The songwriter who inspired Paul McCartney most of all: “He was our idol”

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Few songwriters can rival the prolific and enduring influence of Paul McCartney, who etched his place in history by crafting some of the most iconic songs of the 1960s and beyond. As one-half of the legendary songwriting duo with John Lennon, McCartney played a pivotal role in penning most of The Beatles’ hits. With songwriting credits surpassing 1,000, McCartney’s archive undoubtedly harbors hundreds more gems.

From The Beatles to his solo endeavors and the later formation of Wings, McCartney’s lyrical depth and ever-evolving style mark him as one of the most influential songwriters in the annals of music history. Timeless tracks like ‘Let It Be,’ ‘Blackbird,’ ‘Live And Let Die,’ and ‘Yesterday’ showcase McCartney’s exceptional skill and enduring impact.

Yet, even a luminary like McCartney has his wellspring of inspiration; for him, that fountainhead is none other than Bob Dylan. In an illuminating conversation as part of the My Inspiration campaign by HMV, McCartney singled out Dylan, citing the song ‘She Belongs To Me’ as a particular touchstone.

“Bob Dylan has written some great stuff,” McCartney understatedly remarked, acknowledging the profound influence of the folk icon on his creative journey. Despite emerging in different musical spheres, The Beatles consistently looked up to Dylan. While the Liverpudlian quartet ascended to unprecedented mainstream stardom, Dylan retained an air of mystery and elusiveness as his fame grew.

The long-awaited meeting between The Beatles and Bob Dylan in 1964 was nothing short of a momentous occasion. McCartney recalled the encounter, stating, “He was our idol. It was a great honor to meet him; we had a crazy party that night we met. I thought I had gotten the meaning of life that night.”

The admiration was reciprocal, with John Lennon expressing his infatuation with Dylan during their time in Paris in 1964. “In Paris in 1964 was the first time I ever heard Dylan at all. Paul got the record [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] from a French DJ. For three weeks in Paris, we didn’t stop playing it. We all went potty about Dylan.”

However, the relationship between The Beatles and Dylan faced strains, marked by claims of plagiarism and divergent approaches to fame. Dylan, famously critical of ‘Norwegian Wood,’ accused the band of copying him, asserting, “What is this? It’s me, Bob. [John’s] doing me! Even Sonny & Cher are doing me, but, fucking hell, I invented it.”

Despite their differences, McCartney’s admiration for Dylan endured. In 1965, McCartney’s love for the folk artist remained unwavering, especially with the release of Bringing It All Back Home and the track ‘She Belongs With Me.’ More than four decades later, when asked about his biggest inspiration by HMV, McCartney pointed to this very Dylan track, quoting the poignant lyrics, “She’s an artist, she don’t look back.”

The mutual respect between McCartney and Dylan persisted, with Dylan acknowledging The Beatles’ role in shaping the trajectory of music. “I knew they were pointing the direction of where music had to go,” Dylan remarked, solidifying the enduring impact of their intertwined legacies.

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