Bob Dylan and Neil Young: If it sounds like me it should as well be me

by Aaron Galbraith

Sit back and prepare yourself for this one – this is going to be a very video heavy overview of Neil and Bob’s career interactions. Which is how we like it here, right?

In the authorized biography “Shakey” Neil Young refers to himself as “a ‘B student’ of Bob Dylan.” I’m not sure I’d agree, I’d bump him up to an A-. Judging by the amount of Dylan covers he has given in concert and record over the years, he knows his stuff!

Bob became aware of Neil early on and had a bit of a problem with “Heart Of Gold”!!

“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.” 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.”

“I needed to lay back for awhile, forget about things, myself included, and I’d get so far away and turn on the radio and there I am. But it’s not me. It seemed to me somebody else had taken”

He got over it quickly though. In August 1974, Bob Dylan attended a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert in Minneapolis. From a Rolling Stone magazine article by Ben Fong Torres:

“In the middle of the acoustic set, Young introduces ‘For the Turnstiles’ by saying: ‘Here’s a song I wrote a long time ago. There’s a couple of really good songwriters here tonight; I hope they don’t listen too closely.”

The music in the video below starts around the one minute mark…

Then in 1975 the pair got together to rip through a medley of “Helpless” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – rewritten as “Knockin’ On The Dragon’s Door”.

 

In 1988, Neil joined Bob on tour, the pair performed this stunning version of “Gates Of Eden”.

 

Even though the video quality isn’t great, there is no mistaking Young’s presence as he prowls the stage and his guitar sound is unmistakable.

Young’s performance at the Bridge Benefit Concert in 1989 included this jaunty take on “Everything’s Broken” with Tom Petty.

 

In 1990 Young released the album “Ragged Glory” with Crazy Horse. It included the track “Days That Used To Be”. The track was originally called “Letter to Bob” and the melody is identical to “My Back Pages”

Talk to me, my long lost friend,
tell me how you are
Are you happy with
your circumstance,
are you driving a new car
Does it get you where you wanna go,
with a seven year warranty
Or just another
hundred thousand miles away
From days that used to be
  • Neil Young – Days That Used To Be

In 1991 Young’s live album “Weld” includes his definitive “Gulf War” version of “Blowin’ In The Wind”.

 

“Yeah, well, I had planned to do something along those lines,” he says. “I was gonna do something off Ragged Glory that’s almost the same, ‘Mother Earth.’ But I didn’t really want to do ‘Mother Earth.’ I didn’t think it was gonna make it to the concert. We were rehearsing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ before the war and the tour started. Basically, the songs took on the ambience of the times. That’s all we do–we just reflect what’s going on. It just seems like we go out and it all comes from the audience; we just pick it up and send it back. So whatever’s happening, there’s no reason to just go out and entertain.

“Entertainment, all by itself, is great; it’s a great thing to do. But when something like [the war] is happening, certain songs just seem trite. Why bother doing ’em? It’s just natural that the songs reflect what was happening in the country. You’d see it in people’s faces as they came in and out of the concert–the slogans they had on the signs they were holding. But there’s room for everybody. Some people might want to forget about the war. Some people might not.”

That same year Neil teamed up with Bob’s old buddies The Grateful Dead for this awesome version of “Forever Young”

 

In 1992 Neil played the “Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert” and christened it “Bobfest”. He gave us excellent versions of “All Along The Watchtower” and “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”

 

A later version of “All Along The Watchtower” was also included on his 2000 live album “Road Rock Vol. 1”.

The 2003 album “Greendale” includes a song “Bandit” – one of Neil’s best in my opinion. In the song Neil sings:

no one can touch you now
but i can touch you now
you're invisible
you got too many secrets
bob dylan said that
somethin' like that
  • Neil Young – Bandit

Besides the “Like A Rolling Stone” quote this reads like Neil’s take on Dylan’s “Talkin’ World War III Blues”:

Half of the people can be part right all of the time,
Some of the people can be all right part of the time.
But all the people can't be all right all the time
I think Abraham Lincoln said that.
"I'll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours,"
I said that.
  • Bob Dylan – Talkin’ World War III Blues

In 2005 he introduces the Song “This Old Guitar” by saying:

“This is Hank William’s guitar [he points to the guitar]. I try to do the right thing with the guitar. You don’t want to stink with Hank’s guitar. I lent it to Bob Dylan for a while. He didn’t have a tour bus so I lent him mine and I left the guitar on the bed with a note saying Hank’s guitar is back there. He used it for a couple of months.”

I wonder what Dylan might have played on Hank William’s guitar.

Young’s 2006 album “Living With War” contains the track “Flags Of Freedom”. A young girl watches her brother march off to certain death to a chorus that echoes Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.”

 

Flags that line old main street
Are blowing in the wind
These must be the flags of freedom flying

She sees her brother marchin' by
Their bond is everlasting
Listening to Bob Dylan singing in 1963
Watching the flags of freedom flying
She sees the president speaking
On a Flat-screen TV
  • Neil Young – Flags Of Freedom

Another Bridge School Benefit concert in 2008 included this beautiful take of “I Shall Be Released” with Wilco.

 

The album “A Letter Home” (produced by Jack White – another entry in this “Bob Dylan and…” series) contains covers of some of Neil’s favourites recorded on a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-graph vinyl recording booth. Amongst the tracks was this wonderful take of “Girl From The North Country”

Also to be found as a bonus track on the very expensive vinyl box set special edition was this new version of “Blowin’ In The Wind” – making this one of Neil Young’s rarest and hardest to acquire tracks:

 

For his part Dylan has mentioned Neil Young once on record:

I’m listening to Neil Young, I gotta turn up the sound
Someone’s always yellin’ “Turn it down”

  • Bob Dylan – Highlands

When I saw Bob sing this one in Glasgow, he brilliantly changed the lyric to “I’m listening to Annie Lennox” – to cheers from the very partisan Glaswegian crowd, always happy to hear a reference to one of our own from the master! Makes me wonder if he changed this line for every city he visited!

In 2002 Bob performed this wonderful version of a Neil Young classic – from one Old Man to another.

 

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