Surrealist British comedian Bob Mortimer seems like an interesting place to start an article on a stunning Bob Dylan cover by Bryan Ferry, but he once posited his adoration for the former Roxy Music frontman by saying: “I love Bryan Ferry because he’s a great rock star, but he could also be a bus conductor.”
This combination of a humanised edge pairing with celestial stardom is something that abides within the weird vagabond relatability to the otherwise numen-like Dylan. Much like Ferry, despite trailblazing musical advancements and being adored by millions, he has never lost his common touch and that is not only humbling but it also adds a stirring realism to his music.
Link most of us, it is no surprise that Ferry has immense adoration for Dylan. Brian Ferry once said, “When you get music and words together, that can be a very powerful thing,” but later added, “I find them difficult.” While his discography seems to imply that lyrics came easier to him than he lets on, leaning on Bob Dylan is a great crutch if they were a strain.
Dylan himself once borrowed the following Hoagy Carmichael quote to explain some of his songwriting: “And then it happened, that queer sensation that this melody was bigger than me. Maybe I hadn’t written it all. The recollection of how, when and where it all happened became vague as the lingering strains hung in the rafters in the studio. I wanted to shout back at it, ‘maybe I didn’t write you, but I found you’.”
Therefore, with Dylan’s Promethean pluck from the ether accounted for, a prize has to go to anyone who dares to reinvent it but returns that all-important rafter lingering mandate that Dylan correctly identifies as key. Ferry famously achieved that with ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ but he also did it with his lesser-known Dylan effort, ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’.
As for the song, the sheer number of singer-songwriters who have had a go at ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ is a testimony to its brilliance. Where most break-up songs are straightforward laments, Dylan captures duality and complexities with a song akin to postmodernist prose, that leaves you questioning the narrator and protagonist in equal measure.
All that being said, with this song Dylan unquestionably arrives at one of his finest melodies to boot. The plucking is very much in his key, and the solemnity dwells in the wheelhouse of his soul. Many might have had a go at it, but this track is a distillation of Dylan in a very pure form and as such it has never been bettered.
If you manage to cover it and you simply don’t denigrate its brilliance then you have succeeded. Thankfully, Ferry goes beyond that and reaches exultant heights.