The 10 Best Punk and Alternative Bob Dylan Covers
From My Chemical Romance to PJ Harvey
Bob Dylan is one of the most widely covered artists in popular music – hit versions of his songs by the Byrds and Peter, Paul and Mary helped make him famous, and Dylan covers by Jimi Hendrix and Guns N’ Roses permanently remain in rock radio rotation. And even artists from the punk and alternative scenes that tend to have less reverence for ‘60s nostalgia been drawn to the Dylan songbook, often giving his compositions dramatically different arrangements.
With Dylan’s first collection of new songs in eight years, Rough and Rowdy Ways, out now, here’s a look back at 10 Dylan songs that were memorably reimagined by punk, post-punk, indie, alternative, avant jazz and industrial artists.
10. My Chemical Romance – “Desolation Row”
“Desolation Row,” the mighty 11-minute closer from 1965’s Highway 61 Revisited, was quoted in Alan Moore’s classic 1987 graphic novel Watchmen. So when Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Watchmen was released in 2009, emo icons My Chemical Romance recorded a cover for the soundtrack that included only three of the original song’s ten verses and compressed the song into a powerful three-minute anthem.
9. The Ramones – “My Back Pages”
At Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert, a lavish all-star affair at Madison Square Garden, Dylan sang “My Back Pages” with Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and others at the climax of the show. A year later, the Ramones cranked up the tempo of the song for their covers album Acid Eaters. Joey Ramone let C.J. Ramone sing lead on “My Back Pages,” but was proud enough of the cover to bring a copy of the album backstage to Dylan at a concert in Tokyo. “Dylan walked over to me and said hello, it kinda freaked me out,” Joey said in an interview. “People always tell me, oh, Dylan’s in his own world, he doesn’t know what’s going on anymore. He knows.”
8. Scott Amendola Band with Carla Bozulich – “Masters of War”
California avant jazz drummer Scott Amendola’s band featured future Wilco guitarist Nels Cline on 2003’s Cry. And Cline’s Geraldine Fibbers bandmate Carla Bozulich guested on the album’s standout, a tour de force nine-minute rendition of “Masters of War” where Bozulich summons all the simmering rage of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’s polemic against the military-industrial complex.
7. Ministry – “Lay Lady Lay”
“Lay Lady Lay” from 1969’s Nashville Skyline was the biggest hit from Dylan’s divisive country period, so it was a strange but inspired choice for industrial metal band Ministry to cover. They performed “Lay Lady Lay” for the first time in an acoustic set at the 1994 Bridge School Benefit with Eddie Vedder on backing vocals, but the version recorded for 1996’s Filth Pig coats the song’s swooning melody in distortion and bombast.
6. Patti Smith – “Drifter’s Escape”
You can’t put “punk” and “Bob Dylan” in the same sentence without bringing up Patti Smith, the most faithful Dylan acolyte among the artists who kicked off their careers at CBGB’s in the mid-‘70s. Smith met Dylan at one of his tour rehearsals at the Bitter End in New York City in 1975, a few months before her debut album Horses was released. They remained friends for decades including touring together in 1995. Smith has covered several Dylan songs in concert, including “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” at the 2016 ceremony where Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize. But her best studio recording of a Dylan track is a haunting take on “Drifter’s Escape” from 1967’s John Wesley Harding that appeared on the 2012 tribute album Chimes of Freedom.