In 1963, Bob Dylan just about reinvented the musical wheel. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is undoubtedly in the running for the greatest album of all time, but part of that brilliance goes way beyond the music itself—it paired poetry and introspection with music in such a way that no other record ever had. With it, he influenced everyone.
In The Beatles Anthology, John Lennon is quoted as saying: “In Paris in 1964 was the first time I ever heard Dylan at all. Paul got the record [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] from a French DJ. For three weeks in Paris, we didn’t stop playing it. We all went potty about Dylan.” It showed them that if the pop culture revolution was going to render itself timeless, then it needed a dose more depth.
In time, they would meet him, and Paul McCartney would later explain his famed marble staircase and meaning of life analogy that his first chat famously induced. And eventually, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ would prompt McCartney to proclaim, “It seemed to go on and on forever. It was just beautiful … He showed all of us that it was possible to go a little further.”
However, Dylan was usually reticent about his praise in the other direction. It simply didn’t suit his folk style to get involved. Nevertheless, they were bound to have been in his mind when he went electric and his comments on the Beatles anthem, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ seem to ratify that.
Speaking about the classic track released only a matter of months after The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan he said of the meek tale of palm-to-palm affection: “They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid. You could only do that with other musicians. Even if you’re playing your own chords you had to have other people playing with you. That was obvious. And it started me thinking about other people.”
His own Greenwich Village scene was all about timelessness but often that can be confused with a dated sense of faux authenticity and Dylan had his head turned by the adrenalised triumph of ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. It might have been a tad kitsch but that was to be expected in the commercial charts for a young band.
As Dylan explains, “Everybody else thought they were for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go. I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go.” That’s high praise indeed from a star who has done more for the development of music than, well, anyone.
What’s more, he retains that respect to this day. Commenting on the friend he helped to shape and, in turn, was shaped by himself: “I mean I’m in awe of McCartney. He’s about the only one that I am in awe of. But I’m in awe of him. He can do it all and he’s never let up, you know. He’s got the gift for melody, he’s got the rhythm. He can play any instrument.” For a man who was reticent with his praise you can just about start hollering, ‘Get a room, mate!’