Did Bob Dylan Steal Your Tune?

One Man Band“The words are the important thing. Don’t worry about tunes. Take a tune – sing high when they sing low, sing fast when they sing slow, and you’ve got a new tune.”

Folk legend Woody Guthrie is reported to have said these words to a young unknown folk singer by the name of Bob Dylan when he visited him on his deathbed in 1961.

The advice seems to have worked out quite well for Dylan.

In the following years, he rapidly rose to become arguably the most popular folk singers in history.

But did Dylan really just steal tunes from other songs and write new words for them?

Yes, he did!

And here’s a devastating example for you:

“Masters Of War”, one of my favourite of Dylan’s early tunes, is a total rip-off of Jean Ritchie’s arrangement of “Nottam Town”, an olde-worlde English tune.

Check out Jean Ritchie’s arrangement here:

The melody is exactly the same!

I wrote about ‘Masters of War’ a while back, singing the praises of it’s melodic structure, and Dylan accordingly (click here for a read).

I maintain that it’s a great tune, but I take back what I said about Dylan’s melodies and replace it with this: many of Dylan’s songs have great tunes, but I’m now not so sure that he wrote them.

Want more?

‘Blowing in the Wind’ (1962) was based on an African American tune called “No More Auction Block’ – also known as “Many Thousands Gone”.

‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ is based on the old English popular ballad ‘Lord Randall’ of which

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photo by: ky_olsen

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