Truthfully, this article should have been titled The Nine Best and One Worst 'Don't Think Twice' Covers, but because of the modern hegemony of S.E.O., the title had to include the word Ke$ha, who has just recorded her version of the song for the upcoming Dylan cover album Chimes of Freedom: Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.
The four disk album includes 76 tracks recorded by a cornucopia of artists, such as Adele, Pete Townshend, Lenny Kravitz, Natasha Bedingfield and Bad Religion.
Dylan covers can be tricky. When done right, they can be as good as the original, if not better. Guns N Roses Knockin' on Heaven's Door is a perfect 1991 re-imagining of the original, while Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watch Tower takes Dylan's song to a new height. Dylan has praised Hendrix for improving the song, and now plays Hendrix's version live instead of his own.
But, when done wrong, Dylan covers are very, very wrong. Examples of this are Nancy Sinatra's It Ain't Me Babe and the version of Knockin' on Heaven's Door that a girl named Larissa once sang at a house party I went to, which was one of the most awkward experiences of my life. Bad Dylan is bad music.
Below, in no particular order, are the best Don't Think Twice, it's Alright covers, and the one worst. After the jump.
Peter, Paul and Mary
Gorgeous. That's the best word to describe Peter, Paul and Mary's version of the song, which is replete with their signature harmonizing and somehow playful earnestness. The folk trio's cover of Don't Think Twice, It's Alright made it #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963.
Baez still plays this song live, and, as a true testament to her artistry, the song sounds different, and maybe even better, now than it did when she played it 40 years ago.
Probably the most recognizable thing about Bob Dylan is his voice, but here, Chet Atkins and harmonica player Terry McMillan eliminate all the vocals from the song. They use the melody as the base for thoughtful, restrained solos and show how beautiful Dylan's songwriting was when he was at his best.
Cash and Dylan were artist and social contemporaries; both were genre-bending artists who took country and folk music into the mainstream. They were also, as far as one can tell, friends. They sang together on the beautiful Girl from the North Country, off of Dylan's album Nashville Skyline, and their 1969 jam sessions have become a music legend.
This song was recorded at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival.
Say what you want about John Mayer, but he is a talented musician. Doubters should listen to the The John Mayer Trio album Try!, where the Berklee School of Music drop-out really shows offs his chops. The world probably would have been a better place if Mayer had just stuck to the Blues and not gone down the whole celebrity-dating, college-rocking route.
However, one does think twice when listening to Mayer's (live) Don't Think Twice, because it kind of sounds like a sophomore playing guitar on the quad. Gone is the fancy pick-work of Atkins and Baez, and in its place is Mayer's syrupy voice. But that's the whole point of a cover song: to take someone else's track and make it your own.
The Wonder Who? (The Four Tops)
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons recorded for singles under the name The Wonder Who? between 1965 and 1967. The vocal group originally wanted to use the name to record an album of just Dylan covers, but ended up singing more mainstream (for the time) songs like On the Good Ship Lollipop and You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.
Their version of Don't think Twice is a strange song. Vallie apparently didn't like how he sounded on the track, so decided to turn it into a joke, and sang in a ridiculous falsetto that almost ruins an otherwise unique and interesting version of the song.
The Wonder Who?'s Don't think Twice did get to number #12 on the pop chart, but one wonders how much better this song could have been if Valli had taken it seriously.
Admittedly, I just said that the whole point of a cover song: to take someone else's track and make it your own, and Ke$ha's version is unlike anyone's, to be sure. But if Atkins removed the lyrics to make the song more beautiful, Ke$ha's removal of the music has the opposite effect. A contrast to her normal singing voice (which she really doesn't sing with, does she? She more talks than sings) is actually a little raspy, like Dylan's, but the sniffling inhales and over-the-top emotion do not flatter either Ke$ha or Dylan.
Nonetheless, Ke$ha says the emotions in the song are genuine. She told Rolling Stone that she recorded the song alone in her bedroom on just her laptop and in just one take, and that she began crying while singing.
There were particular lyrics in the song that you can just tell, once they came out of my mouth – the emotion caught up with me and I just started weeping, she says. It's something that I didn't plan on, that wasn't contrived at all. It just sort of happened, she said.
That's completely understandable and really pretty moving. But the song just isn't very good, and still wouldn't be without all that crying.
Bonus: Eric Clapton & Bob Dylan