Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Alamy /Reprise)

Music

The songs Bob Dylan and Neil Young wrote about each other

@jackwhatley89

Two of the finest songwriters of all time just so happen to be incredible friends. The work of Bob Dylan and Neil Young is comparatively unparalleled in the world of pop music. The two icons have carved out careers that stretch back to the 1960s and are rarely blemished by shoddy work. The two men separately enjoyed flourishing careers that meandered through the many evolutions of music to become wholly singular entities, capturing lyrical potency alongside musical intent. But the two men haven’t always seen eye to eye.

Famously, before the two men became great companions, Dylan chastised one of Young’s greatest songs, ‘Heart of Gold’. The track arrived some years after Dylan had cemented his sound within a rock paradigm and was becoming more and more guarded of the sonic structures he had been using as a climbing frame for most of his career. He lashed out when he assumed another artist to be taking a similar route. Young, in particular, pushed Dylan over the edge, “The only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, in about ’72 and the big song at the time was ‘Heart of Gold’,” the singer told SPIN.

The song is one of Young’s biggest hits, hitting the number one spot on the Billboard 100 and making Neil Young the first Canadian to do so. But for Dylan, the closeness of the track to his own style, now a little less wanted than before, was too similar: “I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to ‘Heart of Gold.’ I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I’d say, ‘Shit, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me’,” he added.

When Bob Dylan and Neil Young toyed with a journalist

Read More

However, soon enough, Dylan’s fury cooled and the duo enjoyed a heartfelt and rewarding friendship filled with laughs and tomfoolery as they saw a commonality in one another — even if Dylan did nearly once perish in the back of Young’s hearse. Such is the strength of their friendship that the usually guarded and disgruntled men have paid tribute to one another in their songs.

Young is no stranger to including his artistic contemporaries within his songs, his track ‘Sweet Joni’ is about as clear a tribute to Joni Mitchell as one can get. Bob Dylan, however, usually kept his art away from the work of others whenever he could. But, even he found it within his heart to give some attention to Young and off his cap to the artist within the lyrics of his song ‘Highlands’.

Shared as part of Dylan’s 1997 album, his 30th studio record, Time Out of Mind, Dylan chose to pay homage to his friend within ‘Highlands’ when he sang, “Well, my heart’s in The Highlands / I can only get there one step at a time / I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound,” confirming that he not only enjoyed the work of Young but used him as company to complete his journies, a spot usually saved by music lovers for the most pertinent of pop songs.

A few years later, clearly noting the privilege, Young responded to the track by including a reference to Dylan on Bandit, Young’s 25th studio album. It’s not the most flattering response: “No one can touch you now. / I can touch you now. / You’re invisible. You’ve got too many secrets. / (Bob Dylan said that. / Or something like that).” But, just two albums later, on his song ‘Flags of Freedom’, he sings more directly about the impact of Dylan: “Their bond is everlasting / Listening to Bob Dylan singin’ / In 1963 / Watchin’ the flags of freedom flying.”

There’s something magical about friendship in any regard; however, two of the most prominent, prolific and important songwriters of all time, not only enjoying a fellowship but caring enough to write songs about one another, is about as memorable as it gets. Listen to all the songs below.