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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