The Mutual Influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles

Bob Dylan first met the Beatles in New York during 1964.  He visited them in their hotel room and brought them some marijuana.  It was the first time Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr ever tried marijuana, though John Lennon and George Harrison had previously smoked lesser quality pot.  More importantly, however, was the exposure they had to each other’s music.  The mutual influence of each produced some of the greatest rock and roll albums of all time, and their creations then influenced rock for decades.  Without the mutual influence of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, there probably would not have been the ballad rock of the 1970s, the glamor rock of the 1980s, and the grunge rock of the 1990s.

Bob Dylan began performing as a folk rock and blues singer, and he had moderate early success with such songs as “Blowin’ in the Wind, and the comical “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.”  Ed Sullivan wouldn’t let Bob play the latter song on his show, so his appearance was canceled.  They were afraid the John Birch Society would sue over being referred to as Nazis in the song.  Bob was a great lyricist, capable of writing a wide variety of songs, and other groups had big hits with songs he wrote.  The Beatles had incredible early success with their syrupy, popular rock songs. The quality of both musical acts dramatically improved after they heard each other’s work.  Bob Dylan started incorporating more energetic rock and roll into his music, while the Beatles began writing more meaningful lyrics than just “She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah” or “I want to hold your hand.”

Bob Dylan introduced the electric guitar to his live act, shocking fans of his acoustic guitar-oriented folk songs.  At a controversial concert in New Port, Rhode Island fans booed, and 1 famous folk singer went looking for an axe to cut the cord.  Nevertheless, Bob ignored the crowd’s reaction and continued to include an electric part of his show.  Folk music fans thought his hard rock was too “commercial” (as if it was a crime to make money). During the next few years he created some of the finest albums of his career including Bring it on Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, and John Wesley Harding. Blonde on Blonde is my favorite Dylan album and I play it over and over.  Meanwhile, the Beatles created Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The White Album, and my all time favorite–Abby Road. 

This is 1 of the songs folk music snobs booed during Dylan’s concerts of the late 1960s.

This Beatles song is an ode to marijuana which half of the band first smoked with Bob Dylan.  This song was influenced by the Motown sound and Stevie Wonder.

The Beatles broke up in 1970, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney continued to enjoy success through the 1970s when ballad rock became a staple of top 40 music.  Bob Dylan still performs today and regularly recorded new albums for decades after the Beatles broke up.  His albums of the 1970s were uneven–some were almost great, others not so good.  I think he recorded 1 album just to screw his manager.  In 1964 Bob Dylan stupidly didn’t read the contract he signed with Albert Grossman (his shady manager).  He had given 50% of his song royalties to Grossman for 10 years, and this was outrageously unfair. To get revenge Bob recorded a double album of cover songs he didn’t write, so Grossman would get no royalties.  The ironically titled Self Portrait is rated 1 of the worst rock albums of all time.  Other Bob Dylan albums recorded during the 1970s were much better, but he often didn’t choose the best songs he created in these sessions for the albums.  On some he left off the 3 best songs, though they would later be released in his bootleg series albums.

Bob continued to fill stadiums during the 1970s, but the gospel singers he kept around as back-up vocals (and to satisfy his sexual urges) influenced him to convert from Judaism to Christianity.  He became a kind of obnoxious born again Christian and he performed nothing but Christian rock at his concerts.  This turned off a lot of fans, and concert sales suffered.  Some of the Christian rock is actually good (“You gotta serve somebody” is a great song”), but his career success declined.  He has since mellowed out.  He revived his career by playing small theaters and by making better, less religiously-oriented albums.  His concerts included a mix of his popular and obscure songs.  I really admire the way he always played whatever he wanted to play regardless of the audience reaction.

Music created today is terrible compared to that based on the mutual influence of the Beatles and Bob Dylan.  Rap (which 1 loosely could refer to as music) and corporate-sanitized country dominate today’s popular music.  Almost all modern country music sounds the same–there is absolutely no innovation.  And pop songs with electronic mouth organ crap seem to make young people happy.  Modern acts just don’t create good music any more because they are too distant from their roots.


Sounes, Howard

Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan

Grove Press 2011




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: