5 Songs That Name-Drop Bob Dylan

Robert Allen Zimmerman, more famously recognized as Bob Dylan, is often hailed as one of the greatest songwriters in history, akin to being the Shakespeare of his generation. Hailing from Duluth, Minnesota, he gained recognition as a folk singer before transitioning into the realm of rock. His profound and poetic repertoire, comprising over 500 songs, has served as a wellspring of inspiration for musicians across generations. Notably, as the 2016 Nobel Prize laureate, Dylan’s compositions have not only been covered by artists worldwide but have also prompted fellow artists to create songs dedicated to him or that mention his name. Here, we highlight five of the finest.

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1. David Bowie: “Song for Bob Dylan”

“Oh, hear this, Robert Zimmerman / I wrote a song for you / About a strange young man called Dylan / With a voice like sand and glue.”

David Bowie didn’t offer many insights into what prompted him to write the 1971 “Song for Bob Dylan” on his albums, Hunky Dory and Divine Symmetry. Some Bowie fans speculate the Thin White Duke was jealous of Dylan, often called one of the greatest songwriters in history. Other fans believe Bowie worshipped Dylan. Bowie died of cancer on January 10, 2016, so there’s no way to ask him.

Fortunately, the now-defunct magazine Melody Maker did several interviews with Ziggy Stardust in the 1970s. Although the pages of Melody Maker aren’t available, several sites attribute the following words to their 1976 interview with Bowie: “I also remember writing ‘Song for Bob Dylan.’ I had always adored him, and in my early teens, I had even gone ’round London looking for a girl I knew was his girlfriend.”

In fact, Bowie told Melody Maker that Dylan’s music is what prompted him to become a songwriter. “I wanted to write songs for Dylan,” he said.

2. Beastie Boys: “3 Minute Rule”

“A lot of parents like to think I’m a villain/I’m just chillin’, like Bob Dylan/Yeah I smoke cheeba, it helps me with my brain/I might be a little dusted, but I’m not insane.”

The members of the Beastie Boys often mentioned Bob Dylan in songs and some interviews. They wrote 3 Minute Rule just about the time band member Mike D met Dylan at a Hollywood party, he told Vulture.

I remember around that age when we were working on Paul’s Boutique, we went to this crazy, star-studded party, and I met Bob Dylan. I guess I hope that I come off as eccentric as Bob Dylan came off to me back then (when Mike D was in his 20s). That’d be hard to do. He’s a pretty weird guy.”

Consider that founding member Mike D. seemed to consider the “pretty weird” comment as a compliment. He and his bandmates mentioned Dylan in several songs – including “3 Minute Rule” on the Paul’s Boutique album, and even collaborated with him.

In a Drowned in Sound interview, Mike D told the interviewer, “Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters of all time.” So, yes, weird in this case is a positive.

3. Loudon Wainwright III: “Talking New Bob Dylan”

“Hey, Bob Dylan, I wrote you a song/Today is your birthday if I’m not wrong/If I’m not mistaken, you’re 50 today/How are you doin’, Bob? What do you say?/Well, it musta been about ‘62/I heard you on record, you were brand new/And some had some doubts about the way you sang/But the truth came through and loudly it rang/Yeah, you were hipper than Mitch Miller/And Johnny Mathis put together.”

Loudon Wainwright III told The New Yorker that he began his career because of Bob Dylan. More correctly, Wainwright said he was inspired to jump into songwriting after a 1966 motorcycle crash removed Dylan from the music scene at the height of his career. Dylan was airlifted from the Woodstock, NY, site and spent several weeks in a hospital recovering from serious injuries.

Wainwright wrote “Talking New Bob Dylan” to celebrate his idol’s 50th birthday in 1991. The song calls out many other musicians – including Bruce Springsteen and John Prine – who Dylan inspired to become singers/songwriters.

4. Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett: “Bob Dylan Blues”

Got the Bob Dylan blues / And the Bob Dylan shoes / And my clothes and my hair’s in a mess / But you know I just couldn’t care less / Goin’ to write me a song / ‘Bout what’s right and what’s wrong / ‘Bout god and my god and all that / Quiet while I make like a cat.

Syd Barrett wrote “Bob Dylan Blues” in 1965 but waited until 1970 to record it for his album Barrett, according to Barrett’s website. The song was lost for decades until David Gilmour found it and released it on the 2001 album, The Best of Syd Barrett.

Born Roger Keith Barrett, he died in 2006, but his girlfriend, Libby Gausden, is quoted on the site as saying Barrett took her to a 1964 Dylan conference in London as a birthday present. “We arrived at the South Bank, and he said, ‘Look, it’s the me and you from every town.’ Each town sent one Syd Barrett, the first time I’d seen people like him,” recalled Libby. 

5. Joan Baez: “Diamonds and Rust”

“Well, you burst on the scene/ Already a legend/ The unwashed phenomenon/ The original vagabond/ You strayed into my arms/ And there you stayed.”

Ok, you got us. Joan Baez’s classic song “Diamonds and Rust” doesn’t literally name-check Bob Dylan. 

But we would be remiss if we didn’t put this song on our list. Baez and Dylan are famously closed-mouthed about their friendship that developed into a romantic relationship. They met in 1961, and some reports say Baez felt more maternal than romantic toward him. That soon changed, and the two worked together until 1965. Media reports speculate Dylan’s 1965 U.K. tour was a disappointment to Baez.

The two remained fond of each other, and in 1975, Baez wrote “Diamonds and Rust,” the story of two lovers reuniting and reminiscing during a telephone call. During a concert, Baez told the audience she wrote the song about “by far the most talented, crazy person I have ever worked with.”

We think that’s one solid name check.

Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

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