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John Lennon on why Paul McCartney was “jealous” of Bob Dylan

Throughout the mid-1960s, The Beatles and Bob Dylan peaked as just about the world’s most important musical acts. The artists clearly admired each others’ work, but there was a notable rivalry at junctures throughout the decade. 

The Beatles first met Dylan in August 1964 in New York following one of the folk rocker’s concerts at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens. The meeting was made all the more legendary as it marked the first time the Fab Four were introduced to the wonders of cannabis. 

Dylan allegedly got the Fab Four so stoned that Paul McCartney thought he had figured out the meaning of life. Meanwhile, Ringo Starr, unaware of the conventional joint sharing policy, held onto the joint instead of passing it along. Dylan’s road manager Victor Maymudes, realising that he was dealing with amateurs, then rolled a joint for each band member. Starr shared the story’s inevitable conclusion with late-night TV host Conan O’Brien in 2012, saying: “We got high and laughed our asses off”.

While Dylan remained friendly with The Beatles long after their split, especially with George Harrison, there were a few signs of smouldering resentment between the two parties. In 1965, The Beatles followed up the year’s first album, Help!, with Rubber Soul. The new album marked a notable change in style for the band as their lyrics took on a more thoughtful form. 

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Upon listening to the vastly popular record, Dylan was not amused. He was under the impression that Lennon had ripped off his trademark style in the classic track ‘Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’. Referring to the Rubber Soul track in an interview shortly after its release, Dylan opined with notable asperity: “What is this? It’s me, Bob. [John’s] doing me! Even Sonny and Cher are doing me, but, fucking hell, I invented it.”

Dylan hid his retaliation within the 1966 track ‘4th Time Around’, which famously took aim at Lennon with the lyrics: “I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine”. This friendly feud showed no sign of ending here as it spilt over into the 1970s following the split of The Beatles. 

Despite the rivalry, Lennon remained a keen disciple of the legendary songwriter, but McCartney was apparently much more sceptical of Dylan’s talent. Although, as Lennon once pointed out, McCartney was just jealous of Dylan. 

In Lennon Remembers, a published conversation between Lennon and Rolling Stone’s Jann S. Wenner, Lennon heaped praise on Dylan. “And I loved him because he wrote some beautiful stuff,” John said. “I used to love his so-called protest things. But I like the sound of him, I didn’t have to listen to his words. He used to come with his acetate and say, (imitates Dylan) ‘Listen to this, John.’ And ‘Did you hear the words?’ And I said, ‘That doesn’t matter, just the sound is what counts. The overall thing.”’ 

“You didn’t have to hear what Bob Dylan’s saying,” he continued. “You just have to hear the way he says it, like medium is the message, all-whatever mix of-but Dylan was like that.”

Shortly thereafter, Yoko Ono interjected, saying, “But you respect him a lot.” John agreed. “I know Paul didn’t,” he added. “I think Paul was jealous. Paul didn’t like any other artist. But that’s valid. Paul didn’t get hyped by me. I had too many father figures.”

Despite Lennon’s assertion that McCartney didn’t respect Dylan, the Beatles’ bassist has, on other occasions since, expressed deep admiration for the folk singer. Lennon’s suspicion of jealousy would make sense. Perhaps McCartney was reluctant to praise his peers all those years ago, but in his later career, he has been markedly open with regard to reverence and support for other musicians.