It’s Bob Dylan’s most moving song about lost love – tapping into the dark emotional current of his own failing marriage to his first wife, Sarah, in the mid-’70s.
Love slipped away in the night.
He woke up and the room was bear
He didn’t see he anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care
He pushed the window open wide
He felt an emptiness inside too
He could just not relate
But by a simple twist of fate
“Simple Twist Of Fate” became an unlikely hit, a sleeper, from his critically acclaimed “divorce album,” Blood On The Tracks (January 1975). The LP ran up to the No. 1 slot on the Billboard 200.
Joan Baez, who was romantically involved with Dylan in the early-’60s, was the first artist to cover “Simple Twist Of Fate” – a track she released on her 1975 album, Diamonds & Rust. Baez was followed by a parade of talented acts and artists (too many to list them all here), like Jeff Tweedy, The Levon Helm Band, Jimmy LaFave and The Jerry Garcia Band.
Who does the best cover of Bob Dylan’s classic, “Simple Twist Of Fate”? (Please vote for your favorite at the bottom. The covers are in alphabetical order by act/artist name.)
Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks (1975)
Here’s the original with all the simmering power of a runaway freight train.
Concrete Blonde – Still In Hollywood (1994)
It’s the dark, howling – almost gothic – vocal delivery of lead singer Johnette L. Napolitano that makes this a standout reinterpretation of Dylan’s classic from the American alt-rock band. (Also check out their cover of Jimi’s “Little Wing.”)
Jeff Tweedy – I’m Not There (2007 soundtrack)
Tweedy (of Wilco fame) brings his stark, unpretentious vocals to his stripped-down version of “Simple Twist Of Fate.” Tweedy’s cover is included on the soundtrack for the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic, I’m Not There. The haunting fiddle is reminiscent of the feel on Dylan’s 1976 album, Desire. Tweedy massages the lyrics, as Dylan does in his live recording of the song from The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue:
He woke up and she was gone
He didn’t see nothing but the dawn
He got out of bed with his clothes back on
Pushed back blind
Found a note she’d left behind
To which he just could not relate
All about a simple twist of fate
The Jerry Garcia Band – Jerry Garcia Band (1991)
It’s no secret that Jerry Garcia understood the brilliance and timelessness of Dylan’s material. He performed scads of Bob’s covers with The Jerry Garcia Band and his main act, The Grateful Dead, including classics like “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Visions Of Johanna,” Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Quinn The Eskimo (Mighty Quinn).” Garcia’s soulful, plaintive voice in the early-’90s lends itself beautifully to this live reinterpretation of “Simple Twist Of Fate,” capturing all of the sorrow and emptiness of Dylan’s original. Jerry slows the pace – stretching the 4-minute song to nearly 12 with Melvin Seals on organ and John Kahn on bass.
Jimmy LaFave – Trail (1999)
LaFave is hailed as one of America’s greatest voices – crystal clean and deeply stirring to the soul. His vocals bring a fierce energy and urgency to Dylan’s restrained original. LaFave – a Texas-born disciple of folk-giant Woody Guthrie – is a master interpreter of Dylan’s song book, covering everything from “Oh, Sister” to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from “Positively 4th Street” to “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” In LaFave’s live reinterpretation of “Simple Twist Of Fate,” his vocals sound like Warren Haynes meets Joe Cocker. It works.
Joan Baez – Diamonds & Rust (1975)
Baez, who was romantically involved with Dylan in the early-’60s, was the first to cover “Simple Twist Of Fate.” Her femininely folky, uptempo reinterpretation whisks us back to a simpler time.
The Levon Helm Band – The Midnight Ramble Sessions, Vol. 3 (2014)
Helm – the drummer-vocalist for Dylan’s one-time backers, The Band – brought in vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Mitchell to imbue this reinterpretation with a smoky, old-school New Orleans-style swagger.
Sarah Jarosz – Build Me Up From Bones (2013)
This is a beautiful reinterpretation from the multi-instrumentalist sing-songwriter from Austin, TX. She strips it all the way down to the raw emotion.
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