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Cover Story: (40) Like a Rolling Stone. Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones

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Image: Jim Pietryga via Wikipedia

Salut! Live limps back into life with another entry in the Cover Story series comparing and contrasting different versions of the same song.

Many years ago in Paris, maybe 2006, I paid a fortune for tickets to see the Rolling Stones at the Stade de France. I can enjoy stadium rock - Coldplay in Nice and Lyon were superb and I've seen impressive clips of other bands in other places - and the Stones' concert was excellent.

I have not seen them live since but a review in my local paper when I'm in France, the Var-Matin (ahead of a Marseille gig, but based on a London show attended by the writer), noted that Ronnie Wood was getting better and better with the passing of years, while Keith Richards was not.

See the entire Cover Story series at this link


There was much in the Stade de France performance to be appteciated. Jagger was super-fit, charging around the stage and its offshoots as nimbly as an athlete of 20. He took care to speak French between songs - always appreciated when Anglo-Saxons play to audiences in France - and a generous selections of hits kept the crowd enthused and engaged.

But the musical highlight of the evening for me came after the show had ended and we were making our way our of the stadium.

At an unofficial merchandise stall, a ghetto blaster was playing the Stones' version of the Bob Dylan song Like a Rolling Stone.

This had not been on the concert playlist - much to my regret since it is perhaps the Stones, for me, at their best.

It is always risky to challenge Dylan and suggest anyone else can make a better job of any of his songs. But I have always believed that to be the case, much as I still enjoy his originals of probably most of his work.

And I have no problem with his version of Like a Rolling Stone, one of the songs that marked his departure from folk and even folk-rock and immersion in rock and one of two examples of that transition, the other being Positively 4th Street, that I most admire in later Dylan. I can listen to both with great pleasure - hence the absence of a question mark in the headline - but simply prefer it by the Stones. And now I expect to be shot down in flames.

Comments

Bill Taylor

I very much like Jagger's soaring harmonica towards the end but, otherwise, there's not much to distinguish the Stones' rendition from the original. Both are dominated by that characteristic organ riff - interesting that the video never shows the keyboard player - and Jagger's voice is no more powerful than Dylan's. Charlie Watts seems to be enjoying himself but, really, the band is just going through the motions. I enjoyed their version but it's no more than what is shown on the video - a bunch of guys in a club winding down their set belting out oldies; it could almost be karaoke. There's drive and volume, for sure, but not the raw emotion of Dylan's masterpiece. He may not score a knockout over the Stones but he wins decisively on points.

Stan Wilson

Colin..must totally disagree about " Like a Rolling Stone ". No one has or I believe can or will exceed Dylan's version which is singular and historic . Dylan's version is of that unique moment in history . It is indelible and cannot be touched by subsequent takes on it by any others . There are other songs where another artist one might say surpassed the Dylan version. Famously Dylan has said that himself about Jimi Hendrex's take on"All Along The Watchtower ". Hendrix had a knack at covers . I wouldn't say he surpassed "Cream" but he did a great version of "Sunshine of Your Love " that deserves respect . The idea that a cover may surpass a Dylan original becomes more possible with later works ... there are many beautiful cover versions in many genres of Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love " that one might reasonably consider superior to the original . I hope you did not compare the Stones version to the YouTube link of the supposed Dylan original of "Like A Rolling Stone " that you posted . The Stones version IS superior to that . I assume that is just an error and does not reflect your discernment of Bob's music . Your supposed link to Dylan's original is actually a link to a tribute band . Once you click on the link , the credit at the top of the title frame reads : "Post Productions perform a tribute to BOB DYLAN " . I love your posts about considering classic or groundbreaking songs and the artists they influence . I posted here in the past taking up for Pete Seeger's version of " The Bells of Rhymney " . Great to see this again . Best to you from the USA .

Colin

You are completely right, Stan, and I hope I have corrected it. The story behind this lapse is that I mostly prepared the article for posting in August, let it slip then and did not double check before publishing this morning to ensure I had correct clips.

I take the points both you and Bill make from the other side of the Atlantic (and, for you two, the other side of one of the Trump borders) and am listening now to Dylan and loving it. I didn't offer much of a reason for preferring the Stones in this case. I just do, and it may even have something to do with how little I have otherwise enjoyed the Stones in the past 20 years or so compared with what they meant to me in the 1960s and 70s.

My record on Dylan and covers is a mildly controversial one in any case. I much prefer Baez to him on Don't Think Twice, though not on most of the other songs of is that she recorded without him. I love what Sandy Denny did in French to If You Gotta Go, Go Now ...

Great to see two familiar names back among the comments, though.

Bill Taylor

Sandy Denny's "If You Gotta Go" is one for the ages. Inspired.

Bill Taylor

PS - But I also prefer Mannfred Mann's version of the song - Paul Jones it a playfulness that Dylan's rendition, which I'm also very of, lacks.

Alan Sims

Nowt to do with who sings Bob's songs best. He's a genius. He was a phenomenon. When he wrote Like A Rolling Stone (lasting seven minutes give or take) about a prostitute, every one else (Beatles included) were doing three minutes for commercial airplay about love and kisses. Blowing in the Wind, Times a changing ... he was about 21 back then. I was there, a schoolkids entranced. Who sings his songs best. Don't give a shot. He is the man. Put it in context people. He changed pop music into something else.

James Brock

We saw Dylan last night ... great show he put on, strong voice and playing.

Best cover of a Dylan song: Nina Simone, and this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ij1UDMr3B-E

Robert Uhlig

As I suspect Colin Randall knows, even Dylan much prefers Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower.

Pierre Tran

Joan Baez covered and transformed Dylan songs

Jon Ryan

Hey let’s not start on the Byrds versions......

Sue Nicholson

Lots of people do Dylan songs better than Dylan! Waiting for you to do Disturbed v Simon and Garfunkel with Sound of Silence.

Joan

Dylan for me. A gentler, more laid back sound that contrasts with his voice and the song needs his particular sound I think

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