Bob Dylan, popular music's ultimate shape-shifter, will release the strangest album of his five-decade career next Tuesday, October 13. Christmas in the Hear
t, as the title suggests, is a collection of 15 holiday classics. Commenters at RollingStone.com
and numerous other sites are -- or at least were -- convinced the record would be some kind of cynical joke. But judging by snippets leaked here
, Dylan's performances are stirringly sincere. (And, no, he's not trying to make a buck crooning carols. "All artist royalties" benefit the World Food Programme
.) Although the iconic singer-songwriter doesn't officially release the often-peculiar covers he's played over the years, there are plenty circulating on the bootleg scene. Here are this Dylan geek's faves -- in no particular order.
Dylan does a delightfully charming rendition of this children's standard on Disney's 1991 benefit album for pediatric AIDS For Our Children, which also features performances by Paul McCartney, Little Richard Barbra Streisand and a host of other heavyweights.
2. "Ball and a Biscuit" with Jack White
So Dylan's playing Detroit in 2004. Out comes Jack White with his guitar. You figure they're probably going to do a Dylan tune since it's his concert and he's, y'know, Bob Dylan. But nope, Dylan wants to do a White Stripes song and the two awesome oddballs duet!
3. "The Times We've Known"
Dylan rarely speaks in concert, but offered this prelude to a fortunate audience at Madison Square Garden on November 1, 1998. "I usually play these things only to myself," he said while strumming his electric guitar, "but I feel like I'm all by myself now." And then he performed a tender rendition of this gorgeous ballad by French pop legend Charles Aznavour.
In April of this year, at a gig in Paris, Dylan performed the song again, this time with 84-year-old Aznavour in attendance.
4. "Boom Boom Mancini"/ "Accidentally Like a Martyr"/"Mutineer"
In the summer of 2002, while Warren Zevon faced death with gallows humor and great dignity, Dylan honored him with ruggedly beautiful versions of his songs in concert. A live "Mutineer" ended up on the 2004 tribute album Enjoy Every Sandwich: The Songs of Warren Zevon.
"Boom Boom Mancini"
"Accidentally Like a Martyr"
5. "London Calling"
One does not typically associate Bob Dylan with The Clash -- but apparently he was a fan judging by this fierce "London Calling" from 2005.
Dylan couldn't make the November 29, 2002 "Concert for George" so he paid tribute to his old chum a couple weeks earlier at this gig at Madison Square Garden. It's one of Dylan's most touching performances of the decade.
7. "Old Man"
Around the same time, and at the same venue as "Something," Dylan reveals a serious love for this Neil Young chestnut.
8. "Da Doo Run Run"/"Yesterday"
So, it's 1970 and Dylan is in the studio with George Harrison and some session musicians (including a pre-redneck fame Charlie Daniels). And what's Dylan decide to put his stamp on? The Crystals' Phil Spector-produced smash from '63.
9. "Lonesome Town"
It's 1986, about six months after Rick Nelson's tragic death. Dylan, backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, pays his respects with a nasally yet sweet reading of the song teen idol "Ricky" had a hit with in '58.
10. "Friend of the Devil"
Dylan started performing this song pretty regularly after his pal Jerry Garcia died in '95. Every version I've heard has proved rewarding.
During this version, security is nowhere to be found, leaving Dylan to do a couple meet-n-greets mid-song with some wacky fans!
Bonus: "Dancing in the Dark"
On January 12, 1990, at a small club called Toad's Place in New Haven, Connecticut, Dylan played for about five hours, his longest performance ever, peppering his four sets with covers like this one of the poppy Springsteen smash. Dylan clearly doesn't know all the words but rocks it anyway.
Bonus: "Brown Sugar"
Dylan, at a 2002 date in Philly, rocking the Stones.