The two songs by The Beatles that Bob Dylan described as ‘cop-outs’
We are dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at a fruitful relationship between two of the sixties’ biggest icons, The Beatles and Bob Dylan, that despite flowering across the decade still had a few thorny issues.
Bob Dylan and The Beatles were allies during the bombardment of fame that the two experienced around the release of their music. While the group had met Dylan early on in their career and certainly found inspiration in his personal lyrical style. But this didn’t stop Dylan from giving his honest appraisal on their body of work, especially when he didn’t think it met the band’s standards.
Dylan has never been one to bite his tongue when asked for his opinion and he has always said what’s on his mind—wherever this be in interviews or in his lyrics. This approach has landed him in trouble with both the press and his contemporaries on plenty of occasions. But it has also been an integral part of what makes him the enigma that he is.
In fact, his comments about The Beatles in 1966 may have even earned him even more respect from the group for not holding back, not feathering their nest with needless superlatives. After all, The Beatles were certainly some of their own harshest critics.
During a particular interview, the freewheelin’ troubadour we are given a fascinating insight into Dylan’s mind at that time and, more specifically, how he didn’t feel accepted by the masses as The Beatles had been. At this time in their careers, The Beatles had achieved worldwide success and comparative domination. Meanwhile, though Dylan had been heralded by the hip folkies of coastal America, wider adoration was still out of reach.
It’s a fact that has been true for the whole of his career despite being one of the most acclaimed and revered artists of all time. Dylan has always been on the outside of the establishment looking in, which is strangely part of his charm.
The freewheelin’ Dylan starts off his tirade against the Liverpool band by remarking: “I’m not gonna be accepted, but I would like to be accepted by the Hogtown Dispatch literary crowd who wear violets in their crotch and make sure they get all the movie and TV reviews and also write about all the ladies’ auxiliary meetings and the PTA gatherings, you know all in the same column. I would like to be accepted by them people. But I don’t think I’m ever going to be, whereas The Beatles have been.”
The interviewer, seizing his opportunity to put two of the decade’s biggest stars in the same story, then probed Dylan on his comments about The Beatles, to which he replied: “I’m just saying The Beatles have arrived, right? In all music forms, whether Stravinsky or Leopold Jake the Second, who plays in the Five Spot, the Black Muslim Twins, or whatever.”
He added: “The Beatles are accepted, and you’ve got to accept them for what they do. They play songs like ‘Michelle’ and ‘Yesterday’, a lot of smoothness there,” sneers Dylan with a glint in his eye. Perhaps he knew the potential the band had or perhaps he was just eating sour grapes, but Dylan didn’t hold back.
Dylan was then asked for his thoughts about Joan Baez’s plans to record a version of ‘Yesterday’ for her next record which set the singer-songwriter off into a classic rant about why this track was a ‘cop-out’, venting: “Yeah it’s the thing to do, to tell all the teeny boppers ‘I dig The Beatles’, and you sing a song like ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Michelle’. Hey God knows, it’s such a cop-out, man, both of those songs.”
The singer continued, metaphorically gesturing to the plethora of American music of the past and their perennially overlooked status: “If you go into the library of Congress, you can find a lot better than that.” He then concluded his attack with this vicious line: “There are millions of songs like ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Michelle’ written in Tin Pan Alley.”
It seemed that years later Dylan’s position on this matter would soften somewhat as he would record a version of ‘Yesterday’ alongside George Harrison during a recording session the two had in 1970 before the two would go on to form The Travelling Wilburys in the late ’80s alongside Tom Petty and Roy Orbison.
Whether or not you agree that the two songs are “cop-outs” or that Dylan was maybe just a little jealous, you can rest assured that The Beatles would have only ever welcomed the help from an artist they had huge respect for.