Fourth Time Around


The Beatles and Dylan were almost forced to have a personal relationship given their place at the top of the pop music food chain. Of course, each recognized the challenge to their hegemony the other presupposed. Yes despite the rivalry, both the Beatles and Dylan often acknowledged the talent of the other.

The meetings between them are well-documented. Journalist Al Aronowitz provides some of the details of their relationship in his book, Bob Dylan and The Beatles, which contains the well-known “Dylan turns the Beatles on to pot” story. There’s also the famous drunken conversation between Lennon and Dylan in the back of a limousine captured in an outtake of the never-released film, Eat the Document.

The two obviously influenced each other a great deal. The Beatles in particular seem to have been greatly affected by Dylan’s more literary leanings and to a lesser extent by his vocal and musical style. Listen to Rubber Soul and count the number of songs influenced by Dylan. The answer is quite a few.

Many have claimed that Fourth Time Around is a gentle parody of Norwegian Wood, a Lennon composition from Rubber Soul. The Beatles song:

I once had a girl or should I say she once had me
She showed me her room, isn’t it good Norwegian wood

She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around and I noticed there wasn’t a chair

I sat on a rug biding my time drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said: ‘It’s time for bed’

She told me she worked in the morning and started to laugh
I told her I didn’t and crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good Norwegian wood

The similarity to Fourth Time is obvious. Both songs are narrative dramas that describe a relationship that isn’t quite working out. In Norwegian Wood the narrator ends up spending the night in the bathtub and in the Dylan song he ends up in the hallway. It’s implied in both songs that heavy drinking was involved. Both songs are meant, at least in part, to be humorous, and they use humor in a similar way. Both songs use the final verse to hit back at the woman of scorn.

Some claim the melodies are similar, but I don’t hear it myself. The general tone is similar. Norwegian Wood is the first song in which George Harrison used a sitar to echo the guitar part, and it works beautifully. Dylan’s song is written in 6/8 time, which produces a “waltz-like” beat. Undoubtedly Dylan saw the humor of his two characters drunkenly bickering to the tune of a waltz.

Of course, Dylan and Lennon were questioned by reporters about the similarities. According to Al Kooper, in an interview with Q magazine, Dylan said that he played Fourth Time for the Beatles well before he recorded it for Blonde on Blonde and that Lennon had based his song on it. I guess that’s possible, but I have to believe that Dylan was pulling Kooper’s leg. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 1969, Dylan said that Fourth Time was a response to Norwegian Wood and his influence on Lennon’s writing. Lennon once said that he saw Fourth Time as a good-natured “homage” to his song.

An excellent solo version is on Live 1966.


When she said,
“Don’t waste your words, they’re just lies,”
I cried she was deaf.
And she worked on my face until breaking my eyes,
Then said, “What else you got left?”
It was then that I got up to leave
But she said, “Don’t forget,
Everybody must give something back
For something they get.”

I stood there and hummed,
I tapped on her drum and asked her how come.
And she buttoned her boot,
And straightened her suit,
Then she said, “Don’t get cute.”
So I forced my hands in my pockets
And felt with my thumbs,
And gallantly handed her
My very last piece of gum.

She threw me outside,
I stood in the dirt where ev’ryone walked.
And after finding I’d
Forgotten my shirt,
I went back and knocked.
I waited in the hallway, she went to get it,
And I tried to make sense
Out of that picture of you in your wheelchair
That leaned up against . . .

Her Jamaican rum
And when she did come, I asked her for some.
She said, “No, dear.”
I said, “Your words aren’t clear,
You’d better spit out your gum.”
She screamed till her face got so red
Then she fell on the floor,
And I covered her up and then
Thought I’d go look through her drawer.

And, when I was through
I filled up my shoe
And brought it to you.
And you, you took me in,
You loved me then
You didn’t waste time.
And I, I never took much,
I never asked for your crutch.
Now don’t ask for mine.

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