The song Bob Dylan wrote to mock Neil Young

Whilst Bob Dylan and Neil Young are now great friends and have been for decades, there was a period when the former didn’t look at the latter’s work with appreciation, with Dylan believing that the Canadian had borrowed too heavily his style. In fact, Dylan even used one of his songs to mock one of Young’s best-loved hits.

The Dylan track in question is 1973’s ‘Forever Young’, found on his album from the following year, Planet Waves. According to his biographer Clinton Heylin in a 2009 Rolling Stone article piecing the secrets of his tracks together, Dylan penned the sentimental tribute to his children whilst living in Arizona. Famously, he moved there to escape the limelight and “rabid fans” of New York.

Heylin outlines that the song was written in response to Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’, a track taken from his now iconic album Harvest. “The big song at the time was ‘Heart of Gold’,” Dylan had said in 1985. “[I’d] turn on the radio, and there I am, but it’s not me.” Heylin also believes the title is a pun: “Dylan’s saying he’s forever Young, which is a dig at Neil for imitating Dylan.”

There’s no wonder Dylan felt so protective of his style when writing ‘Forever Young’. The Neil Young song arrived years after Dylan had cemented his folk-oriented sound within the rock framework, so he was more dogged in guarding his tried and tested style than ever before. However, Young was in no way the only one following a similar route. A folkish angle was the spirit of the day, meaning his work cannot be taken as a counterfeit, particularly when noting that his music is some of the most authentic of the era.

“The only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona, in about ’72 and the big song at the time was ‘Heart of Gold’,” Dylan later told SPIN.

The acoustic-driven number, which features backing vocals by James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, is one of Young’s biggest hits. It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and confirmed Young as the first Canadian to do so. Yet, it was all too much for Dylan. “I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to ‘Heart of Gold.’ I think it was up at number one for a long time, and I’d say, ‘Shit, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me’,” he added.

‘Forever Young’ isn’t the only song Dylan wrote about Neil Young. Find out more about the pieces they wrote each other here.

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