The relationship between John Lennon and Bob Dylan was a peculiar one. While, on some levels, they were both jealous of one another’s career, in others, they couldn’t be further away. Dylan wanted his name in lights like The Beatles, seeking the major commercial fame that his Liverpudlian contemporaries enjoyed. Meanwhile, Lennon did everything in his power to foster a critical reputation as respected as Dylan’s poet laureate status.
The string of number one singles that The Beatles secured made Dylan’s eyes go green with envy, but that didn’t mean that he held John Lennon in the highest regard as a songwriter. On the other hand, the Beatle believed that his American contemporary was the messiah, often openly attempting to coalesce his love of Dylan into his work with The Fab Four.
In truth, imitation is the biggest compliment that any songwriter could possibly hope for. Yet, when the most famous band on the planet are taking credit for their innovative work based on your own ideas, it’s easy to understand why Dylan became infuriated with Lennon.
They first met in a New York hotel in August 1964, and legend has it that Dylan introduced The Beatles to marijuana during that fabled meeting. Something changed in Lennon that night, whether it was the green stuff or his growing obsession with Dylan, but Beatles For Sale, Help! and Rubber Soul would confirm his shift in artistry.
That trio of albums saw The Beatles experiment with a sound that was more folk-tinged than anything they’d previously done before, and even a Lehman could smell the influence of Dylan. “I don’t know when exactly it started,” Lennon once said of his change in songwriting style. “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.”
“That’s me in my Dylan period,” Lennon later admitted to David Sheff about ‘I’m A Loser’. “Part of me suspects I’m a loser and part of me thinks I’m God Almighty. [Laughs]”.
Prior to this moment, in 1974, Lennon recognised the song’s strong links back to Dylan. He mused, “‘I’m A Loser’ is me in my Dylan period because the word ‘clown’ is in it. I objected to the word ‘clown’, because that was always artsy-fartsy, but Dylan had used it so I thought it was all right, and it rhymed with whatever I was doing.”
Meanwhile, when he spoke to Sheff about ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’, Lennon revealed: “That’s me in my Dylan period again. I am like a chameleon, influenced by whatever is going on. If Elvis can do it, I can do it. If the Everly Brothers can do it, me and Paul can. Same with Dylan.”
Additionally, Lennon’s ‘Yer Blues’ from the White Album goes as far as mentioning the character from Dylan’s ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ and was another progression in John’s ability to tell a story with his songs which he had become a master of by 1968 when this track was released.
Dylan later kicked out at Lennon after he heard ‘Norwegian Wood’ on Rubber Soul, even writing a parody song called ‘4th Time Around’ in a bid to poke fun at the Beatle. “What is this? It’s me, Bob. (John’s) doing me! Even Sonny & Cher are doing me, but, fucking hell, I invented it,” Dylan allegedly said after hearing The Fab Four’s effort.
Admittedly, John Lennon was guilty of taking vast inspiration from Dylan, but even the latter did the same with people like Woody Guthrie, who helped sculpt him as a musician. Taking influence from others is an unavoidable part of life as an artist. Without it, both Dylan and The Beatles don’t achieve their level of greatness.
The John Lennon songs influenced by Bob Dylan:
- ‘I’m A Loser’
- ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’
- ‘Yer Blues’
- ‘Norwegian Wood’