I think it’s fair to say that the relationship between The Beatles and Bob Dylan is one of the most important in pop music history. That’s not to say The Beatles’ respect for the great songwriter was always mutual. In fact, Bob could be pretty scathing when he wanted to be, especially when it came to John Lennon’s songwriting. But none of that stopped Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr from regarding Dylan as one of music’s true innovators. Indeed, Dylan was a huge influence on The Beatles’ songcraft, inspiring the ‘Fab Four’ to broaden their creative horizons with Rubber Soul, an album coloured in a distinctly Dylan-esque hue.
The two artists met on Friday 28th, 1964, in a room in the Delmonico hotel, New York. It was here, or so the legend goes, that a cat-eyed Dylan introduced the then-affable Beatles to the wonders of what the American press delighted in calling ‘ma-ra-joo-arna’. Ringo Starr was the first to seize the bulky number Dylan had concealed in his top pocket, burning through the first few centimetres in one smooth chug.
Even Epstein, always impeccably dressed, partook, later collapsing in a fit of giggles only to yell: “I’m so high I’m up on the ceiling”. As the bassist recalls in the footage below, McCartney believed he’d stumbled upon the meaning of life. In an effort to retain this startling epiphany, McCartney ordered Mal Evens to find a scrap of paper so he could note down the words “there are seven levels,” which he promptly handed over to the roadie for safe keeping.
The anarchic meeting represented a watershed moment in The Beatles’ career, one marking the beginning of a new exploratory phase, culminating in the creation of the White Album – arguably the final truly experimental studio effort The Beatles produced. The influence of Dylan’s songwriting was felt most keenly by Lennon, who introduced Ringo to The Freewheelin In Bob Dylan shortly after its release in 1963.
McCartney, who once named Dylan a “fantastic composer”, was also deeply changed by the wire-framed folk laureate’s early records. Talking to Flip Magazine in 1966, Paul said: “At first, I didn’t understand. I used to lose his songs in the middle but then I realised it didn’t matter. You can get hung up on just two words of a Dylan lyric. ‘Jealous Monk’ or ‘Magic Swirling Ship’ are examples of the fantastic word combinations he uses. I could never write like that and I envy him. He is a poet.”
This footage features Lennon, Paul, George and Ringo recalling their first meeting with Dylan, the impact of his songcraft and his relationship with The Beatles throughout their career. If you haven’t already, make sure you check it out.