This Polystar compilation from 1980 was released in France, Ireland and the UK only. It seems nothing more than a quickly cobbled together collection of covers that had been around for a long time, and some titles that would appear on other compilations I’ve reviewed for this project. It feels and looks like a cheap Woolworths knockoff from album cover to track listing. I imagine most of these tracks come from the artist’s respective individual albums.
Bryan Ferry – A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall (1973)… dates back to 1973 and would also appear on the Michael Gray-curated collection The Songs Of Bob Dylan in 1989 as well as a 1991 compilation from Italy called United Artists For The Poet. No matter how many times you contemplate what Ferry is doing with this song, you have to admit he does it so perfectly that you always end up back on the fence. It’s irreverent plastic pop. It’s subversive. It introduces Dylan to a whole new generation, perhaps. It’s a sense of optimism, a rejection of the sixties. The lyrics are tossed off with careless abandon, but the music is punchy, there’s a female choir going aah, electric guitar squealing along, and Ferry’s soft baritone singing like he’s running out of breath. It’s a good cover, one of the best, simply for its uniqueness.
Julie Driscoll – This Wheel’s On Fire (1968)… was recorded and released as a 7” single in 1968. Driscoll was an English singer and actress, and made a name for herself covering Dylan. This sounds like psychedelic pop, with a flanging effect on the vocals, which is split between Driscoll singing the verses with lots of airy strings, and a male choir on the chorus. It’s got a pop quality, in terms of its tight structure, but there’s a racy organ interlude towards the end. Like Ferry’s cover, this is unusual in the realm of Dylan covers and the better for it, but still, nothing to set your ears on fire.
Spirit – The Times They Are A Changing (1975)… appears on their album Spirit of ’76. Spirit were a psychedelic pop band from Los Angeles. I find their version of this too folk-light, too airy-fairy, which I guess is a result of that horrid falsetto-whisper of a vocal. This is short and just floats by without any fanfare.
Melanie – Lay Lady Lay (1972)… was the b-side to a Melanie single called “Some Day I’ll Be A Farmer” and appeared on an album of hers in the same year. I have to admit to knowing very little about Melanie & never having heard her before, but now I see the light. She’s fantastic, and her voice is amazing. This version is musical and aesthetically interesting, easily the best cover of this song I’ve ever heard. There’s flute and piccolo, and flamenco guitar, and tom-tom drums, and Melanie makes the song her own. There’s a couple of jarring dynamic-volume shifts in this song, and bits where all the noises seems to clash slightly, but that still keeps the song interesting. Melanie was born Melanie Anne Safka-Schekeryk in 1947. She’s kind of jazzy, uses her voice, throws it all over the place, a bit like Van Morrison and with the acoustic guitar and trippy flute, this reminds me of Astral Weeks. I feel like I should be investigating her catalogue. She’s good. The music’s good. I love this.
Statler Brothers – I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (1972)… this also first appeared as the b-side to a 7” single, “Woman Without A Home” and showed up on the Statlers’ 1972 album Sing Country Symphonies in E Major. The Statler Brothers were a pop-country group who formed in 1955. They croon this song in a very simple pony-clop way. A saxophone adds texture, but otherwise this doesn’t hold much interest for me. It sounds dated and ineffectual.
Fairport Convention – If You Gotta Go, Go Now (1969)… first released by the Fairports as a 7” single sung in French. Fairport Convention were an English folk-rock band who formed in 1967. Nice use of accordion, handclaps and what might be a guiro. This is sung in French with a soft feminine folk vocal, and it leaves very little impression, partly I suppose because I’m not catching the lyrics.
Johnny Cash – It Ain’t Me Babe (1967)… first recorded by Cash in 1964 and then as a b-side on Cash’s 1965 single “Ring of Fire”, but this version dates to 1967 according to Michael Gray. It’s hard not to like Cash’s cover of this song, because it’s so poppy and Cash’s big hard outlaw voice, but I really don’t think the lyric suits his voice. He enunciates the words too clearly, which gives it a weird satirical quality, which makes no sense, but on the other hand, I’m not convinced he means a word of the lyric. Thus it just doesn’t work. I slagged this off when I reviewed The Songs Of Bob Dylan too. It hasn’t gotten any better in the past five years.
The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)… is also available on The Byrds Play Dylan as well as the 1989 compilation The Songs Of Bob Dylan. So here I am writing about it for the third time. It always sounds fantastic when it kicks in, and is, or was, possibly more famous than the original. It’s certainly the version I grew up hearing on the radio, but that’s about all it’s good for – radio-pap for the daily housewife/husband, for the motorway commute, but it’s all a bit too nice, a pleasant dream floating overhead like a nicely-shaped cloud. It’s also really short and eschews at least half of the lyrics.
Rod Stewart – The Girl From The North Country (1974)… first appears on Stewart’s album Smiler from 1974. The next best cover on this collection, and one I hadn’t heard before. I’ve never owned a Rod Stewart album, but damn, he certainly owns this song. It starts with the sound of an aeroplane landing, and then his weathered fragile voice brings the melody while strings swoop around his head. Little gurgly bursts of electric guitar punctuate the verses. But Stewart is a great singer, and he sings this with conviction. I love it. It’s melodic, tender, and is stamped all over by Stewart’s voice. Best thing here after Melanie’s effort on the a-side. It’s loose and jazzy at the end. It helps that I love this song.
The Tremeloes – I Shall Be Released (1968)… released as a 7” single. I like this song a lot too, but I’ve heard so many pop-versions of it already, that I’m getting a bit tired of it, and this Tremeloes version adds nothing of interest. Just a standard crooner-pop-with-strings version, that’s not a million miles from the Byrds doing Dylan. The Tremeloes sound American, so I’m surprised they’re actually a British band and formed as far back as 1958. They croon and sing it well, beautifully, but they also turn it into radio-nostalgic pop fodder.
Joan Baez – It’s All Over Now Baby Blue (1965)… this version first appears on Baez’s 1965 album Farewell Angelina, which includes three other Dylan covers, but is not on her complete Dylan covers album Any Day Now from 1968. It took me awhile to accept that Baez is a great singer, but even now, I still reel from the harsh soprano notes she reaches which is too angelic-operatic for my ears. She’s accompanied by nice acoustic guitar, but I can’t quite buy into her upper registers. As such, I find myself too distracted to pay any attention to the lyrics.
The Hollies – I Want You… comes from The Hollies’ 1969 Dylan tribute Words And Music By Bob Dylan. Everyone covers this song, and most of them celebrate its immediate pop quality, but few of them seem to realise that singing it so prettily robs the song of its heart. The Hollies are a vocal pop band that sound very sixties, like the Beatles six to eight years earlier and as such they sound out of date in even 1969.
Jimi Hendrix – All Along The Watchtower (1968)… from my favourite Hendrix album, Electric Ladyland, this also appears on Michael Gray’s The Songs of Bob Dylan (1989). Wow. Every time I hear this, I find myself underwater, splashing around, trying to see what’s behind me. Like the Byrd’s cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” this is definitive. You could be forgiven for not realising that Dylan wrote it, is what I mean, if you grew up in the 70s and 80s. This is experimental and deep, heavy and psychedelic, a bit messily recorded, and sung in Hendrix’s hoarse cry. Mercurial, molten guitar freakouts. Exciting, screaming.
Spirit – Like A Rolling Stone (1975)… the second Spirit song on this LP, also from Spirit of ’76. I didn’t much like their cover of “They Times Are A-Changing” and now they’re trying “Like A Rolling Stone”?? What is this shit? It reminds me of Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House album, which I could never get into. Urgh, then the weak watery vocal suddenly bursts and the vocal is right up front in the mix. There are some neat psychedelic effects going on, but it all sounds like a gimmick. Okay, so this is certainly ‘different’ and unlike anyone else’s cover of this song, but the lyrics are completely buried, rendered unconscionable. I have to admit, I’m starting to like it. The sound is a bit shot though, it’s also a bit messy, fades in and out weirdly, not unlike Hendrix’s drum sound on the previous song. Hm. Maybe I should explore some more Spirit. It would certainly take balls to put out such a weird version of this song. Yeah, verdict’s in, this has got something. I’m not sure what exactly, because it’s certainly not the nous/smarts/sneer of the original.
So…despite the horrible album sleeve, and the completely random mix of songs, I feel pleased at least to have heard Rod Stewart, Melanie and Spirit covering Dylan for the first time. Otherwise this compilation hasn’t got much to recommend it. It looks as though it was never meant to get out of 1980 alive. A full list of Dylan cover albums released on vinyl can be found HERE.