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One of the things I’ve enjoyed — one of the many — about your lists of your favorite Editors’ Blog posts is being reminded of ones I’d mostly forgotten about. Your favorites and mine too tend not to be about political news. They’re more about ideas about politics or history. That makes sense since the pieces about political news are the most ephemeral. The ones about broader observations or theories and commentary retain some relevance over time. This morning TPM Reader RL — the same one who wrote in about NY-16 — followed up and pointed to this 2017 piece on Bob Dylan’s three Christian albums — 1979–1981. I enjoyed writing that and and reading it again going on a decade later.

It’s only an aside reference in the piece. But I was happy to see it. I was just thinking recently that my favorite version of Blowin’ in the Wind is the one Dylan was doing on tour in 1981, which was a half electric rock/half gospel version. As I noted back then, it’s not that it’s necessarily better than the original. Just that one is, for me at least, kind of worn out by repetition. I’d forgotten, when thinking this recently, that I’d thought the same thing a few years ago. I wrote:

It may be the best version I’ve ever heard of this song. Some of my reaction is that, for me, the original folk version, played so many times by Dylan and virtually everyone else at some point or another has just had all the novelty crushed out of it, like a tunic worn 100,000 times by too many people. There’s nothing left. This is a very different version. It starts in a semi-spoken gospel version with Dylan almost over-voiced by his touring gospel chorus which then launches into a thumping electric, building rendition. It’s very good.

In a sense it’s Dylan covering his own song.

There’s a cliche or a comment you hear from some people that the best versions of Dylan’s songs are covers by other people. That’s a lot to do with what kind of a Dylan fan you are or whether you are one at all. With the possible exception of Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along the Watchtower I don’t think I can think of a single example of a Dylan cover I prefer to the original. But Dylan’s voice and orchestration aren’t for everyone. What makes his songbook one of the most covered ever, certainly in the singer/songwriter era, is that there are many songs in Dylan’s songs. There’s a lot of texture in them and a lot of different things you can do with them. And Dylan himself does a lot with this, playing them very differently at different points in his career.

Final point on Blowin’ in the Wind. It would have been absurd and unthinkable for the 1981 live version of Blowin’ in the Wind to be the original version. And not just for the obvious reason that he wrote and recorded it in 1962 and 1963. That rock/gospel version can’t be great without the original, lightly produced guitar and voice version hanging back as a counterpoint in your mind as you listen to it. There are a lot of songs in Dylan’s songs. And sometimes the spark and the magic comes from different versions of them speaking to each other across time.

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