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According to statistics, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" is Dylan's twenty-third most-played song at concerts | Photo:  Xavier Badosa, CC BY 2.0
According to statistics, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" is Dylan's twenty-third most-played song at concerts. | Photo: Xavier Badosa, CC BY 2.0
Ondřej Bezr -

Covered #1: Bob Dylan – The Times They Are a-Changin'

This series is not just about featuring hits and evergreens, that wouldn't be enough. It aims to present songs that have succeeded not only in their original version but also in many other renditions. A lot of covers are described as "better than the original" and in many cases, only a few people know the original. Sometimes there is even a dispute as to which version came first. The songs we are going to talk about and, more importantly, whose cover versions we are going to present, won't be based on the place or time of their creation, and definitely not on their original musical genre. Folk, jazz, blues, rock, pop or musical, we can find interesting songs anywhere.

"The Times They Are a-Changin'" is undoubtedly one of Bob Dylan's most famous songs. The original version can be found on his album of the same name from February 1964, but strangely enough, it wasn't released on a single until a year later in March 1965. It dates back to the author's pre-electric era, so he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. Dylan was one of the leaders of the singer-songwriter protest movement at the time, and this song is considered a kind of anthem for that scene – after all, its title alone, the "times they are changing," was something that was stirring the American folk scene in the first half of the 1960s.

According to statistics, "The Times They Are a-Changin'" is Dylan's twenty-third most-played song at concerts. One of the most memorable performances predates the song's release, it was the day after President Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, when Dylan opened his show with it after much hesitation.

"The Times They Are a-Changin'" is part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it is ranked fifty-ninth on Rolling Stone's famous list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and Dylan's manuscript of the lyrics sold for $422,500 at Sotheby's in 2010. The popularity, as well as the catchiness and lyrical directness of "The Times They Are a-Changin'," predestined it to become, without a doubt, one of the most frequently covered of all Dylan's songs.

In 1965, a rock version of the song was recorded by The Byrds, a band that had covered a number of Dylan's songs in their typical style. The most famous of these is probably "Mr. Tambourine Man", while "The Times They Are a-Changin'" was considered to be rather second-rate by the band.

As early as the song's first successes, a number of folk artists who traditionally played Dylan's songs adopted it into their repertoire, and their early versions were quite influential in Dylan's growing popularity, whether it was the eternal fighter Joan Baez or the trio Peter, Paul & Mary. In 1972, the song was recorded by another great human rights campaigner, Nina Simone.

It was a commercial flop in its day, but from today's perspective, the album Dylan's Gospel, recorded by a loose association of Californian vocal and instrumental professionals called The Brothers & Sisters of L.A., has an irresistible charm. In 1969, they recorded an album of ten of Dylan's big hits, including songs "I Shall Be Released", "Mr. Tambourine Man", "All Along The Watchtower", "My Back Pages" and, of course, "The Times They Are a-Changin'". This song even opens the whole album.

Among many other versions, it is worth mentioning the one that Tracy Chapman performed in New York's Madison Square Garden, where in 1992, the 30th anniversary of Dylan's contract with the Columbia label was celebrated. The videotape and double CD that were released after the concert, where indeed "every man and his dog" played, is a kind of benchmark for Dylan cover versions. Many are recorded with big bands backed by great musicians, others feature several famous frontmen, but this young girl performing alone on stage with just her guitar is one of the most powerful moments.

Although "The Times They Are a-Changin'" is a typical folk song with an appropriate harmonic structure, it also appeals to jazz musicians here and there. Probably the most famous version in this vein is saxophonist Joshua Redman's rendition on Timeless Tales (For Changing Times) album – take a good look at the title – from 1998, where he was accompanied by the now all-star lineup of Brad Mehldau on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass and Brian Blade on drums.

The database of Dylan cover versions contains "The Times They Are a-Changin'" recorded in many languages, including Catalan, Finnish, Hungarian, Japanese and Czech. The last version mentioned was recorded by Czechoslovak trio Golden Kids at the end of the 1960s, just before their singer Marta Kubišová was banned from performing for political reasons.

In December 1989, during Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution, she sang this very song at one of her first public performances after a twenty-year ban, at the Concert for All Decent People. This actually gave the song the human rights revolutionary ethos that Bob Dylan originally intended as a young author.

Tagy Covered Bob Dylan cover

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Foto: František Vlček, Lidové noviny