Dylan wrote the song in 1964 and recorded it in one take on June 9, 1964. Like other songs on Another Side of Bob Dylan, "All I Really Want to Do" was inspired by Dylan's breakup with Suze Rotolo. "All I Really Want to Do" opens the album on a with a different attitude than Dylan's previous album, The Times They Are a-Changin'; a playful song about a relationship rather than a finger-pointing political song. Musically simple, though playful, "All I Really Want to Do" is essentially a list of things, physical and psychological, that Dylan does not want to do or be to the listener (perhaps a woman, but just as likely his audience as a whole). Dylan laughs at some of his own jokes in the song, as he parodies typical "boy meets girl" love songs. One interpretation of the song is that it is a parody of male responses to early feminist conversations. Along with another Another Side of Bob Dylan song, "It Ain't Me, Babe," "All I Really Want to Do" questioned the usual assumptions of relationships between men and women, rejecting possessiveness and machismo. The song's chorus features Dylan singing in a high, keening yodel, likely inspired by Hank Williams or Ramblin' Jack Elliott, while disingenuously claiming that all he wants to do is to be friends. "All I Really Want to Do" sees Dylan experimenting with the conventions of the romantic pop song by constructing rhymes within lines and also rhyming the end of every line with the end of the following line.
"All I Really Want to Do" was the second single by the American folk rockbandthe Byrds, and was released on June 14, 1965 by Columbia Records (see1965 in music). The song was also included on the band's debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, which was released on June 21, 1965. The version of the song released as a single is a completely different take to the version found on the Mr. Tambourine Man album, as evidenced by the slight lyrical variations in the song's first verse and the different running times the two versions have; the single is 2:02 minutes in length while the album version is slightly longer at 2:04. The single reached #40 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #4 on the UK Singles Chart.
The single was rush-released by the band's record label, Columbia Records, when it became known that Cher was about to issue a rival cover version of the song on the Imperial label (see below). However, the Byrds and their management were largely unconcerned about Cher's imminent release, feeling that there was enough room in the charts for both versions. In fact, the Byrds were reluctant to release another Dylan-penned single at all, feeling that it was somewhat formulaic. However, Columbia were insistent, believing that in the wake of the Byrds' debut single, "Mr. Tambourine Man", another Dylan cover equaled an instant hit. A chart battle ensued, largely instigated by the music press and Columbia (who were determined to bury Cher's release), but ultimately the single stalled at #40 on the U.S. charts, while Cher's cover reached #15. The reverse was true in the UK, however, where the Byrds' version became the fastest selling single in CBS Records' history, finally reaching #4 while Cher's recording peaked at #9.
The Byrds' version of the song is noticeably different in structure to Dylan's. It begins with Jim McGuinn's jangling guitarintroduction (played on a 12-stringRickenbacker guitar) and features a substantially changed, ascending melody progression in the chorus, made more attractive by the band's angelic harmonies. In addition, the band completely changed the melody to one of the song's verses, in order to turn it into a Beatlesque, minor-keybridge.
What really got me most was Dylan coming up to me and saying, "They beat you man," and he lost faith in me. He was shattered. His material had been bastardized. There we were, the defenders and protectors of his music, and we'd let Sonny & Cher get away with it
Reaction to the single in the press was generally positive, with Billboard magazine commenting "another hot pop, folk-flavoured Bob Dylan tune is offered by the dynamic group." In the UK, Penny Valentine, writing in Disc, opined "I think this is a marvelous song, but, Byrds fan though I have always been, I prefer the Sonny & Cher [sic] recording." In the NME, Derek Johnson also praised the single, predicting it would be a UK number one, and commenting "The pattern is much the same as before, with those familiar high-register harmonies - clearly influenced by the West Coast surf sound...coupled with strident twangs throughout, rattling tambourines, and crashing cymbals."
"All I Really Want to Do" is Cher's debut single. Released in May 1965, it reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #9 in the United Kingdom charts. Cher's recording of the song also charted in several other countries during 1965. Cher's version was involved in a chart battle with the Byrds' recording of "All I Really Want to Do" when both versions entered the Billboard Hot 100 during the same week.
The initial idea to cover the song came when Cher heard the Byrds perform it during their pre-fame residency at Ciro'snightclub on the Sunset Strip in March 1965. This caused a minor controversy when it was alleged by the Byrds and their management that Cher and her husband, Sonny Bono, had taped one of the Byrds' appearances at Ciro's without permission, in order to utilize some of the band's material for their own releases. However, Cher's version is, in fact, quite different from the Byrds' recording and lacks the Beatlesesque bridge that remained unique to their version. Ultimately, Cher's cover was the more successful in the U.S., reaching the Billboard top 20, while the Byrds' single faltered at #40. The reverse was true in the UK, where the Byrds' single reached #4.