The connection between John Lennon and Bob Dylan can stretch back to 1964 and be recognised as one of the most pivotal moments in the history of 20th-century music. The meeting saw The Beatles try smoking marijuana for the first time, and Lennon and Dylan connect about songwriting on a new pop plane.
It was a moment in pop music that arguably changed the face of pop culture as we know it. The Beatles were no longer concerned with writing songs to top the charts but using their own artistry to express themselves and connect with their audience. It’s a universal system that still operates today. But that doesn’t mean Lennon and Dylan were always good friends. Over the years, they fell in and out of love with one another on more than a few occasions. Sometimes because Dylan felt like Lennon and his band had copied his style while, as on the rare home recording below, sometimes it was because Dylan had seemingly let Lennon down.
Little known English bands like Cliff Richard and the Shadows may have shaped the band’s early sound and vision with a uniquely British vision of American rock and roll. Still, Bob Dylan arguably had the biggest influence on The Beatles. His songwriting style was a keen influence on all of the British groups at the time, but his message of opening up oneself to your audience through personally reflective pop songs landed most heavily on John Lennon.
One track that Lennon later admitted to David Sheff in 1980 came from ”me in my Dylan period” was ‘I’m A Loser’ from Beatles For Sale to which he added, “part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.” Lennon wasn’t the only Beatle under Bob’s influence but he certainly was the one who became most infatuated with him from afar.
Of course, eventually, the two would become close friends, then frenemies, then contemporaries but there was never any doubt that Lennon considered Bob Dylan to be one of the greats of the music world.
Dylan inspired John Lennon to accept himself, not as a pop star, but as an artist, choosing his songs to express himself and the world around him, rather than just get feet on the dancefloor and singles in the charts. Lennon responded by writing some of his most potent work that incorporated his personal life. Equally, Dylan learned about pop sensibilities from the Fab Four, and it was, for a time, a mutually beneficial friendship. However, once Dylan turned away from music and towards God and Christianity, Lennon became suspicious of his former idol’s new direction.
The folkie went one further and even released a song titled ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, which promoted the life-saving religious actions he had taken to rid himself of the rock and roll lifestyle. Lennon saw this as a slight on his own world and delivered his own retort titled ‘Serve Yourself’ where he sang: “You tell me you found Jesus/ Christ! Well that’s great, and he’s the only one/ You say you just found Buddha?/, and he’s sittin’ on his arse in the sun?”
It’s one of the few songs that Lennon aims Dylan, firing a somewhat barbed track. In the home recording below, we get the sense of Lennon’s dismay at Dylan’s newfound religious leanings. Lennon’s vocal is unusually potent.
Bringing in a heavy dose of Blues, he tinkles at the piano and delivers a compelling version of his already bristling track. While the Liverpudlian may have been a global superstar, he felt most at home with his own thoughts, and within these confines, we get a more accurate image of their friendship.