When Bob Dylan was furious about The Beatles ripping him off: "I invented it!"

11 November 2022, 14:22 | Updated: 15 January 2024, 11:53

Bob Dylan was hugely influential, but didn't appreciate being copied.
Bob Dylan was hugely influential, but didn't appreciate being copied. Picture: Alamy

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

Bob Dylan was, and still is, one of the greatest singer-songwriters in the history of music.

Given his unparalleled impact on contemporary music from the 1960s onwards, you'd understand why there were plenty of artists that were influenced by Bob Dylan.

But Dylan himself took umbrage to musician's borrowing from him, rather seeing it as an insult.

He was frustrated by Sonny & Cher's signature hit 'I Got You Babe' as they admitted it was directly inspired by Dylan's 'It Ain't Me Babe'.

But there was another band - arguably the most famous band of all time - that really got under his skin when he heard a particular song of theirs.

On 1965's Rubber Soul, The Beatles' sound was beginning to shift from the guitar pop that made their name to a more introspective, experimental space.

The leading songwriter of the era, at least in terms of merging music and poetry, was undoubtedly Bob Dylan.

John Lennon channelled the inspiration he took from Dylan into 'Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)', but after hearing it was the first time, Dylan was furious.

Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)

According to David Dalton's book Who Is That Man? In Search of the Real Bob Dylan, the 'Like A Rolling Stone' singer listened to Rubber Soul and was incensed.

But it was 'Norwegian Wood' in particular that enraged Dylan.

"What is this? It’s me Bob. He’s doing me! Even Sonny and Cher are doing me, but, f***ing hell, I invented it", he said after listening to Lennon's track.

Dylan quite literally felt like he owned the song because he perceived it heavily borrowed from his songwriting style.

In response, he wrote 'Fourth Time Around' as a parody of 'Norwegian Wood' and to take ownership in his own way.

Whilst the two songs share similarities, like the instrumentation, their lyrics couldn't be any more different - 'Norwegian Wood' is warm and hopeful, whereas 'Fourth Time Around' is bitter and cold.

Dylan's song ends with the lyric: "I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine", a direct shot at Lennon for using his music as a "crutch" to write theirs.

John may have got the message, as later Beatles records featured less of a distinct 'Dylan sound' as they moved into psychedelia.

Bob Dylan - Fourth Time Around (Official Audio)

After the song was recorded, Dylan's friend and collaborator Al Kooper expressed worry that the song was way too alike 'Norwegian Wood'.

He said that because of the likeness, The Beatles might end up suing him. Dylan responded by claiming it was already his song, so a lawsuit was out of the question.

In a strange twist of fate, Bob Dylan would end up playing 'Fourth Time Around' to Lennon in a private meeting, and the 'Imagine' icon wasn't overly keen on the song.

A couple of years later in 1968, John gave the song more of a mixed review when asked about 'Fourth Time Around' in a Rolling Stone magazine interview.

"I didn’t like it…I was very paranoid", he said. "I just didn’t like what I felt I was feeling – I thought it was an out-and-out skit, you know, but it wasn’t. It was great."

He probably knew Dylan's satire was a dig at 'Norwegian Wood' being influenced by the 'Blowin' In The Wind' singer.

As two of the most revolutionary artists in the history of music, they were bound to be influenced by each other at some point in their careers.

Though, it's doubtful Dylan would ever admit it.