The one lyric that Paul McCartney calls “my inspiration”

When Paul McCartney first met Bob Dylan, the original vagabond introduced him to weed. After a few tokes and a chat, old Macca thought that he had discovered the meaning of life, so he scribbled down this prized wisdom. When he looked the next day, he had penned the words: “There are seven levels”. Weirdly, this ties into William S. Burroughs’ studies of ancient Egypt and the ‘Seven Souls’, but that’s a leap that goes beyond the rather more tangible inspiration that Dylan served up in his career.

“He was our idol. It was a great honour to meet him, we had a crazy party that night we met. I thought I had gotten the meaning of life that night,” said a bemused Paul McCartney. At that point in 1965, he had been their idol for around a year. In The Beatles Anthology, John Lennon is quoted as saying: “In Paris in 1964 was the first time I ever heard Dylan at all. Paul got the record [The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan] from a French DJ. For three weeks in Paris we didn’t stop playing it. We all went potty about Dylan.”

There is no doubting that after this period, the songs that the Fab Four were crafting became more complex, lyrically more probing and literary, and more outwardly politically liberal. However, the important point they shared that made them so beloved as artists is that they also retained a melodic beauty and alluring romanticism.

So, when McCartney was picking out the lyric that he strives towards with his own songwriting for HMV’s ‘My Inspiration’ campaign, he went with the following line from ‘She Belongs to Me’: “She’s an artist, she don’t look back.”

The verse in full reads as follows: “She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist / She don’t look back / She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist / She don’t look back / She can take the dark out of the nighttime / And paint the daytime black.”

While ‘She Belongs to Me’ is a very possessive-sounding title, in truth, Dylan sings of an adoration way beyond something he could bottle up even if he intended to. Complete with one of his finest opening verses in history; his poetry is in full Byronian swing as he eulogises an artist with the sort of zest that makes it seem like Dylan himself is a lowly lad who can strum a few chords but not a lot more, bowing beneath a higher power.

Complete with a sweet and efficient melody, he lets his prose do the talking, and it barely talks but screams. This song almost stands as the opposite side of the coin to ‘Just Like A Woman’, and what a duo they form. Who is this woman, and where can we meet her is the conclusion for the listener. Well, she’s very likely Joan Baez, and your best bet is Woodside, California.

Song and line alike carry a McCartney-like innocence (with an undercurrent) that shows the inspiration probably flows both ways. Dylan may have been more laconic with his praise of the Fab Four, thus propagating the notion of a one-way relationship, but he has, on occasion, let his stiff upper lip loosen to eulogise his contemporaries and acknowledge their influence on him. “I just kept it to myself that I really dug them,” Dylan told biographer Anthony Scaduto.

“I’m in awe of Paul McCartney. He’s about the only one that I am in awe of. But I’m in awe of him,” the usually reticent Dylan also told Rolling Stone in 2007. “He can do it all and he’s never let up, you know.”

You can check out the alternate take of ‘She Belongs to Me’ below, and it’s an absolute beauty.

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