Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash are two songwriters of the highest calibre. You can take any of song and spin it into any genre which, more often than not, will work—proof that a good song is a good song regardless of who is performing it. One of the finest covers of a song penned by either of the duo is when Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds covered ‘Wanted Man’ with the result being one of pure magnificence as they added new life into the track.
Bob Dylan, who originally wrote ‘Wanted Man‘ with Johnny Cash, went on to have great success with the track which was debuted on his 1969 live album, At San Quentin, and would later release a studio version which he remarkably had only learnt a week beforehand. The genius of Dylan was so stark that it allowed him to pen a song of such greatness and, quite simply, hand it over to his friend.
A previously unreleased demo of the track by both Dylan and Cash was released last year by the former and it is breathtaking to hear. However, there is something even more unique about the ferocious visceral nature of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ 1985 effort. Cave was granted permission to use the lyrics from both Cash and Dylan, he also added some of his own to the song to mould it even further into his image. Johnny Cash was undoubtedly a fan of Cave’s effort as some 15 years later he would repay the favour by covering ‘Mercy Seat‘ on his 2000 album American III: Solitary Man.
Cash, having heard Cave’s song while learning about executions in Texas, commented: “If a man’s been there 25 years, maybe we should consider whether or not he has become a good human being and do we still want to kill him,” while discussing the debate of capital punishment.
Cave, undeniably proud of the Cash reference, once said: “It doesn’t matter what anyone says,” in an interview. “Johnny Cash recorded my song.”
Rick Rubin later arranged for the two of them to spend some time in the studio together during the recording sessions for Cash’s final album American IV: The Man Comes Around where the pair worked on a cover of Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ which was an experience that the Australian will remember until his last dying breath.
Recalling what it was like to work with his idol, Cave is on record as saying: “When I met him in the studio he was very sick, he was very frail and then he just sat down with his guitar… and he just became empowered, and Johnny Cash just started singing… it was an incredible thing to see,” Cave emphatically relayed. “I witnessed a man rejuvenated in the studio by what he was doing… I didn’t find it sad, I found it hugely inspiring”.
Take in Cave and The Bad Seeds version of ‘Wanted Man’ below.