Bob Dylan is rightly considered one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known. The acclaimed folk hero not only provided witty lyricism and socially wry takes but did it all wrapped within an innate sense of mystical melody that endeared him to millions and gave him the unwanted title of “voice of his generation”. Not only is the gifted songwriter revered within the music industry but, a few years back, he even won a Nobel Prize for Literature, owing to his sensational command of language both in his songs and books. But, like everyone else, despite what you may think, Bob Dylan is only human.
It means that, like the rest of us, he has his heroes too. Of course, if you know Dylan, like so many diehard fans, it is easy to pick out one name that perhaps Dylan cherished most of all — Woody Guthrie — but there have been plenty of other songwriters that Dylan has showered with praise. From Randy Newman to Johnny Cash, Dylan has always shared his love for the authentic artists around him. But there has only ever been one singer that he has described himself as being “in awe of”.
The Beatles and Bob Dylan reached fame around the same time. It was always a recipe for the tabloid tumult, and many have suggested that, across the years, the two acts have clashed on a few occasions. It’s true; Dylan once labelled some of their songs as “cop-outs” while also once claiming John Lennon had pinched his style. In Dylan’s defence, the bespectacled Beatle never really denied it either, often referring to songs as being “in my Dylan phase.” But the truth is, the freewheelin’ troubadour respected the Fab Four more than you’d think.
In 2007, the singer went one step further and spoke about their sincere friendship. First up, he focused on his most noted friend and Travelling Wilbury bandmate, George Harrison, who in the late sixties sought out Dylan for comfort and guidance on how to proceed with his own songwriting. “George got stuck with being the Beatle that had to fight to get songs on records because of Lennon and McCartney,” remembered Dylan, “Well, who wouldn’t get stuck?”
“If George had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he’d have been probably just as big as anybody.” Thankfully, it wouldn’t take Harrison long before pushing himself to the spotlight and achieving his own monumental success with All Things Must Pass. But it was always difficult for the guitarist to stick his head above the mammoth songwriting partnership of Lennon-McCartney. “They were fantastic singers. Lennon, to this day, it’s hard to find a better singer than Lennon was, or than McCartney was and still is,” continued Dylan. It was here that he truly let his feeling known about one member of the band; Paul McCartney.
“I’m in awe of McCartney,” said the legendary songwriter. “He’s about the only one that I am in awe of. He can do it all. And he’s never let up… He’s just so damn effortless.” Perhaps the sweetest part of this touching endorsement is that the feeling is most certainly reciprocated. McCartney has often shared how influential Dylan was on The Beatles and his own life: “Yeah, we certainly got a lot from Dylan,” McCartney answered honestly when posed the question of the singer’s influence on the band. “And I know I had one of his first LPs at home before The Beatles. I used to play that quite a lot, so I was steeped in him.”
McCartney even revealed that Dylan is the only name who really makes him feel starstruck: “There’s one or two people who I would be quite nervous about. Bob Dylan would make me go, ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna say?’ I did see him, we did Coachella… I got to talk to Bob there and he was really nice. I don’t know why I would’ve been nervous, but you get that with some people.”
Spekaing in 2020, McCartney effused further: “I always like what he does,” McCartney told Uncut. “Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like Bob. He’s legendary… and doesn’t give a shit! But I’m not like that.”
He continued, “His new album? I thought it was really good. He writes really well. I love his singing – he came through the standards albums like a total crooner. But, yeah, I like his new stuff. People ask me who I’m a fan of and Bob Dylan and Neil Young always make the list.”
So while Bob Dylan may well cite Paul McCartney as the only rock star he is truly “in awe of”, it’s a fair assumption to say that the feeling is mutual.