Critical 10: Dylan Knockoffs
- Best of List
From homage to parody to blatant rip-off.
50 years of Bob Dylan records has meant nearly 50 years' worth of Bob Dylan imitations. Here's 10 of our favorites, plus a special extra.
Check out our playlist in Spotify here.
1. Donovan -- Catch the Wind (1965)
For a while, it seemed like Scottish folksinger Donovan would forever only be known as the guy Dylan casually destroys with an offhand version of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" in Don't Look Back, until he managed to hit the charts with a fairly groovy set of not particularly Dylanesque psych-pop tunes. But this 1965 debut single remains one of the best early imitations of post-protest, pre-electric Dylan, with a refrain that stands on its own merits.
2. The Beatles -- You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (1965)
John Lennon openly admitted that this melancholy acoustic gem was explicitly inspired by circa-'64 Dylan. Legend has it that Dylan first introduced The Beatles to marijuana, but I've never really bought that. The Beatles spent years in Hamburg, playing hours-long sets in seedy nightclubs fueled by booze and cheap pharmaceutical speed: you mean nobody in the rough section of a port city had a bag of weed on them?
3. Mouse and the Traps -- A Public Execution (1966)
"A Public Execution" is a Dylan imitation so blatant and thorough that it becomes bizarrely awesome. Basically a thinly-disguised rewrite of "Like A Rolling Stone," this regional hit by a little-known combo from the college town of Tyler, Texas (originally released under the name Mouse, the nickname of singer-songwriter Ronnie Weiss) gained a new lease on life when Lenny Kaye included it on Nuggets in 1972.
4. Simon and Garfunkel -- A Simple Desultory Philippic (1966)
This is perhaps the first Dylan imitation meant as parody instead of homage, and it's actually rather brutal. In his Dylan biography No Direction Home, critic Robert Shelton posits that the song may have been inspired when he and Dylan were watching Simon perform at a New York City folk club and got into a giggle fit unrelated to his performance; thinking Dylan was laughing at him, the outraged Simon wrote and recorded this one-finger salute to electric-era Dylan. Could be, but either way, it's a great song filled with lots of folk-scene in-jokes.
5. The Rolling Stones -- Jig-Saw Puzzle (1968)
Side one of Beggars Banquet closes with this lengthy Blonde on Blonde pastiche. A honking country blues that sounds like half the band was nodding out (which they may well have been), the song's images are so clearly Dylan-inspired that Mick Jagger might have written them in the style of a Brion Gysin cut-up, simply cutting the lyric sheets of several Dylan songs into ribbons and recombining them at random.
6. Townes van Zandt -- Fare Thee Well, Miss Carousel (1969)
Steve Earle once famously said "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." But even the late great Van Zandt had his heroes, and this lengthy tune from his third album sounds directly inspired by Dylan's "Desolation Row" era.
7. Mott the Hoople -- Laugh At Me (1969)
If you only know Mott the Hoople from the "All The Young Dudes" era, check out their first few albums and prepare to have your mind blown. Producer/mastermind Guy Stevens described the sound they were going for as "Bob Dylan backed by the Rolling Stones," a combo best captured on -- of all things -- this completely straight version of Sonny Bono's protest anthem "Laugh At Me," a song that could not possibly have sounded more dated in 1969.
8. Stealers Wheel -- Stuck in the Middle with You (1972)
Supposedly, generations of casual fans have thought that this song by the Scottish duo of Gerry Rafferty (yes, the guy who later had the massive hit "Baker Street") and Joe Egan was in fact a Dylan track, but I don't know of any of Bob's tunes that are quite so jaunty. The song overall is a barely veiled diss of the music industry as a whole (Rafferty claimed it was inspired by a business lunch in which record executives and managers argued amongst themselves while completely ignoring him), with the specific Dylanesque tinge of the use of the words "clowns" and "jokers," both of which do show up regularly in his lyrics.
9. Dire Straits -- Sultans of Swing (1978)
When Dire Straits' first album came out in 1978, a number of critics fell over themselves in a rush to compare its overall sound to Dylan with The Band. In retrospect (particularly as Mark Knopfler and company refined their trademark sound into something that was approaching self-parody by 1985's Brothers In Arms), that comparison seems a bit less obvious. But Knopfler's tossed-off, half-mumbled vocal delivery on this first big hit does still sound remarkably Dylanesque.
10. The Tallest Man on Earth -- I Won't Be Found (2008)
Lest you think Dylan was no longer inspiring the youngsters, check out this track from Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, whose delivery, imagery and guitar style are all directly inspired by Dylan's pre-electric period. As long as there are guitars and microphones, there will be New Dylans.
Bonus: Talking New Bob Dylan -- Loudon Wainwright III (1992)
And speaking of New Dylans, we close with this song written for the master's 50th birthday by one of the first singer-songwriters to struggle with the deadly label "The New Bob Dylan." Loudon Wainwright III is too caustic, neurotic and weird to be anybody but himself, but this hilarious and oddly affectionate talking blues recalls what it's like to deal with that level of expectation through no fault of your own.