Plenty of songwriters have been labelled ‘the new Bob Dylan’, but few have warmed to the label. It’s too reductive for one – and it also excludes the man himself. Sometimes, it seems to confound even Rock’s Poet Laureate – such as the Neil Young song that Bob Dylan professed to hate.
1972’s album ‘Harvest’ took Neil Young to the solo stratosphere, a position he famously went on to reject. Steering towards “the ditch”, the decade included some fascinating work, inspiring generations of songwriters in the process.
Breakout single ‘Heart Of Gold’ remains a touching, emotive piece of work, gilded Americana with a stunning vocal. For Bob Dylan, though, it seemed to represent both a challenge – and a threat.
Speaking to Spin in 1985, he criticised the song’s similarity to his own work, admitting that at one point he “hated” hearing it.
“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,’” he said. “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’d say, ‘Sh*t, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me.’”
“There I was, stuck on the desert someplace, having to cool out for a while,” he said. “I needed to lay back for a while, forget about things, myself included, and I’d get so far away and turn on the radio and there I am, but it’s not me. It seemed to me somebody else had taken my thing and had run away with it, you know, and I never got over it.”
If the song posed something of an identity crisis for Bob Dylan, then he soon got over it. The two songwriters remain cordial, duetting in 1994 and once more in Ireland during their joint 2019 tour.