JENNINGS: Celebrating an 80-year-old Bob Dylan's influence

·3 min read

May 27—Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan turned 80 years old on Monday. Dylan's influence is far-reaching in popular music, not just as a performer, but as a songwriter.

Over the years I have found that my friends fall into two distinct categories when it comes to Bob Dylan as a performer, they either love his nasal sounding, unconventional singing style or hate it. My wife falls in the latter category, so I have to make sure she is not home when I break out my five-LP career spanning Dylan box set entitled "Biograph."

There does seem to be universal agreement when it comes to Dylan's iconic songs covered by other artists. People love them, which is probably why Dylan songs are often covered by other groups. A few of them have been covered by multiple artists, most notable are "All Along the Watchtower," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "I Shall be Released."

Dylan's version of "All Along the Watchtower' first appeared in November of 1968 on Bob Dylan's "John Wesley Harding" album. Dylan released his version as a single, but it failed to chart. Just six months after Dylan's version, Jimi Hendrix released the definitive version of the song.

Hendrix's version became the highest charting single of his career, and his version of "Watchtower" appears on many lists of the greatest songs of all-time. Dave Mason of Traffic fame played bass during the initial recording session, and later in his career Mason charted with his own solo version of the song. Hendrix eventually replaced Mason's bass parts with his own.

Other notable cover versions of "All Along the Watchtower" include U2's, which appeared in their concert movie "Rattle and Hum, and the movie's soundtrack, Dave Matthews Band's version on "Listener Supported" and multiple recorded live versions by the Grateful Dead.

Unlike "Watchtower," which did not chart for Dylan, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" was a hit single for Dylan upon its initial release. "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" first appeared in the 1973 western "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid." Dylan's version clocked in at just 2:32.

Both Eric Clapton and Guns N' Roses had success with their versions of "Heaven's Door." Clapton's version has a reggae feel and while it did not break the top 100 in the United Sates, the song was a hit in England, and has appeared periodically in Clapton's live set.

Guns N' Roses released a few versions of the song, the first appearing on the "Days of Thunder" movie soundtrack and the most popular version on their "Use Your Illusion II" album in 1991. That version was Guns N' Roses third and final number one single.

"I Shall Be Released" is the only song of the three that was recorded by another artist before Dylan released his own version. The Band's version appears on their "Music from Big Pink" album, and the most notable version appears as the last song performed at "The Last Waltz." Jerry Garcia included the song in his solo bands setlist for many years, and a diverse group of artists have covered the song, including Elvis Presley, Gov't Mule and Greta Van Fleet.

Dylan is one of many notable musicians that have turned 80 years old, including Neil Diamond, Joan Baez, Beach Boys singer Mike Love and Animals lead singer Eric Burdon. Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, Parliament's George Clinton, David Crosby and Paul Simon all turn 80 later this year.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.

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