There is an undeniable kinship between America’s two favourite blue-collar troubadours, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. When Dylan first heard his New Jersey counterpart he joked, “He better be careful, or he might go through every word in the English language.” In that respect, they both share a rather verbose likeness and since that early comparison, their paths have often crossed.
Speaking on the American talk show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Springsteen talked about the impacts that the early comparison had on his career. He told the host, “I became self-conscious about the Dylan comparison, so I moved away from [that style of songwriting] quickly.”
This was a stylistic choice that ‘The Boss’ still laments to some degree, “Looking back I kind of had my own Dylan-Esque style. And I kind of wish I had never moved away from it so quickly.”
He later described this early style as “a lot of fun,” with a lot of “joy and a reasonable amount of depth.” Fortunately for fans of his early work this early “uninhibited” features on Springsteen’s new record, Letter To You, in the form of re-recorded previously unheard tracks from the period.
Whilst chatting about that new record, the Born to Run star discussed the impact Dylan had on him as a songwriter and eulogised his influence on American music. When pressed to pick his three favourite Dylan songs, Bruce began to squirm as he struggled to distil the vast back catalogue of the folk luminary down to just three tracks.
The first place he started was with Dylan’s iconic ‘great American song’, ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, with Springsteen describing it as a “history and culture changing piece of music”. Also adding that is simply a “fantastic Rock and Roll song.”
Elsewhere the songsmith punted for Dylan’s near-eight-minute epic ‘Visions of Johanna’ from the heaven-sent 1966 Dylan release of Blonde on Blonde. Springsteen kept his praise for the soaring epic simple, describing it as “a big song for me.”
Lastly, he championed the lesser-known Dylan track ‘Ring Them Bells’ from Dylan’s 1980s return to form record Oh Mercy. The song is a stirring piano ballad that provides a very reverent for some of Dylan’s most poignant poetry of the period.
Springsteen also crowned his favourite Dylan album whilst he was at it and even pronounced his favourite Dylan lyric. The album he went for was John Wesley Harding which features tracks like ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and ‘As I Went out One Morning’. Once again in a squirming panic, Springsteen kept his praise simple, under frantic pressure he described uttered, “I like all of it!”
And as far as the lyric goes, Bruce was instantly spellbound by the narrative hook on ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ with the introductory line, “Once upon a time you dressed so fine / Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?” It is an iconic intro that has an undeniable likeness to some of the lines that Springsteen crafted thereafter. Bruce described hearing the lyric and being “instantly hooked and into that song so intensely.”
You can check out the discussion in the clip below.
Bruce Springsteen’s favourite Bob Dylan songs:
- ‘Like A Rolling Stone’
- ‘Visions of Johanna’
- ‘Ring Them Bells’