Amnesty’s ‘Chimes’ ring on Dylan’s 50th

Music for Screens: Winter 2012

To mark its 50th anniversary, Amnesty International is releasing a 75-song compilation featuring a slew of renowned artists covering Bob Dylan, who also celebrates 50 years as a performer this year.

Sting, Pete Townshend, Tom Morello and Pete Seeger line up on “Chimes of Freedom” alongside some surprising contributors such as Miley Cyrus, Adele and Ke$ha (a self-professed Dylan fanatic) to cover the one-time politically charged troubadour, with all proceeds supporting the human rights organization.

Executive producer Jeff Ayeroff wanted to top the ambitious John Lennon tribute “Instant Karma” he helped orchestrate for Amnesty in 2007. “I said the only way I’d do it was to get Bob Dylan to donate his publishing,” Ayeroff says. “Lo and behold, Jeff Rosen, who manages Bob Dylan, facilitated that happening.”

Ayeroff, co-producer Julie Yannatta and the folks at Amnesty broke out their enormous Rolodexes and called in some favors. “There was no recording or A&R budget,” Yannatta explains. “Every artist donated their art, skill, time and craft.”

“The analogy could be to a rent party,” adds Ayeroff. “We said, ‘Hey, come over to the house and bring a beer, bring your friends and contribute something.’ And instead of 15 people showing up, 76 did.”

Most of the participating musicians have a strong affinity for both Amnesty and Dylan. Lucinda Williams, who covers “Trying to Get to Heaven,” says she couldn’t say no when Amnesty came calling. “First of all, it’s for Amnesty — a great cause,” she says. “Also, I love Bob Dylan’s music. Those are both great reasons … so I jumped on board right away.”

Ziggy Marley, who offers up a moving, acoustic rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” points out there’s a natural affinity between the work of Dylan and Amnesty. “Dylan did a lot of protest songs against war that stand up for the rights of human beings. He’s an icon for that so it’s appropriate to do Dylan songs because of what he has done.”

A handful of behind-the-scenes videos have surfaced online, including Ke$ha’s emotive, mostly a cappella rendition of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” (showing a more fragile side of the brazen pop star) and Townshend discussing Dylan’s enduring influence. What’s more, Starbucks will release an abbreviated, two-disc version of the compilation (down from the original four) the same day as its U.S. release Jan. 24 through Fontana Distribution.

As for a “Chimes of Freedom” concert, Karen Scott, Amnesty International’s manager of music relations, is hopeful:

“We would love for there to be a tour or concert behind this album,” she says, pointing out that Amnesty’s incredibly successful Human Rights Concerts in the ’80s and ’90s featuring the likes of U2, the Police and Bruce Springsteen were led by the artists themselves. “We’ve found that the most successful concerts happen when the artists stand up and say they want to do this for Amnesty.”