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Bob Dylan's Greatest Lyrical Thefts

A collection to prove the adage 'Good artists borrow, great artists steal'

May 11, 2011 12:00 AM ET
Bob Dylan's Greatest Lyrical Thefts
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Happy Birthday Bob

Everybody, just relax: Bob Dylan is still, hands down, the most gifted and original songwriter of the past century. But yes, he did poach some stanzas from 19th-century Confederate poet Henry Timrod for Modern Times. He's been lifting lines from other people for his entire career — for one, huge chunks of his 1985 disc Empire Burlesque were based on Humphrey Bogart movies. It's part of the whole folk music thing, as well as the whole "geniuses steal" thing, and Dylan did name his 2001 album, um, Love and Theft. Here are a half dozen of Dylan's greatest "appropriations" — can you think of any more?

Dylan:
"Go 'way from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed."
—"It Ain't Me Babe" (1964)
Source:
"Go away from my window
Go away from my door."
—John Jacob Niles, "Go 'Way From My Window" (1958)

Dylan:
"A phrase in connection first with she I heard
That love is just a four-letter word."
—"Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word" (1967)
Source:
"You don't know what love is. To you it's just another four-letter word."
—Paul Newman, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

Dylan:
"Well, I have had some rotten nights
Didn't think that they would pass."
—"Seeing the Real You at Last" (1985)
Source:
"I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over — but that'll pass."
—Humphey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Dylan:
"When I met you, baby
You didn't show no visible scars
You could ride like Annie Oakley
You could shoot like Belle Starr."
—"Sweetheart Like You" (1985)
Source:
"I'm looking for a woman who can ride like Annie Oakley and shoot like Belle Starr."
—Clint Eastwood, Bronco Billy (1980)

Dylan:
"Lot of water under the bridge
Lot of other stuff, too
Don't get up, gentlemen
I'm only passing through."
—"Things Have Changed" (1999)
Source:
"Don't get up, I'm only passing through."
—Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Dylan:
"My old man, he's like some feudal lord."
—"Floater" (2001)
Source:
"My old man would sit there like a feudal lord."
—Junichi Saga, Confessions of a Yakuza (1991)

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