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Music

John Lennon's critical comments about Bob Dylan as a political singer

The Beatles were famously keen admirers of Bob Dylan’s work in the early 1960s. Despite having a sound dissimilar from Dylan’s folk style early on, Dylan would later become a huge influence on the Beatles in their work toward the middle of the 1960s. The Beatles first met Dylan in New York in 1964 after the Fab Four had heard that Dylan was in town while they were playing a concert at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, New York, one night in late August. After the show, they set off to the other side of town, where they met their hero, Bob Dylan.

At the time, Dylan was still gliding on cloud nine following the release of his seminal album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan the year before, and The Times They Are a-Changin earlier in 1964. Dylan’s launch to stardom as a prominent protest singer had already captured the souls of a generation earning him a messiah-like status.

The legends allegedly sat around while Dylan introduced the Liverpool lads to cannabis in what proved to be a seismic moment in the history of contemporary music. After an evening of giggling and trivial conversation, they were all well acquainted, but it seems the relationship between Dylan and The Beatles soured somewhat the following year after the Fab Four released their album Rubber Soul. 

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After hearing the Beatles’ 1965 album, Dylan appeared upset. He thought the new folk-inspired music was not only derivative of his own work but on the verge of outright copying. One track from Rubber Soul that Dylan was particularly irritated by was John Lennon’s effort ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’. Dylan even ended up parodying the song in ‘Fourth Time Around’, a track that was clearly aimed at Lennon. The Dylan song ends with a provocative swipe at Lennon: “I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine”.

While Dylan remained particularly close with George Harrison for the rest of his life, it seemed that the folky couldn’t bring himself to see eye to eye with Lennon. As it transpired, Lennon was harshly critical of Dylan following this, but it’s not clear whether it was in earnest or just retaliation. 

In a 1980 interview, Lennon revealed his thoughts on Dylan. “For a period, I was very impressed with him,” the late Beatle revealed. “But I stopped listening to Dylan with both ears after [Highway 61 Revisited] and Blonde on Blonde, and even then, it was because George [Harrison] would sit down and make me listen.”

Lennon continued, giving his opinion about Dylan’s association with politics. “[He] wasn’t ever that political, really,” the former Beatle opined. “He wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Soldier Song,’ but they’re just poetic politics, folk music of the day. He’s commenting on what’s going on, like a journalist. He never stood in the corner and shouted anything.”

He concluded: “It’s what people read into what he did,” he said. “It’s only the constant necessity to identify and label people for the media and public. Maybe millions of people have been born again and then forgotten all about it next Friday. It just so happens that Dylan did it in public.”

Listen to Bob Dylan’s swipe at John Lennon, ‘Fourth Time Around’, below.

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