Original v. Cover — #60 in a Series

wind Pictures, Images and Photos

Tomorrow could have been the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 82nd birthday, had an assassin’s bullet not so cruelly silenced his voice. At a turbulent time when this nation could have easily descended into the flames of a second Civil War, King’s leadership charged his followers, righteously angry and understandably desiring revenge, to adopt a far more measured and difficult course — a course that may well have been the only path leading to the significant, albeit incomplete, civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s.

Borrowing from the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament and Mahatma Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King Jr. advocated passive resistance as the only viable path to the freedom that he and his followers sought. King was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and at present, is the only figure in our history whose birthday is designated as a national holiday, since Abraham Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays are no longer celebrated as separate distinct holidays.  

Even the most cowardly can quickly and easily summon hatred, leaning upon it as one would a crutch, as a means to justify all manner of atrocities. King advocated meeting that hatred with love, a powerful but unquantifiable concept as foreign, frightening and unknowable to an oppressor as sunlight to a vampire.

Only the truly courageous and determined can successfully practice civil disobedience, realizing that they will likely be spat upon, threatened, beaten, arrested, and in some cases, face lynching in its many ugly forms. To bear unjust suffering is difficult enough, but suppressing the instinctive fight or flight response requires the most extraordinary kind of courage. Had King’s followers reacted to violence with violence, even the most horrific cruelties of the oppressors would have been labeled as “self defense.”  Personal sacrifice in reaching for a better world, perhaps not for oneself, but for one’s forebears is perhaps the most noble, and in the present day, rare quality.

Last year at the beginning of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the Original v. Cover song was Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come”, which was written as a response to this week’s selection.  

One of the greatest anthems of the civil rights movement derived from a seemingly unlikely source. This week’s selection was first performed by Robert Allen Zimmerman, a then 20-year-old Caucasian folk singer/songwriter in 1962, who was raised in the Mesabi Iron Range town of Hibbing, Minnesota, home to Vincent Bugliosi, author of “Helter Skelter” and Kevin McHale, former NBA star with the Boston Celtics.  In fact, Mavis Staples of the Staple Sisters, expressed great surprise that a young white man could so competely capture the frustrations and aspirations of the black people.

The song itself was first released in album form in 1963. Labeled as a protest song, it raises questions about peace, war and freedom.  The refrain from the song is perhaps even more intriguing due to its ambiguity, suggesting that the answer to such questions is either quite obvious or exceedingly elusive and ethereal. As with great works of art, the interpretation is in the eye of the beholder.  

This week’s selection was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and in 2004, was ranked #14 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. As with many other songs, the original performer’s recording did not chart, however, two cover versions did.  A version by Peter, Paul and Mary rose to #2 on the charts in 1963 and another version by Stevie Wonder peaked at #9 in 1966.

If you have been around long enough to notice that the print in phonebooks and maps has shrunk, and bothered in your youth to learn three or four chords on the guitar, you may well have led a number of friends in singing this popular song. If you haven’t yet reached that stage, where the indignities of advancing age make themselves known, ask your parents or grandparents. They will most assuredly remember when this song was part of the popular culture.  

For those who may wonder if there is a connection between this song and Martin Luther King, Jr., there is. The August 28, 1963, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (aka “The Great March on Washington”) was the event that featured Martin Luther King Jr. delivering his “I Have a Dream Speech” from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, addressing a crowd estimated to number anywhere from 200,000 to more than 300,000. The composer also performed at this event, although this week’s feature song was performed by Peter, Paul and Mary. This march has been credited by historians as instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  

Although the original version was recorded by a lone guitarist/vocalist, who also played the harmonica, it has been performed in almost every style imaginable, from folk, New Age, bluegrass, jazz, gospel, rhythm & blues, reggae, country and yes, even heavy metal. Although the heavy metal cover won’t be included in this essay, for the curious, you can search for and easily find the version by Me First and the Gimmee Gimmees. Perhaps you, too, will discover that, depending upon the performer and the style, the song may convey a somber, reflective tone or alternatively, one filled with hope and joy.  

Having exhausted all reasonable clues at this point, without further ado, this week’s selection is the song written and first performed by Robert Allen Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) in 1962 and released in 1963, entitled, “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  

There is far more information about this song that can be included within the confines of this essay. This writer would encourage those who are interested to access their favorite online sources for the fascinating details.

As usual, this writer would be hard pressed to narrow down the field to even five favorite cover versions. All are good, and a few (which I’ve attempted to designate as such) are great.  

Please don’t forget to check out the cover versions by Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, Bonnie Raitt, and Mica Paris and the one by All Angels (although all are great, if you have the time).    

Here are the lyrics…

Blowin’ in the Wind

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

How many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, how many times must the cannon balls fly

Before they’re forever banned?

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many years can a mountain exist

Before it’s washed to the sea?

Yes, how many years can some people exist

Before they’re allowed to be free?

Yes, how many times can a man turn his head

Pretending he just doesn’t see?

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Yes, how many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky?

Yes, how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

Bob Dylan first performed “Blowin’ in the Wind” when he was a little more than a month shy of his 21st birthday.  His performance at Gerde’s Folk City in the West Village area of New York City on April 16, 1962, was recorded and is a favorite of those who collect Dylan memorabilia. The official recording of the song appeared on his 1963 album, entitled “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”…

Bob Dylan (1963)

Peter, Paul and Mary’s cover version sold more than a million copies and peaked at the #2 slot on the Top 40 charts. From October, 1963…

Sam Cooke was quite impressed with Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and frequently included his cover version of the song in his concerts. His song for the ages, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, was ranked #12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was intended as a response to the questions raised in Dylan’s iconic song. From October, 1964…

The Four Seasons (1965)

The Seekers (1965)

Here is a clip from a 1965 television show, featuring the rather unlikely combination of George Maharis (star from the television series “Route 66”), Joe & Eddie, Dionne Warwick and the Animals, performing their cover version of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Embedding has been disabled, but you can see it here.

Stevie Wonder’s cover version peaked at #9 on the charts and can also be found on his 1996 album “Up Tight – All Right”…

Joan Baez (first recorded her cover version in 1967, but here is her performance that was featured on the “Forrest Gump” soundtrack)…

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs gave this song a bluegrass-oriented spin on January 6, 1968…

The Hollies’ distinctive sound can be heard in the following cover version. From 1969…

The Supremes’ cover verion was included in their 1969 album, “Cream of the Crop”…

Bobby Darin, Engelbert Humperdinck and Nancy Wilson sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” on the “Engelbert with the Young Generation” TV show that aired in the UK and Germany in 1972.

Etta James performed this gospel-tinged cover version in 1983…

Natalie Cole, Anita Baker, Bonnie Raitt, and Mica Paris performed this cover version in a dedication to Nelson Mandela, an international tribute to South Africa, held at Wembley Stadium in the U.K. on April 16, 1990. If your time is limited, be sure to watch this one first!

Neil Young performed a cover version, with some fascinating background effects at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, NY on February 22, 1991…

The Abyssinians performed a reggae version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 2002…

The String Quartet Tribute to Bob Dylan is a beautiful instrumental version of “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Posted April 8, 2003…

Ruby Turner performed “Blowin’ in the Wind” with Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra on ITV’s Des and Mel Show, November 2005.  This one’s pretty good…

Alanis Morisette’s cover version was posted on September 16, 2007…

Actress and show performer Marlene Dietrich, passed away in 1992 – Posted June 9, 2009…

Even if you don’t care for choral music, you may still want to check this out!  St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir sang this stunning a capella arrangement, which was posted on July 9, 2009…

The cast from “Hair” performs a medley of “Blowin’ in the Wind” followed by last year’s Martin Luther King holiday Original v. Cover song, Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” -Posted July 21, 2009…

All Angels included their cover verion on their third album, entitled “Fly Away”, in honor of American writers and musician.  This is yet another fantastic arrangement! Posted on January 18, 2010…

Afghani orphans sing “Blowin’ in the Wind”, superimposed with photos taken by photography class from the same orphanage, portraying life in Kabul and a refugee camp on outskirts of the city. This places an important human face on the suffering of which this country has played a significant part.  Go to www.afceco.org for details. Keep your hanky handy. — Posted February 24, 2010

The Leslie Pintchik Quartet, live in concert, perform a great jazz instrumental version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” — Posted July 24, 2010…

The McCrary Sisters, Live at the Loveless Café in Nashville, TN – Posted October 29, 2010…

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23 comments

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  1. The following images are from the cutting room floor…

    Doves, a universal symbol of peace…

    White Doves Pictures, Images and Photos

    Blowing Leaves…

    Blowing in the wind ... Pictures, Images and Photos

    And for some light comic relief…

    Blowing In the Wind Pictures, Images and Photos

    Decinska kotva 1970 — Vladena Pavlickova & Milan Cernohouz & Sonja Salvis – Czech Music. Had to remove all the extra punctuation before I could post this. Anyone care to translate?

    Peter, Paul and Mary performed on April 24, 1971 at a peace march in Washington DC. The anti-war march was organized to protest the Vietnam War. They sang “Blowing in the Wind” and “Give Peace A Chance”.

    Bob Dylan w/Santana live at Barcelona – Posted June 15, 2007…

    David Summerford introduces a performance of the Davids singing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in The Wind.” Dick Cheney’s words from 1994 are included amongst a war photo montage. The irony is inescapable – Posted March 1, 2008

    Sound Choir of Romania, awarded with gold medal and silver medal at Graz Choir Olympics last year, in a concert of American music, featuring invited conductor Valentin Radu, American-Romanian musician, here playing with Valentin at the Bucharest Student’s House. – Posted June 20, 2009…

    Ernest Ranglin does some nice guitar work, with a reggae background – Posted January 26, 2010…

  2. Mavis Staples, who was mentioned in the essay, was part of The Staple Sisters.  They had a number of hits in the early 1970s, four of which reached the Top 20.

    The first was “Respect Yourself”, which hit #12 in 1971…

    This was followed by “I’ll Take You There”, which rose to #1 in 1972…

    Next was “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)”, which peaked at #9 in 1973…

    And although they continued to place songs in the Top 100, their last major hit was written by Curtis Mayfield.  “Let’s Do It Again” rose to #1 in 1975…

    • RUKind on January 15, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Bob Marley’s, too. Woody Guthrie, Arlo, too. Pete Seeger, Joan Baez. so many from the past. So many from each decade’s generation since then.

    Words count when you take them to heart. Words of love, compassion, understanding and acceptance find their home in loving hearts.

    Words count. They can heal or hurt. I thank God for Bob Dylan and all his brother and sister troubadours of the soul.

    In the duality of Nature, I imagine that hate radio is just the obverse of the coin. In the “No Country for DFHs”, it seems that Javier Bardem’s cosmic quarter comes up tails far too often.

    Keep your heads up and a change will come.

  3. Another epic compilation.

    I don`t know how you put so much into your cover diaries.

    It seems it would take we weeks to compile all these covers.

    Thank you.

    And Happy New Year.

    • RiaD on January 16, 2011 at 2:51 am

    i’m amazed by this series.

    i’ve given up trying to vote for best or favorite because pretty much everything you post is good music

    thanks for these

    ♥~

    • RUKind on January 18, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    The entire backstory plus some incredible versions. One of the best was the Harlem Boys Choir. Here with (Suite:)Judy Blue Eyes:

    I took my wife and daughers to NYC on a pre-planned weekend Sep 14-16, 2001. We had the pleasure of attending St. Patrick’s Cathedral that Sunday for a memorial mass. “Amazing Grace” and “America the Beatuiful” were the opening hymns. As I recall “Grace” included bagpipes. It was a unique confluence of time, place and national tragedy that gave an underpinning to both songs that I hope to  remember always and never experience again.

    Soweto Gospel choir, do not skip this one:

    Nana Mouskouri and Judy Collins, a capella first verse:

    Amazing Grace in Cherokee:

    And it wouldn’t be an RUKind comment without including Jerry Garcia, David “Dawg” Grisman, and Tony Rice. You will not hear a better acoustic trio doing this  song:

    Unless I’m mistaken, Jerry’s version is the only one with the final verse of “When we’ve been here ten thousand years…”. Maybe I just missed it on the other ones.

    When you get around to this as an essay do not forget to include Jerry, Dawg and Tony. Thanks.

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