Breaking News: Bob Dylan cover album may not actually be the end of the world

3 Nov

When finding out that Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha are among a recently announced list of artists to contribute to a charity Bob Dylan tribute album (yes, the obvious joke is that we thought Amnesty International were against torture?), the instinctive response for most people is a negative one. Excluding those rare few who are genuine fans of both Bob Dylan and Ms Cyrus – if, in fact, such people exist – it’s fair to say that neither fanbase is going to experience a reaction of pure, unadulterated joy. Fans of Dylan are those who usually exude a sense of their own superiority, categorising Bob Dylan as ‘real’ music and turning up their noses at the so-called mainstream, particularly Miley’s brand of Disney pop. And Miley’s own fans, those oft-reviled ‘teenies’, aren’t likely to have any kind of interest in the strains of Dylan’s folk-rock music that they probably associate with their father.

But couldn’t that be a good thing? One of the main criticisms from the classic rock denizens is that the generalised ‘yoof of today’ listen to denigrated artists such as Justin Bieber and the previously mentioned Miley and Ke$ha, while overlooking classic and influential musicians – namely, Bob Dylan himself. And let’s be honest, the majority of these teen-pop fans are not going to specifically seek out Dylan with their current lack of interest. So couldn’t this album be the motivation they are so sorely lacking?

A concern from the keyboards of the Dylan fans is that the songs will be ‘ruined’. Ke$ha’s cover of Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright will ‘ruin’ it. But it’s arguable whether or not a song can legitimately be ruined, particularly by a cover. If all it takes for a listener’s personal enjoyment of a song to be ruined is hearing one bad cover version, then I’m not sure how the Beatles have any fans left at all. It’s really sad if a song can be spoiled simply by someone else singing it – and if that really is all that it takes, why not outlaw karaoke? Or open mic nights? People are always going to want to create their own versions of a song that they enjoy – and let’s not forget the singer’s own enjoyment of that song, and that they are on equal footing with you as a fan first and foremost – and just because Ke$ha’s cover is going to gain more exposure than an unknown YouTube user’s would does not mean that she shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

That’s not to say that people shouldn’t be allowed to criticise, but it’s worth remembering that the original version of the song is always going to be available to listen to. I’m not implying that I’m going to have Miley’s take on whatever Dylan song she chooses on repeat on my iTunes. I will give it a listen, because I like Bob Dylan. And I like hearing how other people choose to interpret his songs. I like songs that are reimagined and stay current and that the same song is able to, in this way, appeal to so many different audiences. And if I don’t like Miley’s cover – as, despite the fact that I’m giving it a chance, I suspect that I won’t – I’ll turn it off.

Because I do have an inclination of the kind of criticisms that are going to be made. Let’s not forget, after all, that Miley’s cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit was voted the #1 Worst Cover of All Time in a Rolling Stone readers poll. If she’s learned anything from this (which admittedly, is unlikely) it’s not to strip the song of all the feeling and do exactly what her critics are going to hate – turn it into another overly-polished, peppy, Disney anthem. Dylan’s music is strong because of the lack of polish, because of the raw edges and the honest feeling behind it, and I’ll fully admit that I’m entirely sceptical that Miley will be able to pull this off.

More hopeful is the news that Adele is signed up to cover Make You Feel My Love, something she’s already tackled on her debut album 19 and pulled off with unusual aplomb. So it’s not going to be all bad.

The worst case scenario (and arguably the most realistic) is that Miley and Ke$ha contribute horrific covers of their chosen songs. But if that helps Bob Dylan’s songs reach the ears of a whole new audience, who wouldn’t have otherwise been inclined to seek him out, then it’s not the post-apocalyptic response that people seem to be anticipating. Whether people enjoy the covers or not, they’re going to happen. They’re not going to be the worst in the world – unless Ms Cyrus manages to knock her own cover from the top spot. Who knows, some people might even enjoy them. And that’s not such a bad thing.


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