Paul McCartney is the perfect package for what a musician is supposed to be. Although he may not have had the best formal training in proper musical theory, McCartney’s collaborations with John Lennon brought some of the most sophisticated ideas that rock and roll had ever seen, creating timeless melodies that could touch the hearts of millions worldwide. Despite the massive adulation given to tracks like ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let It Be’, there is one artist that Macca still wishes he could write like.
When he first started to write with Lennon, McCartney would find himself pulling bits and pieces from every genre he could think of. While there were traces of the rock stars they both idolised, like Little Richard and Chuck Berry, it wasn’t out of the question for McCartney to dip his toes into unchartered territory, like the jazzy chords in ‘Michelle’ or the show-tune melodies on tracks like ‘When I’m 64’.
As The Beatles started seeing their first significant success with albums like A Hard Day’s Night, though, Bob Dylan shifted popular music in the US. Starting in folk music, Dylan turned the entire music world inside out on albums like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, making songs that spoke to the massive problems afflicting the world like ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’.
While Macca admitted to not understanding Dylan’s style initially, he would later say he was jealous of his talent with words. Rather than focus on weaving together intricate melodies like McCartney, Dylan’s first attempts at songs featured straightforward chord progressions, usually favouring a handful of chords to act as a bed for him to tell his stories like ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ or ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’.
When talking about Dylan’s influence, McCartney would go on to say that he wished he had Dylan’s knack for wordplay, recalling: “Dylan is a fantastic composer. At first, I didn’t understand. I used to lose his songs in the middle, but then I realised it didn’t matter. You can get hung up on just two words of a Dylan lyric. ‘Jealous monk‘ or ‘magic swirling ship‘ are examples of the fantastic word combinations he uses. I could never write like that, and I envy him.”
Even though McCartney had a fixation with Dylan’s work, there’s a good chance his writing partner was even more enamoured. When talking about Dylan’s influence on The Beatles’ music, McCartney remembered how obsessed Lennon would become with Dylan’s material, telling Rolling Stone: “[It] hit a chord with John. It was as if John felt, ‘That should have been me’. And, to that end, John did a Dylan impression.”
While the band may have been intrigued by Dylan’s approach to lyrics, Dylan was paying attention to the British rockers as well, being a primary inspiration for him donning an electric guitar for the first time in 1965. Even though the band may have been in friendly competition throughout the 1960s, what they brought out of each other yielded the greatest rock and roll ever made.
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