Behind The Song: Bob Dylan, “Make You Feel My Love”

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Written by Bob Dylan | Photo by Xavier Badosa

There are hit songs, and then, there are classics. Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” off his 1997 studio album, Time Out of Mind, has reportedly been covered by nearly 500 artists. The original version features Dylan’s signature tone, a bit rough around the edges, and a nice counterbalance to the twinkling of piano and the melody’s gentle sweetness.

“When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace / To make you feel my love,” he extends on the opening verse. His voice guides the barebones arrangement, relying solely on the power of the lyrics.

It is later with the hook that his message rings even clearer: one of great compassion, unconditional and unwavering. “I know you haven’t made your mind up yet / But I would never do you wrong,” he promises. “I’ve known it from the moment that we met / No doubt in my mind where you belong.”

Over the years, many have speculated the song draws parallels to Christian imagery, namely the figure of Jesus Christ. The second half of the chorus is often cited as a reference to the crucifixion: “I’d go hungry / I’d go black and blue / I’d go crawling down the avenue / No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do / To make you feel my love.”

Of course, this is all speculation ─ but it has neither been confirmed nor denied outright.

Prolific musician/singer-songwriter Billy Joel was actually the first to release the song. Joel recorded his version for the Greatest Hits Volume III compilation, and the song served as the lead single, later reaching No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. Dylan’s version arrived a month later on his own album.

In the July 2010 issue of Mojo magazine, Texas musician and producer August Meyers spoke about playing organ on the song. “Bob’s a fantastic piano player, when he wants to play. On [this song] he asked, ‘If you and Doug [Sahm, co-founding member of the Sir Douglas Quintet] were in the studio, how would you do it?’ And I said, ‘Well we wouldn’t have two drummers, four guitar players, and stuff. Did you write this on piano or guitar?’ And he said, ‘I wrote it on the piano.’ I told him, ‘Play piano. I’ll play organ. Let’s just have one bass, one drum and one guitar.’ So that’s the way we did it.”

A piano foundation not only allows Dylan to pierce right through, but it builds into a somber, affecting mood. Producer Daniel Lanois told Rolling Stone, “I have a really great spinet piano that is a beautiful restored masterpiece from the Twenties. And Bob sounded really great on it because Bob’s a great piano player. He had a roaring sound happening on that piano.”

Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” features a smorgasbord of major players. Those include Tony  Garnier (bass guitar, upright bass), Bucky Baxter (acoustic guitar), and Duke Robillard, along with Lanois on numerous instruments and Meyers.

The song has since been covered by such artists as Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Adele, Neil Diamond, Shawn Colvin, Kelly Clarkson, and Ed Sheeran, among countless others.

Time Out of Mind earned Dylan three golden gramophones at the 40th Grammy Awards ─ for Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Male Rock Vocal Performance (for “Cold Irons Bound”).

Definitive Versions:

Honorable Mentions:

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