The Influence of the Beatles on Bob Dylan

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When Bob Dylan and the Beatles met for the first time in 1964, despite Dylan's previous claims of thinking the "fab four" were "just bubblegum", a new influential relationship had begun (Williamson 48). Although this new relationship of folk star and rock icons wasn't always the friendliest or most easygoing, along with the fact that they only met a handful of times between 1964 and 1969, the Beatles and Bob Dylan would forever have similar influences and reciprocating effects on each other (Beauchamp and Shephard). At one point, Bob Dylan reportedly even wanted to make an album with the Beatles in 1969 (Greene). As Bob Dylan's interests and style affected the Beatles, the Beatles interests and style would affect Bob Dylan, ultimately changing rock and roll forever.

Their first encounter is notorious for when Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana, which would in turn influence the Beatles immensely in their songwriting, production techniques, and interests. This first encounter was located at the Delmonico Hotel in New York, where Dylan mistook their lyrics in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" for "I get high, I get high," as opposed to "I can't hide, I can't hide." After John made the necessary corrections, Dylan rolled a joint, which Ringo mistakenly smoked in its entirety not knowing the proper etiquette of sharing the joint. Dylan and Al Aronowitz, who arranged for the meeting, apparently rolled two more joints in response (Williamson 48) (The Beatles Bible). John Lennon remembers the night as so, "I don't remember much what we talked about. We were smoking dope, drinking wine and generally being rock'n'rollers and having a laugh, you know, and surrealism. It was party time" (The Beatles Bible). Well from then on, the Beatles rock and roller lifestyle wasn't just restricted to their party habits. In addition, the Beatles would hold their music to a higher standard, which can be seen on Rubber Soul and their future endeavors. As for Dylan, his encounter with the Beatles would show to be a huge factor in why he went electric, which transformed his career from folk music's poster boy, to a grown rock musician.

The first way Bob Dylan influenced the Beatles process of writing and recording music was of how they held their music to a higher standard. In fact, even McCartney explained in regards to their commercial success, "We were only trying to please Dylan" (Campbell and Brody 162). In understanding this shift, one must look at the Beatles' Rubber Soul. First off, the album includes more use of acoustic rather than electric guitar. In addition, John Lennon started writing his songs in more subjective manners where he took his own emotions and released them through lyrics, specifically accrediting this shift to Bob Dylan in The Beatles Anthology (158) (Krerowicz). The melodic flow of the acoustic guitar in "Norwegian Wood", paired with the personal lyrics written by Lennon, regarding an affair, resemble a similar style that is reflective in many Dylan songs throughout history (The Beatles Bible).

The second way Bob Dylan, whether it was directly or indirectly, changed the Beatles outlook, was in regards to mind-altering substances such as marijuana and LSD. Having been keener to "hard scotch and coke" according to Paul McCartney, "It sort of changed that evening" for the Beatles when they took part in Dylan's marijuana cigarettes back in 1964 (Campbell and Brody 162). This encounter with marijuana and further exploration into the mind-altering drug scene would ultimately determine the Beatles future in rock music. As Campbell and Brody explain, each album created by the Beatles corresponds with a specific drug of choice which would ultimately change and shift their style; "alcohol and speed until 1964; marijuana until 1966, acid during the Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour years, and a cutting down or, in Lennon's case, a switch from acid to heroin in the last few years" (171). Ringo Starr even accredited most of the song writing on Rubber Soul to "grass", meaning marijuana (TheBeatles.com).

This change in style wasn't just seen in their lyrics, but also in how they recorded their songs in the studio. Come April 6, 1966, the Beatles would gather in the studio to start work on their new album, Revolver. Starting with Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows," a song directly related to his experience with LSD, would set the tone for the rest of the recording sessions. Lennon wanted his voice to sound "like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountaintop" (Scapelliti 80). Using never-before seen techniques while recording this song and the rest of the album, the Beatles along with their studio engineer Geoff Emerick, were able to revolutionize rock and roll by forcing the studio itself to be used as an instrument (Scapelliti 79). Much of these avant-garde, experimental techniques would have never been explored had the Beatles not embarked on a journey of mind-altering experiences, which may have all started with that one night at the Delmonico Hotel with Bob Dylan in 1964.

While the Beatles had reflected more Dylan-esque writing techniques, they continued to expand their plethora of recording methods and explore their own minds with mood-altering substances. And although the Beatles were at the forefront of experimental rock, Dylan was about to find a breakthrough of his own and experiment in a way that would receive confusion, backlash, and ultimately praise.

Bob Dylan released Bringing It All Back Home on March 22, 1965, as a half electric, half acoustic album (Williamson 51). Not only would this decision to split the album into half electric distance himself from his folk music family but it would further himself towards his eventual rock musician status; a status that was highly influenced by the Beatles presence and success at the time. As Dylan wrote in his memoir titled Chronicles, "What I did to break away, was to take simple folk changes and put new imagery and attitude to them, use catchphrases and metaphor combined with a new set of ordinances that evolved into something different that had not been heard before." This idea of changing it up may have spawned from the first time he heard the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Dylan loved the song, claiming the chords, "were outrageous, just outrageous, and the harmonies made it all valid. You could only do that with other musicians" (Hermes). He loved it.

By the time the Newport Folk Festival came around in July of 1965, Dylan had already recorded and released his eventually chart-topping hit "Like a Rolling Stone", but this didn't mean that his folk-loving fans would be ready to accept a live performance as an electric Dylan. Boos could be heard, and uproar was apparent, but not everyone in the crowd that night was upset with Dylan trying to break-ground into a folk-rock revolution with himself at the forefront (Williamson 52). His folkie fans weren't the only ones to dislike "Like a Rolling Stone", as even Colombia Records canceled its release at first due to its differences from Bob Dylan's other songs, and the fact that it was six minutes long, which would make it hard to be played on radio (Greene). Not only was the song longer than most radio hits, but also as Marqusee explains, “the language and imagery were far richer, more recondite than was customary on mainstream radio" (151). But sure enough it became his biggest hit, and Dylan himself has played the song live a total of 2,024 times (Greene).

Both folk-rock and rock music entities made ground-breaking strides on their paths to music fame, and those paths may have been delayed, different, or skewed had Bob Dylan and the Beatles not made that crucial encounter in New York in 1964. From Dylan's introduction of marijuana with the Beatles, that would ultimately spark a psychedelic and mind-explorative path of song-writing and studio experimentation, to the Beatle's influence and success that would further influence Bob Dylan to go electric and leave his folk-revival past behind, there were clear signs of a reciprocating, influential relationship that had forever-lasting affects on rock and pop music at the time, and of today.

Works Cited

  • The Beatles Anthology. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2000. Print.
  • Beauchamp, Scott, and Alex Shephard. "Bob Dylan and John Lennon's Weird, One-Sided
  • Relationship." The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 24 Sept. 2012. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.
  • "Bob Dylan Turns The Beatles on to Marijuana." The Beatles Bible. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.
  • Campbell, Michael, and James Brody. Rock and Roll: An Introduction. New York: Schirmer, 1999. Print.
  • Dylan, Bob. Chronicles. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print.
  • Greene, Andy. "Bob Dylan Recorded 'Like A Rolling Stone' 50 Years Ago Today." Rolling Stone. 16 June 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.
  • Greene, Andy. "Bob Dylan Wanted to Make an Album with the Beatles and Rolling Stones." 
  • Rolling Stone. 07, Nov. 2014. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.
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The Influence of The Beatles on Bob Dylan. (2022, Dec 12). Retrieved June 20, 2024 , from
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