Still not certain how many covers there might be of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” I keep looking at the lists at Second Hand Songs and Amazon for some insight. No revelation comes, but I do note, perhaps unsurprisingly, that most of the covers listed at the first of those sites came in a very few years after Dylan recorded and released the song himself.
Dylan’s version came out in 1965 on Bringing It All Back Home, with the album reaching the Billboard 200 chart on May 1; the Byrds’ famous cover of the song hit the magazine’s Hot 100 singles chart on May 15, on its way to No. 1. Between then and 1969, SHS lists thirty-four covers of the tune, with the vast majority of those coming in the first couple of years.
Among those thirty-four covers was William Shatner’s legendarily bizarre version from his 1968 album A Transformed Man. (You can find it easily at YouTube if you feel the need.) One that I like a lot came from the British group the Marmalade in 1968; another that’s not nearly so high on my list was the cover by Don Sebesky from The Distant Galaxy, his 1969 album of what I can only describe as futuristic easy listening.
One of my favorite versions of the song came from 1969 as well, courtesy of the one-off group of musicians who called themselves the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles for an album called Dylan’s Gospel. As I’ve noted in this space at least once before, the webpage that listed the musicians involved seems to have disappeared in the past five or six years, but I do recall that among the singers on the project were Merry Clayton and Clydie King.
The frequency of covers of “Mr. Tambourine Man” slowed as the 1960s ended, but every now and then, the song drew the attention of a group or performer, and some of the resulting covers sound pretty good from this vantage point. The R&B group Con Funk Shun took the song uptown on a single in 1974, a performance that wound up on the 2010 anthology How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan, and the Fourth Street Sisters recorded the song for the 2002 effort, Blowin’ in the Wind: A Reggae Tribute to Bob Dylan.
A couple of other versions stand out from recent years, though perhaps for different reasons. Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln did a very nice version on her 1997 album Who Used To Dance. And, on an entirely different level, a collection of youngsters from New Zealand called the Starbugs recorded a cheerful and antiseptic version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” for their 2011 album Kids Sing Bob Dylan, and I’m not altogether certain how I feel about their bland take. (Two things to note: The Starbugs – or more realistically, their adult producers – have also fashioned a similar album of Beatles’ songs; and among the members of the Starbugs is Jessie Hillel, who was the runner-up in the 2012 edition of the reality TV show New Zealand’s Got Talent.)
The most interesting version of Dylan’s iconic tune that I’ve found among the later covers – and my explorations have been by no means exhaustive – comes from a group with Minnesota origins. Cloud Cult released its idiosyncratic cover of “Mr. Tambourine Man” on a 2010 EP, Running With The Wolves. I don’t know that I’d ever heard much by Cloud Cult before; as with so many performers and groups that I come across when I explore covers of familiar tunes, that lack has to be remedied.