Rock Flashback: Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”

Bob Dylan plays the Grammys, February 2011 (Getty Images/Kevin Winter/Staff)

Today is [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Bob Dylan[/lastfm]’s 70th birthday. At an age, and with a bankroll, that would permit him to hole up on an island to be served grapes by scantily-clad female devotees, Dylan continues to record…and to fascinate, due lately to his unusual statement about the setlists for his recent shows in China.

We needn’t spend much time sketching the arc of his career here — if you’re reading this post, you likely already know it. Instead, let’s listen to one key Dylan song in several guises.

“Girl From the North Country” first appeared on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963. Here’s a vintage TV clip of Dylan in performance from the early 1960s, which has the added bonus of permitting you to learn the Italian translation of the lyrics.

The song didn’t become famous until several years later. In February 1969, Dylan was working on what would become the Nashville Skyline album. [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Johnny Cash[/lastfm], working on his own record in an adjacent studio, stopped by, and the two began playing together. They recorded several duets of each other’s songs, and a version of “Girl From the North Country” ended up opening Dylan’s album. When Cash launched his TV variety show that summer, Dylan appeared on the premiere episode to sing “Girl From the North Country.” The video of that performance is not available at YouTube, but a later performance of the song by Cash and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Joni Mitchell[/lastfm] is.

When Johnny Cash gave his 18-year-old daughter Rosanne a list of 100 essential songs in 1973, “Girl From the North Country” was on it. And in 2009, when she recorded her album The List, she included it. And because today is also [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Rosanne Cash[/lastfm]’s birthday — and because we dig her extremely — here she is, talking about “Girl From the North Country” and performing it on Swedish TV in 2009.

The song has also been covered by [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Rod Stewart[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Joe Cocker[/lastfm], and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Robert Plant[/lastfm]. [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Eddie Vedder[/lastfm] tackles it on his forthcoming album Water on the Road.

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