John Lennon Thought His Songs Should Be ‘Meaningless Hackwork’ Until He Heard Bob Dylan

When John Lennon first heard a Bob Dylan song, his songwriting changed entirely. He took a great deal of inspiration from the American artist. Suddenly, Lennon’s lyrics held more introspection and depth. According to Lennon’s longtime friend Pete Shotton, the musician hadn’t previously considered the fact that his lyrics should have meaning.

John Lennon changed his perspective on songwriting after he heard Bob Dylan’s music
When The Beatles first heard Dylan’s music, they began listening to it at every chance they got. Shotton, who had known Lennon since they were in school together, had a firsthand look at the way Dylan influenced his friend’s writing.

“My personal association with John’s songwriting began at a time when he was first starting to repudiate the greeting-card sentiments of the Beatles’ early hits,” Shotton wrote in his book The Beatles, John Lennon, and Me. “In this respect he was strongly influenced by the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Until he heard Dylan, it never occurred to John that the words of popular songs could or should amount to anything more than meaningless hackwork, and he contented himself with channeling his literary talents into his little books.”

Dylan was a commercially successful artist, showing Lennon that writing more in-depth lyrics was a possibility for him. “Dylan’s success came as a real revelation to John, who suddenly realized that there was nothing to stop him from expressing his poetic and even political ideas within the framework of the Beatles’ music,” Shotton wrote.

The impact Bob Dylan had on John Lennon comes through clearly
Lennon openly admitted that Dylan greatly impacted his work; he noted that he wrote multiple songs in his “Dylan period.” During this time, he wrote songs like “I’m a Loser,” “Norwegian Wood,” and “In My Life.”

While not protest songs like Dylan wrote in the early 1960s, these songs required Lennon to write from a place of vulnerability. There was a rawness and honesty to the lyrics that also came through in Dylan’s songs.

On a more surface level, Lennon admitted to using words that came up in Dylan songs, simply because the other artist had gotten away with it. On some songs, like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” Lennon even affected a more nasally, Dylan-esque quality while singing.

The former Beatle grew less interested in the American artist over the years
While Lennon considered himself a fan of Dylan in the 1960s, his interest in the American artist had already begun to fade by the end of the decade. He admitted that he had stopped listening to Dylan’s music. By the late 1970s, Lennon looked at a new Dylan album with outright disgust.

“I was listening to the radio and Dylan’s new single or album or whatever the hell it is came on. ‘Everybody’s got to be served.’ I mean, what was it? ‘You’ve got to serve someone’… ‘You’ve got to serve somebody.’ So he wants to be a waiter now? A waiter for Christ,” Lennon reportedly said on a recording from 1979 (via Rolling Stone). “Backing was mediocre … the singing really pathetic and the words were just embarrassing.”

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