Dylan’s Late Career Classics: Make You Feel My Love

One of the many amazing and unusual things about Bob Dylan is that he continues to write great songs after such a long career. Most talented artists have a short period of brilliant creativity, but Dylan has transcended time. Few artists in any field have had such a long career of such quality.

While Dylan is most famous for his early output, in his later years he continues to create relevant and beautiful music. One of those songs is “Make You Feel My Love” from his 1997 album, Time Out Of Mind.

The song has been covered by number of artists. Garth Brooks and Billy Joel, two great pop songwriters themselves, recognized the brilliance of “Make You Feel My Love.” They each released cover versions immediately after the song was available, with Brooks’s song going to number one on the country charts. The song also has been covered by Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Bryan Ferry, Joan Osborne, Kris Allen, Shawn Colvin, Neil Diamond, and Garth’s wife Trisha Yearwood, among others.

Garth Brooks and Bob Dylan are anti-You Tube, so it is harder to hear their versions online, but you may hear a clip of Bob Dylan’s original on his website. If you are brave you might try this short clip of actor Jeremy Irons singing “To Make You Feel My Love.” Rebecca Ferguson, the season runner-up on the 2010 United Kingdom’s X Factor received a standing ovation from Simon Cowell for her version of the song, and 2009 American Idol winner Kris Allen also performed the song on that show. The Garth Brooks version also appeared in the Sandra Bullock movie, Hope Floats.

By contrast, music critics have not been so kind to the song. Nigel Williamson’s Rough Guide to Bob Dylan calls it the “slightest composition” on Time Out of Mind. In Still on the Road, Clinton Heylin claims that the song shows Dylan’s inability to emulate Tin Pan Alley and that the song “truly belonged” on the Billy Joel album. Critics of the cover artists and shows like American Idol might argue that those artists reflect the poor quality of the song. They are wrong.

The song is timeless and sounds like it has been around forever, which is the magic of so many of Bob Dylan’s songs. I agree with the critics that Time Out of Mind has greater songs in some senses, like “Not Dark Yet.” But it is “Make You Feel My Love” that will be covered for decades to come. Many of the lyrics are typical love song cliches, such as “I could hold you for a million years.” And some of the words do not look like they would work when you see them on the written page, including “I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue / I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue.” But the combination of words with the melody create something timeless that is more than the separate parts. And the lyrics for the final bridge are something special:

Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea,
And on the highway of regrets;
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free,
You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet.

This 2003 live version by Joan Osborne in Sausalito, California is one of the best versions of the song. There is something about this beautiful version on a sunny cool afternoon next to the ocean. Osborne’s heart really comes through her voice, even as the people talking in the crowd do not realize what is happening on stage. Thank goodness for YouTube so others can appreciate what they were missing. Her studio version of the song is on her 2000 album Righteous Love.

In Keys to the Rain: The Definitive Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, Oliver Trager says that the song “is at best a lament for, or at worst a creepy plea to, an unattainable woman from a man getting more desperate by the minute.” He also points out that some have interpreted the song as being about the relationship between humans and Christ (“I could hold you for a million years”).

Both interpretations from Trager are worth some thought, but ultimately the song seems more in the tradition of love songs like “My Girl” by the Temptations (“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day/ When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May.”) or “Unchained Melody” by The Righteous Brothers (“I’ve hungered for your touch/ A long lonely time/ And time goes by so slowly”) or “Here, There, and Everywhere” by the Beatles (“I want her everywhere”). There is a long tradition in pop music of using hyperbole to explain the unexplainable human emotion of love. And when you watch the Joan Osborne version above, there is no trace of Trager’s creepy old man left. While Dylan may be Dylan and may have intended something different, the song has taken on a life of its own through various interpretations, becoming one of his late career classics and a beautiful love song.

What do you think? Is “Make You Feel My Love” a classic song or just a bad pop song or something else? Leave a comment.

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    10 thoughts on “Dylan’s Late Career Classics: Make You Feel My Love”

    1. In ‘Make You feel My Love’, I hear Bob singing ‘When evening shatters and the stars appear’. I’ve also seen and heard “Evening shadows…”. I’ve seen both sung and written. Do you know if he wrote two different sets of lyrics. Joan sings shatters/Adele sings shadows. It says ‘shadows’ on his home page, but listen to it on “Dylan” and it sounds like shatters and I’ve seen it many times online as shatters and shadows. Even Joan sings shatters. Driving me nuts!

      1. That’s an interesting question, but ultimately I come out believing that all versions, with one exception, use the word “shadows.”

        A lot of the covers obviously use “shadows”: Adele, Billy Joel (live on Letterman), Tricia Yearwood, Neil Diamond, Kelly Clarkson, Brian Ferry, Kris Allen, and even Jeremy Irons. And I agree that on a first listen, Dylan’s original sounds like “shatters” even though the lyrics on his home page say otherwise. Garth Brooks’s original version and his live version on Double Live CD set make one go back and forth whether you hear “shadows” or “shatters.”

        On one hand, it is not unusual for a recorded version of a song to differ slightly from what appears in the CD lyric booklet. I see it sometimes in Springsteen’s lyric sheets. Dylan could have changed the word at some point from “shadows” to “shatters” in the writing process., as “evening shatters” seems more poetic. But in this live version below, Dylan more clearly sings “shadows” (although it is hard to understand a lot of the lyrics), which argues for it being “shadows” all along.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK4g7W-70QU&feature=related

        I started out agreeing that some versions use “shatters,” but after listening to the live Dylan version and the way the Brooks versions show the strong similarity in the words — and going back to Dylan’s original (and other debated versions) using headphones, almost all versions say “shadows,” even Dylan’s original. The one exception is Joan Osborne. In the live version above and her studio version (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rumOb2-EwK4) she is singing “shatters” — because she either misheard the lyric, rewrote it, or got the lyrics off the Internet. Note that Osborne changes some of the other words of the song (she sings “When the rain is blowing ON your face,” while Dylan sings, “When the rain is blowing IN your face.”), so it is not the only change she makes.

        The “shatters” we think we are hearing in non-Osborne versions is “shadows” with a little twang or mumble. In some versions, the “the” preceding the debated word is barely audible, which also might affect how we hear the line (“when evening shatters” vs “when the evening shadows”). I do like the image of “evening shatters,” but upon close listen with headphones, all of the singers except Joan Osborne use “shadows.” The Internet lyrics that say “shatters” are not what Dylan wrote or sang. Try listening to the versions again with headphones, being open to the possibility that they are saying “shadows” — but maybe just not as clear as the singer could.

    2. Thank you so much for taking the time for such a detailed reply. I really appreciate it I must conclude by the evidence that you are most likely right. I am very open to the idea of it being shadows especially after seeing it on his home page. Like you, the idea of shatters is appealing and definitely more poetic, and I think, in keeping with the song itself. It also rhymes nicely with appears, tears and years in that stanza. I hadn’t listened to it with headphones, but have now…both the original, the video and Garth Brooks. I still hear shatters in the original, but it could be Dylan’s inflection. Garth’s version is iffy either way and most likely shadows because of reasons you stated. The Dylan video has different lyrics in many places including the one that prompted this question. I’m sure you’re right about shadows, BUT I think (am pretty darn sure) that he also says sun instead of stars! That’s crazy making because then shatters makes more sense. You can listen again, but it sounds like – ‘When the evening shadows and the sun appear’.

      There are several other obvious variations from the original in the video including a major one in the first line of the song. He sings, “When the wind is blowing in your hair” and not face. I’m not sure what the next line is, but it sounds like something “and those….take your place”. There are a few more places where he varies it, but not worth getting into. Plus, it is his song after all, and I could be wrong on how I heard the ones I just mentioned.

      Even with all of this under consideration, I tried several times to hear shadows instead of shatters in the original song while using headphones, keeping an open mind and giving him leeway for a weird accent or inflection like ‘shaduhs’. For all I know, on that particular day, he felt like saying ‘shatters’ or made a mistake or I just can’t hear the right word (too imprinted). Dylan changing the word certainly isn’t unusual. He’s known to have varied the verses of other songs before, but the abundance of evidence is contrary to what I prefer, i.e. shatters. So…what to do? I decided that I have the answer I was looking for – it’s shadows, but that it’s still art and open to interpretation even if it’s wrong. I like shatters as the word better; it’s fantastic imagery and is in keeping with the hardships of the person he’s singing to. Since, like a duckling, shatters is what I’m imprinted to hear in the original version; I think I will keep company with Joan Osborne and hear it as it as such in my head and how I play it on my guitar, but with a nod to what it really is.

      Now…if you could just tell me what ‘fences facing’ means? Just kidding! I really appreciate the depth you went to over this question.

      Patricia

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