Songs about Bob Dylan
1. Cat Power – Song to Bobby
My favourite line: “Oh God, can you tell me who are you singing to” as I have so many times read Dylan’s lyrics and wondered the exact same thing.
I love this song, she’s such a “fangirl”, and the way she mimics his singing style is so fitting for this song. She did her contribution to the soundtrack of I’m Not There, Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again, in the same “Dylan-style” (included below), and she has covered several of his songs (Oh Sister and I Believe in You springs to mind).
The title references Bob Dylan’s “Song to Woody” where Dylan sings about/to his hero, as Marshall is doing in her song.
Song to Bobby tells us about her transition from fan to a mature artist whom deserves the attention of Dylan himself. She tells about how she reacted when Bob Dylan calls her record company asking to meet her, and how devastated she is to be stuck out of town. It is a really sweet story of how an artist of considerably stature is still humbled by her own hero.
“It’s worth noting that Jukebox’s best moment comes not with a cover, but with a Cat Power original– and fitting, too, that it’s a mash note to Dylan. On the epistolary “Song for Bobby” she recounts in conversational lyrics her youthful infatuation with Dylan and how her professional love for him blurred into something like romantic affection. The song is funny, endearing, and even revealing.”
I was fifteen, sixteen maybe
In the park I was waving my arms
You were waved this way
And you sang the song I was screaming
I wanted you to
Cat Power – Song to Bobby:
Cat Power – Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again:
2. David Bowie – Song for Bob Dylan
My favourite line: “You sat behind a million pair of eyes and told them how they saw”
It is a song written by David Bowie for the album Hunky Dory (1971). In the opening lyrics of the song, Bowie describes Bob Dylan’s voice “like sand and glue” which is similar to how the american author Joyce Carol Oates described it upon first meeting Dylan: “When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying.”
Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman
I wrote a song for you
About a strange young man
With a voice like sand and glue
His words of truthful vengeance
They could pin us to the floor
Brought a few more people on
And put the fear in a whole lot more
Is the song a plea for Dylan to start protesting again? Joan Baez’s “To Bobby” and Country Joe & The Fish’s “Hey Bobby” shares some of the same concerns.
“I was sick of the way my lyrics had been extrapolated, their meanings subverted into polemics and that I had been anointed as the Big Bubba of Rebellion, High Priest of Protest, the Duke of Disobedience, Leader of the Freeloaders, Kaiser of Apostasy, Arch-bishop of Anarchy, the Big Cheese. What the hell are we talking about? They were songs – not sermons.” – Bob Dylan
Or as this was written during Dylan’s absence after his motorcycle crash. Was it was a call out to him to come out of retirement?
The song references it’s opening line, “Hear this Robert Zimmerman, I wrote A .song for you” from the track ‘Song to Woody’ found on Dylan’s first album, on which Bob Dylan sings “Hey Woody Gutherie, I wrote you a song”.
Bowie indicated that at the time the song was also an opportunity for him: “It was at that period that I said, ‘Okay, Dylan, if you don’t want to do it, I will.’ I saw that leadership void.” (Melody Maker,1976).
To me it seems like Bowie is drawing inspiration from Bob Dylan, with his often seemingly non-sensical, stream-of-consciousness lyrics (on the whole Hunky Dory album).
3. Loudon Wainwright III – Talking New Bob Dylan
This is a funny song!
It was written 20 years ago in honor of Dylan’s 50th birthday, but it still holds up today.
Yeah, I got a deal , and so did John Prine, Steve Forbert and Springsteen, all in a line.
They were lookin’ for you, signin’ up others,
We were “new Bob Dylans” — your dumb-ass kid brothers.
Well, we still get together every week at Bruce’s house —
Why, he’s got quite a spread (sometimes: He’s got the biggest house), I tell ya — it’s a twelve-step program.
allmusic: “…clever classic of the satirical talking folk-blues genre…”
4. John Lennon – Serve Yourself
A very angry Lennon, maybe even a petty Lennon, a cynical Lennon for sure. Here he references Bod Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody in an extremely harsh attack. I read that it is sometimes viewed as a parody, I don’t think so. I believe Lennon was full of disappointment and anger towards his friend(?) Dylan. This is not surprising to anybody that has followed or read about John Lennon, he has a poisonous tongue.
“I must say I was surprised when old Bobby boy did go that way. I was very surprised. But I was also surprised when he went to that Jewish group. That surprised me, too, because all I ever hear whenever I hear about him is – and people can quote me and make me feel silly, too – but all I ever think of is ‘Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.’ It’s the same man, but it isn’t the same man, and I don’t want to say anything about a man who is searching or has found it. It is unfortunate when people say, ‘This is the only way.’ That’s the only thing I’ve got against anybody, if they are saying, ‘This is the only answer.’ I don’t want to hear about that. There isn’t one answer to anything.” –John Lennon to David Seff, 1980
You say you found Jesus Christ;
He’s the only one.
You say you’ve found Buddha,
Sittin’ in the sun.
You say you found Mohammed,
Facin’ to the East.
You say you found Krishna,
Dancin’ in the streets.
Well there’s somethin’ missing in this God Almighty stew,
And it’s your mother, (your mother, don’t forget your mother, lad.)
You got to serve yourself,
Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.
You got to serve yourself,
Ain’t nobody gonna do it for you.
Accoustic Guitar version:
5. John Lennon – God
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles
I just believe in me
John Lennon (1964): “Well, we all like Joan Baez, but we love Bob Dylan.”
One of my absolute favourite solo Lennon compositions from his only masterpiece solo album, The Plastic Ono Band album. And what a great band it was, Lennon, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr and Klaus Voormann.
“Somebody once said that artists mirror society and that if people/society don’t like it that’s too bad, because we’re all in that reflection together. Artists are poetic historians. They’re like doctors. Some doctors do heads, some do arms; artists do emotions and feelings.” – John Lennon 1975
Not strictly about Dylan, but he has a jab at him in quite a harsh way here as well.
“I don’t believe in Zimmerman” officially, “I don’t believe in Dylan” in demo versions.
36 thoughts on “My 5 Favourite songs about Bob Dylan”
There was a hiphop song by a recording artist Sage Francis that wrote a response to “Masters of War” called “Hey Booby.” It tries to connect the mid-60s hatred of the Vietnam War to the mid2000’s hatred of the War in Iraq. May not be everyone’s favorite cup of tea but I enjoy it.
Alway great to get new impulses, thanks!
Lennon and Bob on video off work sharing a fun evening, reveling in the moment, clearly were enjoying each other. That was real. But Lennon’s mimicking Bob’s “Gotta serve Somebody” song along with other songs like earlier song rap like ; ” don’t wear sandals , watch the parking meters ,..,don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows…”. I forget title which in Lennon’s wrath at the time was basically rebellion on listening to any rules , which he believed was Bob’s personna ! H Lennon an artist isn’t what he writes or sings. They are fictional art pieces ; the song may be like someone somewhere; every song writer/singer for sure isn’t the song ; if so every singer including the Beatles would be a multihundredth split personality ( largely disproved by today’s psychologists to a bi personality ). And that kind of conjecture is mythical at best. I guess Bob just puts so much in his songs that they come to some people as reality , if true each artist would only have 1 song in them . However dearly missed Lennon was like Dylan just a man fail able & no man can walk on water, yet !
Thanks for your interesting comments!
References in “Only want to Be With You”, Hootie and the Blowfish. And, very slyly, “Desperado” Don Henly. (all the gambling references; the rain, hearts and diamonds, the loner riding fences.). But mostly “Hallelujah”. Cohen as much as admitted it
I didn’t know that about Hallelujah, and I must confess that I was not aware of the references in Desperado.
Hootie and The Blowfish, I haven’t listen to them so much, so I couldn’t say
Thanks for your comment
Mark Sutton – I’m a Bigger Dylan Fan than You – a bit too close to the mark!
I haven’t heard it, but probably yeah 😉
Thanks for the tip
Foreign Window Van Morrison said he realised this song was about Bob after singing it with him in Athens, there is film of them singing it together
Anyone who does not know this song should give it a listen: Eric Bogle’s “The Traditional Folk Singer’s Lament.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7j9OT-90zeE
I’ve read this post a couple of times and couldn’t really think of anything insightful to add, then Song for Bob Dylan came across my shuffle tonight. What a phenomenal song!
I love the metaphor of The same old painted lady / from the brow of the super-brain bearing down on humanity and only Dylan standing in the way. The imagery of corruption, inequality, injustice, hate, war, etc. as a painted lady, who comes on like a friend is just brilliant. Brilliant! A tour de force by Bowie.
It also happens to be the best description of what I hear/feel in Dylan’s music/voice/vision and why he will always matter, to me anyway. Why his worst albums (based on critics/sales) still have a deep value to me. Why his best work will always be better than anyone else’s best work.
To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie “I never believed the pen was mightier than the sword until I heard Bob Dylan.”
Thanks for insightful comments, very interesting!
Around the time Lennon wrote the Zimmerman reference in 69-71 period he was involved, somewhat, with Rock Liberation Front/Dylan Liberation Front people who were critical of the hip capitalist music industry’s apparent involvement in making a lot of money by “ripping-off” the counter-cultural/youth culture of the 1960s and was moving in a more political radical direction than the direction Dylan had shifted away from.So maybe that’s part of what the song was reflecting. The public domain “Poet of PBS” folk song from a few years ago at the following protestfolk channel link also reflects, somewhat, this anti-hip capitalist perspective:
love the Cat Power piece..hadn’t heard it before.
so simple, understated, the musical feeling as well as the lyrics are so right.
didn’t quite get the Shelley reference but I’ll take Paul’s word for it.
anyhow, lovely compilation.
Thank you, we are glad you liked it.
Allways nice with this kind of feedback.
I like Lennon’s ‘God’ and I fell in love with God Part 2 by U2.
The Paul Simon – Bob Dylan relationship is really a little more complicated than what it looks like on the surface. Simon seemed a little envious of the attention that Dylan was getting. Not sure if Dylan’s cover of the Boxer on ‘Self Portrait was a joke or sincere.
But there is not arguing how good Graceland was. 1986. Out of nowhere.
I am a huge Dylan fan, but Paul Simon is right there with him.
He, he, this is great stuff, and off course everybody “steals”/get influenceses from everybody. Stream of consiciousness may be not Dylan’s idea as such, but he’s damn good at it!
What Paul Simon failed to grasp is that to achieve True Deity as a songwriter you have to recycle Ferlinghetti with an undiscriminating urgency. Or maybe he did grasp it and that’s why he wrote The Boxer — and SDP.
“I’d just got the Bob Dylan Highway 61 album, had spent something like six hours getting Desolation Row down pat. I thought it was brilliant, but Simon just dismissed it as re-hashed Ferlinghetti” (a reference to the San Francisco-based Beat poet and owner of the legendary City Lights Book Shop).
Books of The Times;
Times Are A-Changin’
Date: November 23, 1985, Saturday, Late City Final Edition Section
1; Page 16, Column 1; Cultural Desk
Byline: By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
LYRICS. 1962-1985. By Bob Dylan.
Clearly the author of ”Tarantula” – a melange of surreal nonsequiturs and stream-of-consciousness ramblings vaguely packaged as a novella – had always cherished certain literary ambitions, and over the years he had appropriated literary techniques with the same undiscriminating urgency as he had absorbed various musical styles.
Missed Simon & Garfunkle’s ‘ A Simple Desultory Philippic ( Or howe I was Robert McNamara’d Into Submission)’ from Parsley, Sage ,Rosemary & Thyme.
I love that song, it even sound like Dylan. I’m inclined to agree with you on this one. It should have taken God’s place, hehe.
I don’t think Joni and Bob ever came onto one another like Rolling Thunder:
But in that passion play she and Sam Shephard might have done. And what’s that interview where Dylan quips something about Joni looking like a man?
In Chris O’Dell’s 2009 autobiography Miss O’Dell she details an affair she had with married playwright Sam Shepard and states that Shepard then cheated on her with Joni Mitchell. O’Dell claims that “Coyote” is written about Sam Shepard. Coyote represents nature contrasted with the narrator’s big city (presumably LA) life where “pills and powders” are necessary to “get them through this passion play”. The aforementioned line is also a reference to Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, which Mitchell was a part of in the fall of 1975.
Thankyou for insightful comments, this is really interesting. I think I have to listen a bit more to Joni today, especially Coyote has gotten much more interesting to me in the last hours. Thanks
“Coyote” by Joni Mitchell is reputably about Dylan. I think it’s a unique woman’s point of view. It’s got some humor, too. And a Coyote is a Trickster, like Dylan himself.
I haven’t heard that it’s supposed to be about Dylan, I love the song, played it a lot, but I guess I have to listen closer 🙂
Thanks for the tip!
“Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows:
“I want to be Bob Dylan”.
That’s a fine song, I didn’t think of that one.
I’d have to include Diamonds and Rust.
It’s a beautiful song from a beautiful (in many ways) woman to an amazing songwriter and deeply committed soul.
Yes, that is a fine song, she has a few songs about him, and that is understandable. You have to inspired in presence of greatness I think. But I am affraid that none of her songs are quite in my top5.
Thanks for the comment!
The Boxer, Paul Simon: about himself AND Dylan. I thought this before I read Shelton in ’86 then I knew. I also always thought the “lie la lie” refrain was about Bob’s early self-mythologization. Since the mid Eighties at least. But then about 3 years ago I saw one Patrick Humphries say the same thing in some book in a shop. So it could be kind of hard to sue him for stealing my idea — as I’m not sure I ever told anyone who might blurt that across the Web. I also once wondered if the “Jude” of Hey Jude! could be about Dylan the Jew but I never followed it up. Then I saw, but never read, an exposition of that theory by one Christopher Rollason. In any case, The Boxer is definitely about Dylan. And I’ll take anybody on over that – and win.
I like Marc Bolan’s “Bob Dylan knows and I bet Alan Freed does, there are things in the night that are better not to behold” in Ballrooms of Mars, and his “Bobby you’re a hobby with the learned ones, like a settin’ sun” in one of the other songs. Someone once asked me, “How do you know he’s referring to Dylan?” Duuuuuuuuuuhh!!! But speaking strictly for myself, I don’t think Dylan should be intellectualized or made the subject of academic study.
Shine your light shine, John – sitting on his ass in a deep dark cave: in Patmos having the heavenly visions of the Book of Revelation. Imagine there’s no Lennon (Bruce); it’s easy if you try.
P B Shelley in ‘The Revolt of Islam’ Canto Ten:
Thus they with trembling limbs and pallid lips
Worshipped their own hearts’ image, dim and vast,
Scared by the shade wherewith they would eclipse
The light of other minds ; troubled they passed
From the great Temple ;-fiercely still and fast
The arrows of the plague among them fell,
And they on one another gazed aghast,
And through the hosts contention wild befell,
As each of his own god the wondrous works did tell.
And Oromaze, Joshua, and Mahomet,
Moses and Buddh, Zerdusht, and Brahm, and Foh,
A tumult of strange names, which never met
Before, as watchwords of a single woe,
But why poison the well of post-Time Out of Mind cut-and-paste with the alchemy of Dylan’s Seventies sources?
We all like Beatles have gone astray, and the Lord has laid on Bob the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 52-53).
Transfigured Bob to Gilmore:
Everything people say about you or me, they are saying about themselves. They’re telling about themselves. Ever notice that? In my case, there’s a whole world of scholars, professors and Dylanologists, and everything I do affects them in some way. And, you know, in some ways, I’ve given them life. They’d be nowhere without me.
John 6:52-54 New International Version (NIV)
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
What was missing in the stew for John? This, from the loquacious laconic Jonathan Cott, in Dylan (1985 or so):
To give the devil (or should I say angel?) his due, I should remind both myself and the reader that, as the Jungian analyst Jeffrey Satinover has written: “Once the star is established, his fans will tear him to pieces should ever he fail to carry for them the projected childhood Self. A recent example from pop culture is the fans’ vituperative reaction to Bob Dylan’s unexpected changes of style. Once a narcissistic complementation has been set up between any leader and his following, he is as bound as they. The rigidity of the relationship and the strength of the forces maintaining the status quo stem from the mutual common individual fear of fragmentation.” Or as Dylan told the Minneapolis weekly City Pages in 1983: “People want to know where I’m at because they don’t know where they’re at.”
Serve yourself, nobody gonna do it for you. Until your journey’s end.
I hope some day Bob will join John – and the world will live as one hole peace of ass
Check the furnace.
Thanks for the feedback!
Very interesting read! Your writings about Dylan are allways interesting, so thanks again.
Good stuff … but please don’t overlook Ralph McTell’s brilliant ‘Zimmerman Blues’.
Hmm, there’s a song I haven’t heard. Thank you for the tip!
Zimmerman Blues is a good call – on Ralph’s not til tomorrow album. Not sure if Syd Barrett’s bob dylan blues has been mentioned….
Great tip, thanks!
Lennon’s “God” is hardly “about” Dylan — it makes a brief mention of him in one line. By that token, “Thunder on the Mountain” is “about” Alicia Keyes.
I aggree completely, that’s why I wrote in the post: “…Not strictly about Dylan, but…”
The Line “I don’t believe in Zimmerman” bears such significance in music history that I chose to include the song.
In my opinion its rage and outburst against his fellow rock musician rings deeper than Dylan mentioning Alicia Keys in one of his songs.
If I should pick a song that would compare to that, I would pick Wilco’s “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard”, an enjoyable little tune.
But thanks for the feedback, allways nice when people offer their opinion and we allways appreciate comments.
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