The Beatles didn’t have a lot of things in common by the time they got around to recording Let It Be, but their mutual love of Bob Dylan was one factor that continued to link them to one another, and he was an artist that the band found themselves returning to when impromptu jams would break out in the studio.
The relationship between the two acts was a complicated one. In truth, if they were both handed the opportunity to swap places during the height of their fame, then they would have undoubtedly been tempted. While Dylan was more than happy to be christened as the musical messiah, he also believed that his songs deserved the same kind of commercial success as The Beatles enjoyed, who, in turn, would have prefered a more mature audience for their music.
Lennon later openly admitted to coalescing his love of Dylan into his work with The Fab Four. The singer said he went through a ‘Dylan period’ in which he tried to emulate the American’s signature songwriting style. “I don’t know when exactly it started,” Lennon once said. “Like ‘I’m A Loser’ or ‘Hide Your Love Away,’ or those kinds 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.”
George Harrison, of course, even recruited Dylan to join The Travelling Wilbury’s during the 1980s, and the two of them had a tight-knit bond that lasted until the guitarist’s death.
Even to this day, Paul McCartney struggles to keep it together when he’s in the company of Dylan, failing to keep his cool. “There’s one or two people who I would be quite nervous about,” he revealed a few years ago. “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. It is a funny thing actually when you think about it — ‘what do you have to do to get secure in yourself.’ I would have thought that I would have done enough now to just go, ‘I’m cool, I don’t need to be nervous about anyone.’ It’s a human condition, I think.”
During the infamous Let It Be jams, The Fab Four burst into an array of Dylan covers while in the studio, ranging from hits like ‘Like A Rollin’ Stone’ and ‘I Want You’ to deep cuts such as ‘Please, Mrs Henry’. In total, they played his tracks 18 times throughout the tumultuous sessions, and it was one of the only flickering moments of light in a dark period for the band.
The album was turbulent and, by the time it did eventually see the light of day, The Beatles had already split up. The record was initially working under the planned title of Get Back; however, the project would then be shelved with the mixes, and it eventually became Let It Be.
Originally, the idea behind Get Back was The Beatles “getting back” to their roots and playing new songs for a live audience without any studio tricks. However, Let It Be’s prim and pristine nature couldn’t have been any further away from those early club shows that they tried to recapture.
Yet, these covers of Dylan manage to hit the spot and the dishevelled essence of the record that The Beatles originally planned to make before things abruptly changed. The collection of songs are loose, under-rehearsed, and undeniably thrilling.
See the complete list of Dylan songs covered by The Beatles and listen to the jam below.
All the Bob Dylan songs covered by The Beatles during ‘Let It Be’
- ‘Please, Mrs Henry’
- ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’
- ‘All Along The Watchtower’
- ‘I Want You’
- ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’
- ‘My Back Pages’
- ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’
- ‘I Shall Be Released #2’
- ‘Get Your Rocks Off’
- ‘I Threw It All Away’ / ‘Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind’
- ‘I Shall Be Released #3’
- ‘I Shall Be Released #4’
- ‘Like A Rolling Stone’
- ‘Rainy Day Women’
- ‘Positively 4th Street’