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(Credit: Douglas R. Gilbert)

From Johnny Cash to Joan Baez: 5 best covers of Bob Dylan's 'It Ain’t Me Babe’

By 1964, Bob Dylan was already considered a folk legend after making a name for himself in the underground Greenwich Village club scene and catapulting into stardom with his first three albums. But with his fourth studio release, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan began to shy away from political ballads in favour of more personal songs about the human experience, which is evident in ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe.’

Although in true Dylan fashion, the song’s meaning has never been explicitly revealed, biographers and fans generally agree the inspiration comes from his 1963 visit to Italy to search for his girlfriend at the time Suze Rotolo, who was studying there. The song, along with the album in its entirety, was recorded on June 9, 1964, in a single all-night studio session, supplemented by “a couple of bottles of Beaujolais”.

Still finding a way to comment on pop culture while staying true to his new style, the refrain “no, no, no, it ain’t me babe” was a reference to The Beatles’ “she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah,” from their hit song, ‘She Loves You.’ But while Dylan showed his subtle appreciation for other artists, if you could call it that, his admirers did the same for him by covering this iconic tune.

The song, now regarded as one of his best, has amassed dozens of renditions over the years, and while some may say that Dylan is an impossible act to cover, these versions are ones he’d surely be proud of— in his unaffected way, at least.

Without further ado, here are the five best covers of Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’.

The 5 best covers of ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’

Johnny Cash

Although Bob Dylan had admired Johnny Cash’s discography for years leading up to their meeting, Cash’s public admiration for Dylan began with the 1963 release The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The album was reportedly on constant rotation backstage at Cash’s shows, but it wasn’t until 1965 that Cash finally recorded one of Dylan’s songs. 

With the help of June Carter, Cash recorded a version of ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ for his 1965 album, Orange Blossom Special in his signature rockabilly-Esque, upbeat style and it quickly became a hit.

In 2005, the Cash version was also featured in the biopic Walk the Line, performed by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for the film’s soundtrack, producing a new wave of appreciation for the brilliant cover.

Joan Baez

With a relationship that began with an unknown Dylan being an admirer of the already established Baez, it was later reciprocated in the many covers she did in the early years of her career.

Baez’s alluring cover of ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ appeared on her 1964 album Joan Baez/5, after the pair sang a duet of the song on July 24, 1964, while at the Newport Folk Festival. 

In her version, Baez’s incredible vocals give the song a sentimental dimension Dylan was unable to portray in his nasal style. Much like with her other Dylan covers, ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ is undoubtedly more than able to hold its own in the vast list of Dylan covers.

The Turtles

Hopping on the trend of recording electric versions of folk songs, American rock band The Turtles instantly seized the opportunity to record a version of Dylan’s ballad. Lead singer Howard Kaylan said about the process, “I found Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ on an album and, being blissfully unaware that anyone else had ever recorded it, thought that it would make a great rock song. So I literally ‘lifted’ the Zombies’ approach to pop — a soft Colin Blunstone-like minor verse bursting into a four-four major chorus a-la ‘She’s Not There.’

“In my defence, it was written well in advance of the Byrds records and, in fact, was a Dylan cop. Hey, we were all doing it. We never said that we were trendsetters.”

But even though they were initially a glorified cover band, this cover catapulted them into the spotlight by reaching number eight on the national charts and created the foundation for a successful career consisting of their own hits such as ‘Happy Together’ and ‘Elenore.’

Maxine Weldon

Largely unknown in the mainstream industry, soul and jazz singer Maxine Weldon released a cover of the famous song years after its initial release, when Dylan’s folksy sound was long-gone.

With a revival of folk ballads in the early ’70s, Weldon’s version showcased this sound, mixing easy listening with soul, along with her impressive vocals.

Featured on her debut release Right On along with a cover of another Dylan hit, ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ Weldon managed to fuse jazz and blues to give the song a unique soulful edge that, unlike the others, adds weight to the song’s emotional lyrics.

Miley Cyrus

Over the years, Miley Cyrus has showcased her Dylan appreciation with several covers. The first one is ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, was recorded in the fall of 2011 as a contribution to the Chimes of Freedom charity project. From there, she moved to ‘Baby, I’m in the Mood for You’ and settled on ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ for her 2014 Bangerz tour. 

Even though Cyrus was in her heavily hip-hop influenced era, she chose to perform her rendition several times throughout the tour’s life, showing that she’s still a country/folk girl at heart.

With her raspy voice, certainly built for belting out rock ballads, it gives the song a harder edge, making it certainly one of the most remarkable covers ever performed. 

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