The connection between Bob Dylan and The Beatles might be nuanced, but it shouldn’t be understated. The two behemoths of music inspired one another and looked across the Atlantic as contemporaries, often citing specific individualistic characteristics as benefitting their own creative vision, even if it was shrouded amid a hint of jealous competition at times.
John Lennon and Bob Dylan regularly wrote songs with one another in mind, with The Beatles’ Rubber Soul leaning in a folk-rock direction shortly after the band’s meeting Dylan. Later, when commenting upon hearing it, Dylan blurted out: “What is this? It’s me, Bob. [John’s] doing me! Even Sonny & Cher are doing me, but, fucking hell, I invented it”.
Lennon wasn’t shy about admitting his influences, later confessing: “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”.
Meanwhile, Paul McCartney added fuel to the fire by confirming, “That was John doing a Dylan… heavily influenced by Bob. If you listen, he’s singing it like Bob” as fans of both outfits regularly pointed out the similarities of their material.
Relentlessly inspired by Dylan’s brutally honest and poignant songwriting style, Lennon wrote the song ‘Norwegian Wood’ to mimic Dylan’s class, which inspired Dylan to poke a bit of fun at Lennon by writing his own Beatles-inspired song, ‘Fourth Time Around’.
The pair had a complicated relationship, which wavered between genuine inspiration, jest, and east-coast-west-coast-rap-rivalry-style diss track trading, apparently. It’s not always entirely clear how these two truly felt about one another but, on one hand, they clearly exchanged their influential sounds back and forth, whereas on the other, they’d hurl scathing attacks, like the time John said: “Well, I was listening to the radio,” he begins, “And Dylan’s new single or whatever the hell it is came on.” The Bob Dylan single in question is ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, by the way. He wants to be a waiter for Christ. The backing is mediocre […] the singing’s really pathetic and the words were just embarrassing”.
But in the same breath, Lennon added: “Anybody who wants to hear Dylan just because of who he is isn’t gonna understand what Dylan is saying now or then. They’re just following some kind of image. They’re the sheep anyway,” admitting that there’s much more beneath the surface of his work.
However, even with Lennon’s lyrical change of pace accredited to Dylan, many people don’t know about one of the most famous instances of Dylan’s lyrics ending up directly in a Beatles track. And that would be none other than ‘Come Together’, which takes lyrics directly from Bob Dylan’s 1962 song, ‘Roll On John’.
The song ‘Roll On John’ is in Bob Dylan’s well-known style, his folky voice crooning the lyrics, “come together right now over me” as clear as day, a full seven years before The Beatles would do the same.
Although included on the 2012 album Tempest, the song was originally written back in 1962, leading to the common misconception that the inspiration happened the other way around.
You probably already know about ‘Come Together’, but if you’re curious to take a listen to Bob Dylan’s song, ‘Roll On John’, you can check it out below.