When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week The Tallest Man On Earth takes on Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.” MAGNET’s Ryan Burleson pulls the pin. Take cover!
Forty-five years ago this month, Bob Dylan released sprawling double-album Blonde On Blonde, a collection so striking that its folk- and country-rocking sound continues to be emulated even today. Indeed, as the Nashville Scene‘s Daryl Sanders notes in his epic cover story on how the album irrevocably changed the city’s image almost overnight, “Blonde On Blonde brings to a climax the staggering creative streak Dylan began when he went electric, infuriated folk purists and freed his muse.” Nashville was once primarily a haven for songwriters who composed for other artists, but the city’s importance in the Blonde On Blonde narrative would soon inspire the likes of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, the Byrds, Joan Baez, Townes Van Zandt and others equally prominent at the time to record albums in Music City backed by the city’s incredible session players, who continue to be the unsung heroes of many popular recordings today.
Released as a single in June 1966 just ahead of the arrival of Blonde On Blonde, “I Want You” is the shortest, and arguably the most direct, song on an album comprised of tracks that extend out as far as 11:23, as on side four’s “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands.” Rumored to be inspired by Anita Pallenberg, then-girlfriend of the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, the song is a sprightly performed gem, capturing “that thin … wild mercury sound” Dylan had labored unsuccessfully to capture for years until the Nashville sessions took place in 1966. Whether the rumor has any merit is beside the point; here, as on much of the material he produced in that defining period, Dylan’s work is addictive no matter the back story.
The Tallest Man On Earth, nom de guerre of Swede Kristian Mattson, has been compared to Dylan since he emerged in 2006 with his eponymous EP, so a cover from him is certainly fitting. And he nails it, supplanting the original’s more robust instrumentation for a svelte banjo riff played live for Daytrotter while Mattson misses nary a beat on the vocal performance. In the end, it may be blasphemous for some of you to side with anyone but Dylan, of course, but I think you’ll be hard-pressed not to be intrigued by The Tallest Man On Earth after you hear Mattson’s rendition, if you’re not already.