From The Byrds and Jimi Hendrix to Guns ‘n’ Roses and, um, Avril Lavigne: everyone under the sun has covered Bob Dylan at some point or another. As well as writing innately coverable songs, Dylan was a dab hand when it came to making other people’s track’s his own. Take his rendition of Waylon Jenning’s 1973 classic ‘We Had It All’.
It’s a classic country ballad: syrupy, nostalgic, and with a string section to die for. But when Dylan covered it live in 1986, he managed to transform the tender acoustic number into an electrifying, guitar-driven masterpiece.
‘We Had It All’ was originally written by Troy Seals and Donnie Fritts. It paints a heartfelt picture of two former lovers remembering happier days, knowing that they are lost. “I can hear the wind blowing in my mind Just the way it used to sound through the Georgia pines / And you were there to answer when I called / You and me, we had it all,” Jennings sings in the opening verse. For the song’s speakers, a love once shared is as distant and unattainable as childhood is to an old man.
Waylon Jennings was the first person to record ‘We Had It All’, releasing that track in 1973 on his Honky Tonk Heroes album. The only song on the record not penned by Billy Joe Shaver, It landed at number 28 on the country charts. Like so many classic country songs, the track’s real strength was in its versatility.
Over the years, it was taken on by a stunning range of artists, including the likes of Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Rita Coolidge, The Rolling Stones, Scott Walker (who named his tenth studio album after it), and even Elvis Presley – although ‘The King’s’ cover was apparently never finished. According to session musician Norbert Putnam, who played bass on no less than 122 Elvis songs, the rock ‘n’ roller was in love with the track but found that it reminded him too much of his recent divorce from Priscilla. According to Putnam the Stax session in which Presley attempted to record ‘We Had It All’ was so hopeless that the singer threw down his microphone and shouted: “You can put that one out after I’ve been dead 20 years!”
Perhaps one of the greatest covers of ‘We Had It All’ was delivered by Bob Dylan in the mid-’80s. Backed by a trio of gospel singers and a gigantic band, Dylan takes what, in Jennings’s hands, is a simple ballad played with solo guitar, and transforms it into a near-symphonic masterpiece. This gloriously rich cover can be found on the Bob Dylan with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers triple album. Make sure you check it out below.