The Beatles song that Paul McCartney thought was John Lennon imitating Bob Dylan
During John Lennon’s all-too-brief career he was a confessed chameleon in songwriting. The Beatles were famed for using their radar ear to pick out the freshest sounds from other artists. Lennon, alongside his partner Paul McCartney, wrote some of The Beatles most beloved songs but a few of them were lifted from the style of another singer, Bob Dylan.
In 1965, Lennon was asked which songs of the band’s he liked most. His answer revealed a crossroads for his career. “One I do which I like is, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.’ But it’s not commercial.” This sentence said it all, reflecting not only the song’s original inspiration but the band’s new direction in songwriting. They were ditching the chart-topping pop styles and, instead, shooting from the hip and aiming for the heart.
During the Beatlemania explosion, the Fab Four were expected to churn out songs like a factory, with the Lennon-McCartney partnership working in overdrive to fulfil their two-album and one film a year quota. It was truly gruelling stuff and didn’t allow either writer to express themselves as they had hoped for truly.
The Beatles were dominating the charts but with songs that were pure pop and without much gravity. Songs revolved around teen heartbreak, fast cars, dance halls and other classic rock ‘n’ roll tropes. It was something that Lennon would change during the band’s career, and one song saw the beginning of that movement, the 1965 Help! cut, ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.’ It has since been seen as a landmark moment for the Fab Four.
The song acted as a bridge away from the pop fodder which Lennon-McCartney had become so adept at writing and instead towards a more reflective and expressive sound. In 1971, Lennon quite succinctly described the track: “It’s one of those that you sort of sing a bit sadly to yourself, ‘Here I stand/Head in hand.’ I started thinking about my own emotions.”
It was a breakthrough moment for Lennon and the band, though it’s unclear when the decision was made. Lennon continues: “I don’t know when exactly it started, like ‘I’m A Loser’ or ‘Hide Your Love Away,’ or those kind of things. Instead of projecting myself into a situation, I would just try to express what I felt about myself which I had done in me books.”
There was one man who the band had met the previous year that may have had a helping hand in the decision to approach songs differently. “I think it was Dylan helped me realise that,” the bespectacled Beatle continued with a degree of love. “I had a sort of professional songwriter’s attitude to writing Pop songs, but to express myself I would write ‘Spaniard In The Works’ or ‘In His Own Write’ —the personal stories which were expressive of my personal emotions.
“I’d have a separate ‘songwriting’ John Lennon who wrote songs for the sort of meat market, and I didn’t consider them, the lyrics or anything, to have any depth at all. Then I started being me about the songs… not writing them objectively, but subjectively.”
While the track certainly has it’s own merit, it is hard to not hear Bob Dylan’s influence coursing through its veins. The group had met the artist in ’64 and by the time Help! came around were certainly working to a new structure. As Lennon describes the song in his 1980 Playboy interview: “That’s me in my Dylan period again. I am like a chameleon… influenced by whatever is going on. If Elvis can do it, I can do it. If the Everly Brothers can do it, me and Paul can. Same with Dylan.”
In 1984 McCartney was happy to confirm it too, going one step further to suggest Lennon was trying to imitate Bob. “That was John doing a Dylan… heavily influenced by Bob. If you listen, he’s singing it like Bob.” Considering the influence Dylan had on both men, this matter of fact response is all you need to know about the inspiration behind the song.
When you have literally hundreds of songwriting credits to your name and have the ability to whip out songs like the title track of the album then we think you’re allowed a copy cat track every once in a while. As Oscar Wilde once said, “talent borrows, genius steals.”