (below).
“Tomorrow Is a Long Time” is simply a great song. Ian and Sylvia covered it on Four Strong Winds. Odetta added a gospel flavor to it on her early album of Dylan covers. Judy Collins and Joan Baez did beautiful versions.
Elvis recorded a cover that followed up on Odetta’s. Unfortunately, it was buried on the Spinout soundtrack. In 1969 Dylan himself declared Elvis’s version of the song his favorite cover. I wouldn’t hold him to it, though. There have been a lot of covers of his work since then. Nevertheless, it must hold a special place in his heart. Let me insert Elvis’s version here on the excuse that it can serve as a point of reference by which to judge Dylan covers.
Sandy Denny turned “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” into a country and western song (below). “I can’t speak the sounds that show no pain…”