As one of the most influential songwriters of his generation – or any other – Bob Dylan’s music has long transcended borders, physical or otherwise. The Minnesota native’s music struck a chord in Britain, both on the concert stage (see: the famous “Judas!” concert) and on records, and his influence on British artists from The Beatles down can’t be underestimated. It’s no surprise that his songs were seized upon by British artists with a zeal equal to that of their American counterparts. Ace Records has recently collected 22 compositions by the former Robert Zimmerman as interpreted by U.K. artists during his most fertile and groundbreaking period. Take What You Need: U.K. Covers of Bob Dylan Songs 1964-1969 showcases the adaptability of Dylan’s songs to folk, rock, pop, beat, and underground scenes by a wide range of talents, both known and unknown.
Colchester’s R&B-oriented band The Fairies recorded one of the U.K.’s earliest Dylan covers with their ragged approximation of folk-rock on a 1964 version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Featuring original lead singer Dane Stephens breathlessly growling the familiar lyrics, it’s more blues-beat than anything else, but is a game attempt to channel Dylan’s uniquely American fusion of styles. Ironically, Stephens followed Brian “Smudger Smith” as lead singer of The Cops ‘N Robbers, the group showcased here with their hypnotic, rhythmic version of “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”
Dylan had something to learn from British artists, too. Martin Carthy was the one who taught Dylan the traditional songs that he adapted into his own songs such as “Girl from the North Country” and “Boots of Spanish Leather.” As a member of The Three City Four, Carthy paid tribute to his old friend and student with a cover of Dylan’s 1962 “Oxford Town.” Like The Three City Four, The Ian Campbell Folk Group delivered a straightforward, pure-folk (and appropriately stirring) treatment of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” in 1965. Another important figure in the U.K. folk scene, Alex Campbell sings, brays, and occasionally mumbles his way through a raw, acoustic, and expressive “Tom Thumb’s Blues.”
A number of famous names took their turn with the Dylan catalogue. Marianne Faithfull’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was afforded the lavish baroque treatment as produced by Andrew Loog Oldham and arranged by David Whitaker to follow her debut “As Tears Go By.” Joe Cocker’s “Just Like a Woman” (featuring Jimmy Page in his final days as a session musician) is restrained by Cocker’s standards, though his husky, passionate croak is powerfully present. Rex Harrison’s actor-singer son Noel brought his plummy tones to a rather fine reading of “Love Minus Zero,” one of few Dylan songs he recorded. Sandie Shaw took on “Lay Lady Lay” as one of the selections on her offbeat covers album, Reviewing the Situation, seeing that Dylan joined an eclectic group of tunesmiths including Lionel Bart, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones on the LP! Her high, breathy tone is far-removed from her brash sound on hits like “Always Something There to Remind Me.”
Much as The Byrds and The Turtles had in the U.S., Manfred Mann gave the rock-and-roll treatment Dylan with their boisterous and jangly 1965 take on “If You Gotta Go, Go Now.” Alan Price took the opposite route, accompanying himself on piano for a simple, stripped-down “To Ramona” from 1967. (The song originated three years earlier, on Another Side of Bob Dylan.) “I Shall Be Released,” introduced by Dylan during The Basement Tapes sessions of 1967, is sung here by the single-named Boz (a.k.a. Raymond Burrell) in his recording of one year later. As arranged by Jon Lord and featuring Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, and Ian Paice in the band, it’s another criminally unknown record. And how about Andrew Lloyd Webber does Bob Dylan? The future Lord Lloyd Webber provided the catchy arrangement for, and his collaborator Tim Rice produced, The Mixed Bag’s 1969 B-side “Million Dollar Bash,” also from The Basement Tapes period.
Chad and Jeremy, the gentle English folk duo, relocated to the U.S. to find greater fame and fortune. They’re heard with their recording, issued on American Columbia, of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” clearly in the mold of The Byrds’ hit version on the same label. Reversing the intercontinental trade, Julie Felix was California-born but moved across the pond to become “Britain’s First Lady of Folk.” Listening to her understated, acoustic take on “One Too Many Mornings,” it’s evident why she became so beloved.
One of the most beguiling performances on Take What You Need comes from The Picadilly Line. The group covered the Blonde on Blonde opus “Visions of Johanna” on their 1967 LP The Huge World of Emily Small, employing arranger John Cameron (Donovan, Les Miserables) to expand it musically into a shimmering but not over-orchestrated folk-pop style. Less successful is The Factotums’ Dylan-aping cover of another Blonde track, “Absolutely Sweet Marie.”
Dylan’s next album, 1967’s John Wesley Harding, inspired The Alan Bown’s driving, edgy recording of “All Along the Watchtower.” Anticipating hard rock (and indeed, the definitive reinvention by Jimi Hendrix, who once opened for The Alan Bown!), their “Watchtower” is one of this collection’s finest discoveries. Another is the rocking “I Am a Lonesome Hobo,” on which Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger (with The Trinity) cut loose on their vocals and organ, respectively. Like Julie Driscoll though in a completely different style, Sandy Denny was a singer with a distinctive instrument. She shines on Fairport Convention’s moving “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” a Dylan outtake which he attempted to cut multiple times including for Bringing It All Back Home and Blonde on Blonde.
Needless to say, covers of Dylan songs – from the U.K. or elsewhere – could fill volumes. But this compendium presents a vivid cross-section of the Bard of Hibbing’s tunes, underscoring their adaptability into various genres and styles. Mick Houghton, co-producer with Stuart Batsford, has written fine track-by-track liner notes, and Nick Robbins has splendidly remastered every track. By choosing songs both familiar and unfamiliar, and artists both famed and largely unknown, Ace has proven that artists of every stripe could indeed take what they needed to make Dylan’s songs their own.
- Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right – The Fairies (Decca E 11943, 1964)
- Blowin’ in the Wind – Marianne Faithfull (Decca F 12007, 1964)
- Oxford Town – The Three City Four (Decca LP LK 4705, 1965)
- The Times They Are A-Changin’ – The Ian Campbell Folk Group (Transatlantic TRA SP 5, 1965)
- If You Gotta Go, Go Now – Manfred Mann (HMV POP 1466, 1965)
- It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue – The Cops ‘N Robbers (Pye 7N 15928, 1965)
- Mr. Tambourine Man – Chad and Jeremy (Columbia LP CS 9198, 1965) (*)
- Love Minus Zero – Noel Harrison (Decca LP LK 4783, 1966) (*)
- One Too Many Mornings – Julie Felix (Fontana LP STL 5368, 1966)
- Visions of Johanna – The Picadilly Line (CBS LP BPG 63129, 1967)
- Tom Thumb’s Blues – Alex Campbell (Storyville LP 671 207, 1967) (*)
- To Ramona – The Alan Price Set (Decca LP LK 4907, 1967)
- Absolutely Sweet Marie – The Factotums (Piccadilly 7N 35356, 1966)
- All Along the Watchtower – The Alan Bown (Music Factory LP CUBLS 1, 1968) (*)
- I Shall Be Released – Boz (Columbia DB 8406, 1968)
- I Am a Lonesome Hobo – Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity (Marmalade 421 180, 1968)
- I’ll Keep It with Mine – Fairport Convention (Island LP ILPS 9092, 1969) (*)
- Million Dollar Bash – The Mixed Bag (Decca F 12880, 1969)
- Down Along the Cove – Cliff Aungier (Pye LP NSPL 18294, 1969) (*)
- Tears of Rage – Country Fever (Bell BLL 1052, 1968)
- Just Like a Woman – Joe Cocker (Royal Zonophone LP SLRZ 1006, 1969) (*)
- Lay Lady Lay – Sandie Shaw (Pye LP NSPL 18323, 1969) (*)
Mono except (*) stereo