“Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Jackie DeShannon (1963)

Just discovered this gem of a Bob Dylan cover by one of my favorite singers of all-time, Jackie DeShannon.  DeShannon was/is the complete package: smart, tough, beautiful, sexy, and soulful.  She does a remarkable job on this Dylan cover from her debut album in 1963.  All I can say is “Damn!”

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“Understand Your Man” – Johnny Cash

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On the eve of Valentine’s Day, this is the Man in Black’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” OK, not exactly, but both songs share the same melody and tackle the same subject matter. While Dylan sounds like he’s trying to be diplomatic despite his bitterness, Cash is having none of it. Dylan says “Fare thee well” … Cash says “F–k off!” If you’re a fan of the Dylan classic, “Understand Your Man” almost seems like some kind of redneck parody, even though it isn’t. I think it stands up well on its own and one of the best “I’m out of here” songs ever recorded.

“A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall” – Bryan Ferry

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Bryan Ferry’s classic cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall,” the lead off track from his first solo album “These Foolish Things” from 1973. Since “Things” was nothing but covers (including songs by Lesley Gore, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Paris Sisters), Ferry treated this “sacred” Dylan track like any other pop song. What made his cover so acclaimed (and controversial) was that he took Dylan’s earnest acoustic ballad and added metallic guitars, heavy drums, strings, sound effects to create a Phil Spector-like “wall of sound” so that you would actually feel that a hard rain was coming down. Many Dylan fans were appalled … but many others were also knocked out by the weird, overblown arrangement.

On a personal note, if you want to know what I looked like circa 1990 (sans the necklace … and not on purpose I should note), I looked a lot like Ferry in this early video.

“All Along the Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix

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Even after over 40 years of overuse on classic rock radio, movies, etc., this stupendous cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix still blows me away. Especially that damn opening with the hard acoustic guitar and opening percussion blasts leading into Hendrix’s blistering solo … A prime example of that cliche “It’s the singer not the song.” From the 1968 album “Electric Ladyland.”

“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” – Bryan Ferry

In my opinion, Bryan Ferry gets better as he gets older. The world-weary Serge Gainsbourg persona suits him pretty well and he really covers Dylan with class and taste, especially this rambunctious cover of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”  I couldn’t find the terrific studio version from 2002’s “Frantic” on YouTube, so this decent live version will have to suffice.

“Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson” by Kevin Avery

One of the best books I’ve read this year is Kevin Avery’s biography / anthology of rock writer Paul Nelson, called “Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson”.  Most people have no idea who Nelson was, but he was an integral part of rock history between the 1960s and 1980s.  He knew Bob Dylan when he was still Robert Zimmerman at the University of Minnesota and introduced Dylan/Zimmerman to a lot of rare folk recordings that wound up being Dylan staples.  He was also one of the few folk critics at the time who supported Dylan’s move to rock in the mid-1960s.  He worked for Mercury Records in the early 1970s, and Nelson was not only Rod Stewart’s favorite Mercury employee (Stewart was Mercury’s biggest star at that time), but Nelson also signed the New York Dolls.  As a critic for Rolling Stone, he also championed Bruce Springsteen, the Sex Pistols, and the Ramones early in their careers.   He also wrote about and became friends with Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, and Clint Eastwood.   In the early 1980s, he drifted away from his career as a writer/editor and had difficulty meeting deadlines or completing articles.  He worked at a video store during the last years of his life and then gradually lost touch with reality.  He died penniless and alone, a sad end to a brilliant career.

“Everything is an Afterthought” is a loving tribute to a writer who deserved bigger and better success than his demons would allow.   It’s clear from the testimonials and interviews given for this book how loved Nelson was by his colleagues and friends (i.e. Nick Tosches, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Jonathan Lethem).  Special thanks to Avery, as well as Seattle’s Fantagraphics Books for having the vision and passion to bring us this story.