The songwriter Paul McCartney couldn’t match: “I could never write like that”

Paul McCartney embodies all that one should expect from an artist. McCartney’s collaborations with John Lennon introduced some of the most profound concepts to rock & roll, despite his lack of formal instruction in proper musical theory. Together, they created immortal tunes that touched the hearts of millions of people worldwide. Even with the overwhelming praise for songs like “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be,” Macca still hopes he could create like this particular musician.

When McCartney initially began writing with Lennon, he would find himself incorporating elements from whatever genre he could think of. The jazzy chords in “Michelle” and the show-tune melodies on “When I’m 64” are just a couple examples of how McCartney dabbled in uncharted ground, even if there were elements of the rock legends they both admired, such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

However, Bob Dylan changed American popular music at the same time as The Beatles were beginning to see their first real breakthrough with albums like A Hard Day’s Night. Beginning with folk music, Dylan flipped the world of music upside down with albums like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Songs like “Masters of War” and “Blowin’ In the Wind” addressed the major issues facing the globe.

Although Macca first acknowledged not getting Dylan’s approach, he then claimed to be envious of his verbal prowess. Dylan’s early attempts at writing songs featured simple chord progressions, typically favoring a small number of chords to act as a bed for him to tell his stories, such as “The Times They Are A-Changin” or “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” as opposed to focusing on piecing together complex melodies like McCartney.

McCartney would later remark, while discussing Dylan’s impact, that he wished he had Dylan’s gift 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.”

Although McCartney was enamored with Dylan’s work, his writing partner likely felt the same way. Speaking to Rolling Stone about Dylan’s impact on Beatles songs, McCartney recalled how enamored Lennon would get with his writing.

“[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.”

The British rockers were a major influence on Dylan when he picked up an electric guitar for the first time in 1965, but the band was also drawn to his approach to songwriting. The band may have enjoyed a friendly rivalry during the 1960s, but what they produced together was the best rock and roll ever.


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