10 Hilariously Bad Bob Dylan Covers

In our recent review of Bettye Lavette’s great new record of Bob Dylan covers we said that you almost can’t go wrong covering a Bob Dylan song, because no matter how egregious the performance you’re still listening to a brilliant piece of songwriting. Well we wanted to put that theory to the test and find those “almosts” – those Dylan covers that were simply so bad they couldn’t be saved by the high quality of the material. It’s a dirty, thankless job, but by golly somebody’s got to do it.

And it certainly wasn’t easy. Many times we found Dylan covers we expected to be horrible which turned out to be not that bad. Simply Red doing “Positively 4th Street”? Surprisingly good. Ministry’s “Lay Lady Lay”? Amazing. Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, the band famous for “Sugar Shack”, covering “She Belongs To Me”? I couldn’t believe how good it was, and I couldn’t believe how Dylan’s songs could maintain their integrity through all these seemingly ill-advised cover versions.

So what falls through the cracks of good taste and into the land of the dreadful are mostly the obvious choices made by the usual suspects who mostly butchered every cover they did. We don’t know what inspired so many B-grade actors in the late Sixties to release albums covering contemporary songs, but someone should have stopped each and every one of them in the name of humanity. Then again, we’d never be able to make these “worst covers” lists without them.

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10. William Shatner – “Mr. Tambourine Man”

Sure it’s unspeakably bad, but there’s a school of thought that says Shatner – who also easily made our list of Worst Beatle Covers – made these wild, over-the-top covers with ironic intent, putting the joke on us while satisfying his own desperate need for attention at the same time. Which is sort of like cheating when it comes to lists like this.


9. Burl Ives – “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”

Ives was a singer/actor who had an interesting and versatile voice, but surely we’re not the only ones who find this track just a liiitle bit creepy.


8. James Last – “Girl From The North Country”

A groovy take from the elevator music specialists – the breakdown at the end is actually kinda cool – but somebody should have told them it’s really a heartbreakingly sad song that is poorly suited for the glee club treatment.


7. Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”

The story goes that contractual obligations made The Four Seasons record this under the name The Wonder Who?, but we wonder if the real reason for the pseudonym was professional embarrassment. Certain voices simply should not be allowed to sing Bob Dylan songs (see #3 below).


6. Julie London – “The Mighty Quinn”

Julie London’s performance is so perfunctory it sounds as if someone was making her sing against her will, and considering the sexist ways of the Sixties that’s not out of the realm of possibility.


5. Sebastian Cabot – “It Ain’t Me Babe”

“Buffy! Jody! Mr. French is talking to himself in the mirror again!”


4. Cliff Richard – “Blowin’ In The Wind”

Richard was the U.K.’s biggest pop star until the Beatles supplanted him, and on the basis of this ghastly recording it sounds like the poor guy just didn’t give a crap anymore by this point.


3. Guns N’ Roses – “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”

Look, Guns N’ Roses is a fine band and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a great Rock anthem, but Axl Rose’s vocal idiosyncrasies are a terrible fit with Dylan lyrics (heaven’s doe-wa?), and the inclusion of that stupid phone call in the middle of the song is just plain insulting to the greatest Rock songwriter who ever lived.


2. Michael Bolton – “Like A Rolling Stone”

We don’t know what’s worse, Michael Bolton’s decision to sing “Like A Rolling Stone” or the actual recording itself. This one would be effective as one of those songs the CIA plays on repeat over loudspeakers to torture detainees.


1. Telly Savalas – “I Shall Be Released”

We like to imagine the producer at the recording session saying to Telly through the talkback: “Great take, Telly, that one’s a keeper”. With such little apparent musical merit it’s tempting to think some kind of money laundering was involved, but consider this: Savalas reached #1 in the U.K. in 1975 with his ludicrous version of Bread’s “If”, proving once again that you don’t necessarily need much musical merit to make it in the music business.

Photo credit: By Francisco Antunes (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3 comments to “10 Hilariously Bad Bob Dylan Covers”
  1. “Like a Rolling Stone” by Dino, Desi, and Billy is worse than several of these. “Three hip teens” singing a song they had no clue about–and it showed…

  2. My friend Mark made about a dozen 90 minute cassettes of Dylan covers….some great, some bad, some indifferent….but the one that really stood out was the 4 Seasons cover of Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright….I just had to play it over and over…it was so BAD and so very FUNNY and so incredibly WEIRD!

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