by Aaron Galbraith
Ok, cards on the table – I am as big a Paul McCartney fan as I am of Bob Dylan so this should be something of an easy piece to write. Except it isn’t, the two men rarely met (at least publicly) – the picture above is the only one I can find of the pair together. It doesn’t seem that there was much influence on each others writing, certainly not lyrically, maybe musically the occasional Macca track will be a bit “Dylan-y” and vice-versa.
However, they have had quite a bit to say about each other the years and here are some of Dylan’s thoughts on the early Beatles:
“The Beatles came along, and kind of grabbed everyone by the throat. You were for them or against them. You were for them or you joined them, or whatever. Then everybody said, ‘Oh, popular song ain’t so bad,’ and then everyone wanted to get on the radio.”
“They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous, and their harmonies made it all valid. You could only do that with other musicians. Even if you’re playing your own chords you had to have other people playing with you. That was obvious. And it started me thinking about other people.
“But I just kept it to myself that I really dug them. Everybody else thought they were for the teenyboppers, that they were gonna pass right away. But it was obvious to me that they had staying power. I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go. I was not about to put up with other musicians, but in my head the Beatles were it.
Over the years Bob has had much to say on McCartney:
“They were fantastic singers. Lennon, to this day, it’s hard to find a better singer than Lennon was, or than McCartney was and still is.”
“I mean I’m in awe of McCartney. He’s about the only one that I am in awe of. But I’m in awe of him. He can do it all and he’s never let up, you know. He’s got the gift for melody, he’s got the rhythm. He can play any instrument. He can scream and shout as good as anybody and he can sing the ballad as good as anybody, you know so… And his melodies are, you know, effortless. That’s what you have to be in awe… I’m in awe of him maybe just because he’s just so damn effortless. I mean I just wish he’d quit, you know. [laughs] Just everything and anything that comes out of his mouth is just framed in a melody, you know …”
The remaining Beatles discussed that early meeting with Dylan in their 1995 Anthology series:
McCartney goes so far to state that Dylan was “our idol”, adding, “I could feel myself climbing a spiral walkway as I was talking to Dylan. I felt like I was figuring it all out, the meaning of life.”
For his part Dylan would answer the hotel phone by shouting, “This is Beatlemania here!” Otherwise they drank wine and hung out.
McCartney was inspired by the speed at which Dylan recorded “New Morning” in 1970, which was recorded over a five day period:
“Dylan inspired Wild Life, because we heard he had been in the studio and done an album in just a week. So we thought of doing it like that, putting down the spontaneous stuff and not being too careful. So it came out a bit like that. We wrote the tracks in the summer, Linda and I, we wrote them in Scotland in the summer while the lambs were gambolling. We spent two weeks on the Wild Life album all together. At that time, it was just when I had rung Denny Laine up a few days before and he came up to where we were to rehearse for one or two days.”
Dylan has covered a couple of McCartney’s songs over the years.
Here is a wonderful, playful version of “Yesterday” he recorded with George Harrison in 1970. I’m not sure what George is doing with his lead guitar playing, it gets a bit reggae towards the end but I love it!
Bob also included a cover of “The Long And Winding Road” in a show in 1978. Unfortunately, I am unable to find any audio of his version. It is intriguing to say the least!
Then in 2014 for the McCartney tribute album “The Art Of McCartney”, Bob pops up with a fine cover of “Things We Said Today”.
I would be interested to hear his own thoughts on why he chose this track (or if it was chosen for him). McCartney has described the song as “future nostalgia”, which is a very interesting concept for a 1963 pop song. It moves effortlessly back and forward through time:
“Someday when we’re dreaming, deep in love not a lot to say…” “then we will remember things we said today” “You say you will love me, if I have to go”
Dylan keeps much of the original’s optimistic mood intact but his distinctive voice adds much to the piece. The selection of this track shows that Dylan knows his stuff as Beatle’s songs go it’s a bit of a deep-cut.
When McCartney was asked the question “Which Dylan track would he cover” this was his answer:
“That’s a very difficult question to answer, as there are so many great songs. ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ comes to mind because it’s something you could cover.” He continued, “Singing Dylan songs can be difficult because something like ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, it’s so Dylan that it would be hard to get the spirit that he puts on it. ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ is another good one, you know. I’d put that on a list as well.”
I have been unable to find any examples of McCartney covering Dylan. The only tracks I can find that they both sang at some point is “My One And Only Love” (Triplicate / Kisses On The Bottom) and “Froggie Went A Courtin” – McCartney recorded this in 1991 as a warm up to his Unplugged show. Dylan recorded his take in 1992 so it is interesting they were both thinking about this track around the same time!
Let’s be honest though, McCartney and Dylan are top of the pile in the entire history of music. If Dylan has any peers in music, it can only be McCartney. If McCartney has any peers, it can only be Dylan.
Others in this series: