Beatles: Why Bob Dylan Felt They Ripped Him Off With ‘Norwegian Wood’
The Beatles and Bob Dylan are two of the artists who revolutionized rock music in the 1960s. It’s no secret the Beatles occasionally took influence from Dylan. Dylan was all too aware of the influence he had on the Fab Four.
Dylan had quite the reaction when he first heard the Beatles’ classic album Rubber Soul. In particular, the track “Norwegian Wood (The Bird Has Flown)” provoked lots of feelings in him. He told someone the song really belonged to him.
Bob Dylan didn’t like when others took influence from him
In the 1960s, Dylan felt other artists like Sonny & Cher were taking influence from him. He was right, as Sonny & Cher’s signature hit “I Got You Babe” was directly inspired by Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” When Dylan heard Rubber Soul, he felt it was yet another example of someone co-opting his musical style.
Rather than take this in stride, Dylan was rather upset to see John Lennon take inspiration from him. Referring to Rubber Soul, Dylan said “What is this? It’s me, Bob. [John’s] doing me! Even Sonny & Cher are doing me, but, f*cking hell, I invented it.” Dylan seemed particularly incensed by the Rubber Soul track “Norwegian Wood.”
Bob Dylan writes a response to ‘Norwegian Wood’
Dylan felt that he owned “Norwegian Wood” because his music influenced the song. Dylan wanted to take ownership of “Norwegian Wood” in his own way. He did this by writing and recording a song called “4th Time Around.”
“4th Time Around” is a satire of “Norwegian Wood.” The two tracks have similar instrumentation but very different lyrics. Whereas “Norwegian Wood” is warm and inviting, “4th Time Around” is a bitter song.
It ends with the line “I never asked for your crutch / Now don’t ask for mine.” This line can be interpreted as Dylan telling John not to use his style as a “crutch.” John may have got the message, as the Beatles post-Rubber Soul albums feature less of a Dylan influence.
Al Kooper and John Lennon react to ‘4th Time Around’
When Dylan finished “Fourth Time Around,” his fellow musician Al Kooper said it was too similar to “Norwegian Wood.” Kooper said he was worried the Beatles might sue Dylan. Dylan said “Norwegian Wood” was his song in the first place, so a lawsuit was out of the question.
Over the course of his career, John had many amazing experiences. One of those experiences was hearing Dylan play for him privately. Dylan once played “4th Time Around” to John. John told Dylan he didn’t like “4th Time Around” much. That’s pretty interesting considering it was based on a Beatles song John wrote!
However, John gave a more mixed appraisal of the song in a 1968 Rolling Stone interview. He said “I didn’t like it…I was very paranoid. 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.” That’s a mixed appraisal if there ever was one!