Great covers: 5. Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding

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great covers

5. Bob Dylan: John Wesley Harding

This was probably the most eagerly-awaited LP of all time, being Dylan's first since the epochal Blonde on Blonde two years before, and more importantly, his first release since the near-fatal motorcycle accident which had left him a virtual recluse.

When it appeared in February 1968, psychedelia was at its floral peak, with sleeve designs illustrating the era's rococo tendencies. Into this cosmic maelstrom shuffled a cover of quite striking diffidence: accompanied by a motley trio of characters, a hunched, thinly-bearded Dylan peered shyly out of a plain black and white snapshot set into a beige-grey frame. Legions of Dylanologists soon found significance in the photo. Inverted, it was possible to discern the faces of the Beatles and, some claimed, the hand of God emerging from the bark at the top of the tree. Photographer John Berg, when informed about the faces, checked his original and found them there, a purely serendipitous presence. He had taken the photo in the garden of Dylan's manager's wife, when the temperature was 20 degrees below zero. Hence Dylan's posture.

The sleeve would come to represent a turning-point in pop: the precise moment at which psychedelia, having reached its furthest extent, retreated to the more comforting confines of country-rock.