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.