Not really. But it is a pastime that usually appeals to Dylan fans. Here, at The American Conservative, is a somewhat defiant, probably none-too-popular, assertion about Dylan's best work, with proper reservations about the basic silliness of the effort:
The problem with picking a favorite Dylan is that there are so many strong contenders. You could even make a case for the New Morning Dylan of the late ’60s or the born-again Christian Dylan, a totally underrated phase of his career. Obviously, no answer is final and the game itself is kind of a moronic trap. But this is what fans do. We love coming up with hypotheticals and arbitrary rankings, anything that lets the analytical parts of our minds engage with the art that throws its colors on our soul. And so, in the spirit of playful analysis, I’d like to make a controversial claim: the best Dylan was the Dylan of 1997 to 2001.
As the writer says, people are apt to pick the Dylan that they first heard as the best. That's more or less true of me. I think the very first Dylan I heard was something from his folkie period, but I was a teenager in the mid-'60s, when he did the brilliant work of those years, and that was the stuff that I listened to most. And I still think he never again matched the sheer brilliance of those years. But I'm certainly willing to go as far as saying that the albums commended by the writer, mainly Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft, are extremely good.
One thing that Dylan did in the '60s, though, and has for the most part not done since then, was to write songs that had a robust life apart from him. There aren't many covers of his post-'60s work. Except maybe for a few songs from Blood on the Tracks, it wasn't possible, or at least wasn't rewarding, to separate the songs from Dylan's performance of them.
But Dylan covers Dylan right well. "Cold Irons Bound" is one of my favorites from Time Out of Mind, but this performance is quite different from the one heard on the album.