Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Visions of Johanna Covers


What did you expect? Visions of Jerry?

Grateful Dead, "Visions of Johanna (live)"

Jerry Garcia, "Visions of Johanna (live)"

Lee Ranaldo, "Visions of Johanna" (YSI link)

Marianne Faithfull, "Visions of Johanna" (YSI link)

Robyn Hitchcock, "Visions of Johanna [Version 1]" (YSI link)

Robyn Hitchcock, "Visions of Johanna [Version 2]"

I wanted to thank everyone who left comments on the previous post about Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna." I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who considers that Dylan's masterpiece (or one of them, at least). I figured I'd follow that one up with a post looking at the various covers of "Visions" from over the years.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Grateful Dead, and Jerry Garcia in particular, would have covered this tune live. The Dead and Dylan had a special relationship, which I've discussed before, covering each other's songs, going on tour together, expressing their respect for the other's music. Garcia, imo, comes closest to matching Mr. Dylan's own versions. It's the voice, as neither man has what you would call perfect vocals. But, it's those imperfections that allowed both men to take their songs of heartbreak and pain to the next level. The two versions above capture the Grateful Dead live, the first is on the Fallout From The Phil Zone compilation, the second from the amazing Garcia Plays Dylan 2 CD comp. The second is a phenomenal version, the best I've heard the Dead do, check for the part where Jerry nearly screams the lyrics (6+ minute mark). Grab those CDs at the Grateful Dead Store, summer's coming up and there's no better time for some Dead in your life.

Surprisingly, those are the best cover version of the song. That title belongs to Lee Renaldo's take, which is as near-perfect. Renaldo, of course, is the guitarist for Sonic Youth, and with a little thought, it makes sense that he would get this song perfectly. SY are one of the perfect NYC bands, raised on the no wave, post-punk scene, they've always conveyed that gritty, noisy, edgy version of city life. For me, Dylan's Blonde on Blonde hit that sound first, filled with anger, sadness, energy

The rest, quite honestly, prove to me that Bob Dylan was the best interpreter of Bob Dylan's songs. I read many people who complain about Dylan's voice and all that, but I couldn't disagree more (read the embarrassing first review on the Hitchcock disc). When you hear these amazing artists do his song, they just fall flat. They convey none of the pain or madness that Dylan does with their "better" voices. Hitchock actually does two discs worth of Dylan material live on Robyn Sings, including a recreation of the famous 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" electric second set. It's great to see someone so open about their influences, but it just never rises above a cover band feel. Marianne Faithfull's version from Rich Boy Blues just doesn't work for me, she seems uninspired to be honest and the female voice probably just runs into my own preconceived notions of what the song should sound like.


Private Beach said...

If Marianne's version sounds uninspired, it's probably because (I believe) it was recorded during her junkie phase, when she was pretty much out of it. Her later work (from Broken English onwards) is much better.

Christian Stone said...

An excellent acoustic cover of "Visions of Johanna" was also done by Chris Smither on his "Leave the light on" CD.

bruno said...

my favourite is Marianne's

ericbkk said...

Thanks, once again, for the excellent tunes.
Here's the Chris Smithers VoJ as mentioned by christian stone above.



ericbkk said...

After listening to these tracks, I've come to the conclusion that the song may require an American accent; the song just doesn't work in any of the 3 English versions. Or perhaps it's just that I've been listening to the song too much!
If you scroll down on this page, you'll find a transcript of Loudon Wainwright III talking about VoJ on BBC Radio 3.


RS Link to ZIP containing your 6 VoJ covers + Chris Smither: