Here’s a fantastic Bob Dylan song that’s even lovelier when sung by his ex-paramour, the great Joan Baez. I came upon this song by accident on YouTube, and remembered two things: what a great voice she had (up there with Karen Carpenter and Barbra Streisand, my two favorites) and what a great song this is.
It was written by Dylan around 1967 and first recorded by The Band (you can hear the group and Dylan nine years later here). But nobody, to my mind, even came close to the quality of Joan Baez’s version. Below is the live version of the song performed at Woodstock. Just a great song, an angelic voice, and a guitar.
It’s a gorgeous song, fusing a prisoner’s yearning for freedom with religious yearning for salvation. If you want a recorded version with more instrumentation, go here.
Below is one of Dylan’s versions. The reason his aren’t as good is simply that he’s nowhere as good a singer as Baez. It still amazes me, though, that something of this quality could come out of Dylan, just as all his great hits amaze me.
And I’m not the only one. In Dylan’s bio in Wikipedia you can read this:
On hearing Dylan perform his song “With God on Our Side“, Baez later said, “I never thought anything so powerful could come out of that little toad”
But of course they then had a relationship.
Two other versions of note. First, the trio of Mama Cass, Mary Travers and Joni Mitchell singing the song on Mama Cass’s television show. To be honest, this version doesn’t move me that much, but it is a collection of great vocalists.
And the gala version with Dylan, the Band, and a bunch of stars (Joni Mitchell, Ron Wood, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison) from the 1976 version The Last Waltz:
Dylan must be ranked as one of the greatest songwriters of the late 1900s, but not as a great singer/songwriter. The man couldn’t sing that well, nor was he a great instrumentalist. All his talent went into the song.