With Bob Dylan’s recently released album of Frank Sinatra covers crowned an unexpected hit and receiving lavish praise in all the right places, the gravelly throated rascal is quick to distance himself from other veteran rockers who have recorded a standards album. Rod Stewart for instance, was branded by Dylan as a “fake.”
When an artist whose career is heading over the hill to a sleepy little hamlet called “gone to seed” announces that they are recording a new standards album, it usually evokes an uneasy nausea and nagging discomfort in anyone but the most hardcore fan.
Take Dylan for instance. When the news broke that the sneering, jeering, amphetamine-fuelled, poetry spitting street clown from the 1960s was to try his hand at an album of Frank Sinatra covers, how we roared.
“What mighty mirth and rare jest is this?” we wondered. Until we realised that Dylan was serious about covering songs made famous by Sinatra – the suited and booted, wise-cracking embodiment of easy listening.
Men of a certain age demanded, “What was Dylan thinking covering songs from the man who could be described as the establishment’s entertainer?”
Yet despite fans fearing that Dylan’s voice would by exposed as little more than a wino’s croak when it came to covering the majesty of Sinatra’s croon, Shadows in the Night has received rare reviews. Spin gave it seven out of ten and even called it the best produced album of Dylan’s career.
Obviously on something of a high that his latest offering has been met with such rapturous applause, Dylan seized the opportunity to have a pot shot at fellow rocker Rod Stewart, who also once tried to gallantly revive a flailing career by releasing a series of standards albums. Stewart’s effort: American Songbook.
Comparing his own album to Stewart’s offering in an interview with AARP Magazine, Dylan explained that Stewart had failed to dig as deep into the standards of yesteryear as he possibly could and didn’t approach the task with enough responsibility.
“I was looking forward to hearing Rod’s records of standards. I thought if anybody could bring something different to these songs, Rod certainly could. But the records were disappointing. Rod’s a great singer. He’s got a great voice, but there’s no point to put a 30-piece orchestra behind him.”
Arguing that he doesn’t begrudge Stewart an opportunity to butcher some American classics, because he’s not going to, “knock anybody’s right to make a living,” Dylan goes on to criticise Rod for not having a big enough heart for the songs.
“You can always tell if somebody’s heart and soul is into something, and I didn’t think Rod was into it in that way.”
Dylan revealed that, when it came to Shadows in the Night, he did his best to interpret the songs as opposed to simply doing a karaoke version of them. Dylan said he believes Stewart failed to give his own records the same amount of care.
“With all these songs, you have to study the lyrics. You have to look at every one of these songs and be able to identify with them in a meaningful way. You can hardly sing these songs unless you’re in them.
“If you want to fake it, go ahead. Fake it if you want,” Dylan added. “But I’m not that kind of singer.”