There are several stories circulating about Bob Dylan’s “Fourth Time Around.”
One version: According to Al Kooper: “I said to Dylan “it sounds so much like ‘Norwegian Wood,'” and he said “actually ‘Norwegian Wood’ sounds a lot like this! I’m afraid they took it from me and now I feel like I have to record it y’know.” Apparently he’d played it for them and they’d nicked it. I asked if he was worried about getting sued and he said, “nah, the Beatles could never sue me.”
Another version from Clinton Heylin:
The first week of December 1965 saw The Beatles release their finest collection to date, Rubber Soul. Though the United States edition was again pruned of several songs on the British original, one song that stayed the course had a largely Lennon lyric. Originally known as This Bird Has Flown, it was released as Norwegian Wood. The song was an important one to Lennon (he later said of it, “I was trying to be sophisticated in writing about an affair. But in such a smokescreen way that you couldn’t tell”). For the first time he was writing about something deeply personal – his clandestine affair with attractive journalist Maureen Cleave, whom Dylan also knew – using the kind of code the American had made something of a trademark.
Dylan undoubtedly recognized the influence and decided at some point to acknowledge it with his own version of “This Bird Has Flown.” For the past 18 months he had enjoyed dropping in the occasional lyrical nod with a wink to his new-found friends – a gesture they reciprocated on With A Little Help From My Friends in 1967. But Fourth Time Around was also a way of showing he could raise the bar lyrically on Lennon, the one Beatle to have aspirations beyond being a pop poet. Fourth Time Around is an altogether darker, more disturbing portrait of an affair, though it emulates Norwegian Wood in its circular melody and structure.
In any case, I’ve always dug “Fourth Time Around.”
Turns out very few artists have covered it. I found two that are worth a listen, and I’ve also included a bunch live versions by Dylan himself.
April 13, 1966, Sydney, Australia:
Yo La Tengo:
April 20, 1966, Melbourne, Australia:
May 5, 1966: Dublin, Ireland:
Three versions by Robyn Hitchcock:
May 16, 1966, Sheffield, England:
May 26, 1966, Royal Albert Hall, London:
May 27, 1966, Royal ALbert Hall, London:
Bob Dylan, April 18, 1999:
–- A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –-
Bob Dylan was used to recording at Columbia Records’ Studio A in New York, so it was natural that when he began recording the album that would become Blonde On Blonde, he would return to the studio where he’d worked previously.
This time he went in with his touring band, The Hawks. But the onstage fireworks mostly didn’t translate into studio recordings that satisfied Dylan.
Six sessions were held in New York, but they were frustrating for Dylan. He wasn’t getting the sound he wanted, and only one song from all those sessions, “One Of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later),” would end up on the album.
Dylan’s producer, Bob Johnston, had suggested a change of scene during the Highway 61 Revisited sessions: Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville. Now Dylan decided to take Johnston’s advice.
On February 14, 1966, Dylan showed up in Nashville for sessions that would produce the bulk of the recordings that would be used on Blonde On Blonde, which I think is Dylan’s true masterpiece.
Sean Wilentz wrote in a 2007 issue of the Oxford American about the making of Blonde On Blonde:
Nashville had been ascending as a major recording center since the 1940s. By 1963, it boasted 1,100 musicians and fifteen recording studios. After Steve Sholes’s and Chet Atkins’s pioneering work in the 1950s with Elvis Presley, Nashville also proved it could produce superb rock & roll as well as country & western, r&b, and Brenda Lee pop. That held especially true for the session crew Johnston assembled for Dylan’s Nashville dates. Trying to plug songs for Presley’s movies, Johnston had hooked up for demo recordings with younger players, many of whom, like McCoy, had moved to Nashville from other parts of the South. Charlie McCoy and the Escorts, in fact, were reputed to be Nashville’s tightest and busiest weekend rock band in the mid-1960s; the members included the guitarist Wayne Moss and the drummer Kenneth Buttrey who, along with McCoy, would be vital to Blonde on Blonde.
Johnston’s choices (also including Jerry Kennedy, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Henry Strzelecki, and the great Joseph Souter, Jr.—aka Joe South, who would hit it big nationally in three years with “Games People Play”) were certainly among Nashville’s top session men. Some of them had worked with stars ranging from Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison to Ann-Margret. But apart from the A-list regular McCoy (whose harmonica skills were in special demand), they were still up-and-coming members of the Nashville elite, roughly Dylan’s age. (Robbins, at twenty-eight, was a relative old-timer; McCoy, at twenty-four, was only two months older than Dylan; Buttrey was just turning twenty-one.) Although too professional to be starstruck, McCoy says, they knew Dylan, if at all, as the songwriter from “Blowin’ in the Wind” or simply as a guy from New York, an interloper. But they were much more in touch with what Dylan was up to on Blonde on Blonde than is allowed by the stereotype of long-haired New York hipsters colliding with well-scrubbed Nashville good ol’ boys. One of Dylan’s biographers reports that Robbie Robertson found the Nashville musicians “standoffish.” But the outgoing Al Kooper, who had more recording experience, recalls the scene differently: “Those guys welcomed us in, respected us, and played better than any other studio guys I had ever played with previously.”