I Want You (Bob Dylan song)

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"I Want You"
A record cover showing Bob Dylan with his hands raised.
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album Blonde on Blonde
B-side"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" (live version)
ReleasedJune 10, 1966 (1966-06-10)
RecordedMarch 10, 1966
StudioColumbia Music Row, Nashville
GenreFolk rock[1]
  • 3:08 (album version)
  • 2:57 (single edit)
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Bob Dylan singles chronology
"Rainy Day Women #12 & 35"
"I Want You"
"Just Like a Woman"
Official audio
"I Want You" on YouTube

"I Want You" is a song by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, which was released as a single in June 1966, and, later that month, on his seventh studio album, Blonde on Blonde. The song was written by Dylan, and produced by Bob Johnston. The song has been interpreted as a straightforward expression of lust, although critics have highlighted that the symbolism of the song is complex. It was the last song recorded for Blonde on Blonde, with several takes recorded in the early hours of March 10, 1966. It was included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (1967). The song has received a largely positive critical reception, with a number of commentators highlighting Dylan's use of imagery, although some of the meanings are obscure.

Dylan has performed the song live 294 times, from its debut in 1976 to his most recent live rendition in 2005. It was presented in the style of a torch song during his 1978 World Tour, as heard on Bob Dylan at Budokan (1978). Dylan also revisited the song in 1987 on a co-tour with the Grateful Dead; their version was released on Dylan & the Dead (1989). The sessions for the original March 1966 recording were released in their entirety on the 18-disc Collector's Edition of The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 in 2015, with the penultimate take of the song also appearing on the 6-disc and 2-disc versions of that album. The single charted in several countries; it reached number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, and number 16 on the UK charts. The B-side was a live version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" recorded in Liverpool, England at the Odeon Theatre in May 1966.

Sophie B. Hawkins recorded what was termed a "breathy techno-MOR"/"quasi hip-hop"[2][3] version of "I Want You" for Tongues and Tails (1992), then in January 1993 released it as a single which reached No. 49 on the UK Singles Chart.[4] Her version received mixed reviews. She performed the song at Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in 1992; the performance was criticised, and was not included on the 1993 double-album and VHS releases of the concert.[5]

Background and recording[edit]

American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan started to move away from the contemporary folk music sound that had characterized his early albums with his fourth LP, Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964). The 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home included both electric and acoustic tracks, and was followed by the purely electric Highway 61 Revisited later that year.[6] In 1965, Dylan hired the Hawks as his backing group for live shows,[7] but recording sessions in New York for a new album were not productive with them, and he accepted a suggestion from his producer Bob Johnston that the sessions should transfer to Nashville, Tennessee.[8] Dylan went to Nashville in February 1966, with Al Kooper and Robbie Robertson from the New York sessions also making the trip.[8]

The track was recorded in Columbia Music Row Studios in Nashville in the early hours of March 10, 1966,[9] starting as dawn was approaching.[10] Whilst some of the songs on Blonde on Blonde are in the established Tin Pan Alley "A-A-B-A" form, an extra section at the end of "I Want You" gives it an A-A-B-A-A format .[11] Dylan demonstrated the song to his accompanying musicians using an acoustic guitar.[12] After Johnston had announced that recording had started, and confirmed the song's title with Dylan, guitarist Charlie McCoy asked about the song's intro, which had not been established; Dylan played the chord progression of the intro, and after the band had played through the first take, they discussed the arrangement again before the second take.[13] There were three complete takes of "I Want You" and two incomplete ones.[13] The final take was the master.[13] A version called "Take 5b" is marked with "insert, guitar overdub", though all the musicians involved say there was no guitar overdub.[13] It was the last song recorded for Dylan's seventh album, Blonde on Blonde,[14] with the session concluding at around 7:00 a.m.[13]

Composition and lyrical interpretation[edit]

Sean Wilentz felt that the manuscript indicated some "lyrical experiments that fail", such as "deputies asking him his name... lines about fathers going down hugging one another and about their daughters putting him down because he isn't their brother".[15] However, once recording started, the only notable change between the takes was to the tempo.[16] Clinton Heylin felt that the tune used for the song illustrated the sentiment expressed by Dylan when he told an interviewer in 1966 that he took a holistic view of songs: "It's not just pretty words to a tune or putting tunes to words... [It's] the words and the music [together]—I can hear the sound of what I want to say."[17]

Despite the straightforward title, Mike Marqusee found the song to be "packed with enigmatic imagery and haunted by ambivalent emotions".[18] For literature scholar Richard Brown, "the song shows a mastery of its apparently casual form ... it is neatly balanced between the directness of the repeated refrain and the mystery and interest of the material in the stanzas."[19] Andy Gill observed that the song's tension is achieved through the balance of the "direct address" of the chorus, the repeated phrase "I want you," and a weird cast of characters, including a guilty undertaker, a lonesome organ grinder, weeping fathers, mothers, sleeping saviours, the queen of spades, and "a dancing child with his Chinese suit".[20][21] Gill reports that "the dancing child" has been interpreted as a reference to Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, and his then girlfriend Anita Pallenberg.[22] Clinton Heylin agrees there may be substance to this interpretation because the dancing child claims that "time was on his side", as an allusion to "Time Is on My Side", the Stones' first U.S. hit.[23]

Noting Dylan's interest in classical literature, English professor Graley Herren hypothesized that the song, which references an undertaker, is about the narrator's failure to accept the death of a loved one, echoing the ancient tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.[24] However, commentators have typically taken the song to be an expression of lust,[12][25][26] perhaps for a new love,[27] or someone other than the narrator's current partner.[23] Mellers felt that "The timbre generates an overwhelming erotic compulsion from what on paper is no more than a series of oscillation between two tones."[28]

Release and reception[edit]

A version of "I Want You" was released as a single with a duration of 2 minutes and 57 seconds,[29] on June 10, 1966,[30] with a live version of "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues recorded in Liverpool on May 14, 1966 as the B-side.[31] Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's seventh studio album, was issued as a double album on June 20, with "I Want You" as the first track on side two.[32][33] The album version had a duration of three minutes and eight seconds.[34] It was later included on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (1967).[35] The recording session was released in its entirety on the 18-disc Collector's Edition of The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965–1966 in 2015, with the penultimate take of the song also appearing on the 6-disc and 2-disc versions of that album.[36]

The reviewer for Cash Box described the song as a "medium-paced, blues-soaked plea for romance with an infectious, repeating rhythmic riff" that it considered a "sure-fire blockbuster candidate."[29] Billboard magazine recorded the release of "I Want You" in its June 25 issue, and predicted it would reach the Top 20.[37] The track entered the Billboard Hot 100 charts on July 2, 1966, at number 90, and Billboard identified the single as a "star performer"—a side "registering greatest proportionate upward progress this week".[38] It peaked at 20th on July 30.[39] "I Want You" entered the Cash Box charts at number 59 on July 2, and was tipped for strong upward movement.[40] It peaked at number 25 on August 6.[41] It was also a hit in the UK, where it peaked at number 16.[42]

Richard Goldstein of The Village Voice found that despite the "complex" imagery, the song should appeal to teenagers in Dylan's expanding fanbase as it expressed its subject in straightforward phrasing.[43] Not all critics were positive. Craig McGregor of The Sydney Morning Herald found the song unremarkable,[44] and Peter Murray's brief assessment was that the track was "rather disappointing".[45]

In 2013, Jim Beviglia rated it as the 70th-best of Dylan's songs, and praised Dylan's "ingenious poetic techniques".[26] Neil Spencer gave the song a rating of 5/5 stars in an Uncut magazine Dylan supplement in 2015.[46] Highlighting Dylan's harmonica part and Wayne Moss's guitar, Dylan discography author John Nogowski gave the song an "A" rating.[27]

Live performances[edit]

Dylan first performed "I Want You" live in concert in 1973, accompanied by Neil Young and members of the Band, at a benefit concert for Students Need Athletic and Cultural Kicks (SNACK).[47] Three years later, he performed it during the Rolling Thunder Revue, in a manner that journalist Oliver Trager called a "painful dirge."[47] During his 1978 World Tour Dylan performed "I Want You" as a torch song, while in 1981 it appeared in his live performances in a more up-tempo version.[47] After this, he next performed it during the Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead 1987 Tour, with it remaining part of his live repertoire for the 1987 Temples in Flames Tour.[47]

A 1978 performance, featuring Dylan accompanied by Steve Douglas on recorder, was released on the live album Bob Dylan at Budokan (1978).[48] One of the performance with the Grateful Dead was issued on Dylan & the Dead (1989),[49] and an incomplete rehearsal from 1975 was included on Bob Dylan – The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings (2019).[50] According to his official website, Dylan has performed the song live 294 times, from its debut to his most recent live rendition in 2005.[51]


The track was written by Dylan.[52] The credits below are adapted from That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound: Dylan, Nashville, and the Making of Blonde on Blonde.[53]



Sophie B. Hawkins version[edit]

"I Want You"
A record cover showing Sophie B. Hawkins, with her looking downwards
Single by Sophie B. Hawkins
from the album Tongues and Tails
B-side"Live and Let Love"
ReleasedJanuary 1993 (1993-01)
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Sophie B. Hawkins singles chronology
"California Here I Come"
"I Want You"
"Right Beside You"
Music video
"I Want You" on YouTube

American singer-songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins recorded "I Want You" for her April, 1992 debut album, Tongues and Tails, produced by Rick Chertoff and Ralph Schuckett, on Columbia records.[54][55] Hawkins' version had a different melody and featured the vocals from her first take.[56] Hawkins has said of Dylan's lyrics, "Each time I sing [the] song I struggle to grasp what the words are saying."[57] She elaborated, "I completely feel the song, but I don't understand it."[58] In Rolling Stone, Paul Evans described the style of her version as "breathy techno-MOR";[2] the Associated Press reviewer called it "quasi hip-hop".[3]

Larry Flick, writing for Billboard, praised Hawkins' version for being "deliver[ed] with chatty finesse, amid a cushiony synth arrangement".[54] Randy Clark, reviewing for Cash Box, noted that despite Dylan's "obvious lyrical/poetic style", Hawkins' "sultry performance style permeates the recording".[59] Music & Media felt Hawkins "manages to completely transform the Bob Dylan classic" and noted it "sounds like Cyndi Lauper in a Sinéad O'Connor setting".[60] Amongst the negative reviews, Adam Sweeting of The Guardian described Hawkins's vocals as a "cloisterish drone" where she attempted but failed to match Dylan's delivery,[61] Richard Plunkett of The Age predicted that Dylan's fans would dislike the "quite bad" cover.[62] The Associated Press review suggested that the idea for the cover should have been discarded, and anticipated that Dylan fans would be upset by the track.[3]

Hawkins performed the song at Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration at Madison Square Garden, New York City in October, 1992.[5] Rolling Stone reviewer David Wild wrote that Hawkins's inclusion on the bill "struck some as a case of label boosterism",[63] and Wayne Robins of Newsday felt that her performance was "superfluous",[64] while Tom Moon characterised the performance as "listless" in The Philadelphia Inquirer.[65] Hawkins' performance was one of a number of omissions from the 1993 double-album and VHS releases of the concert.[5]

Issued as a single in January 1993, it reached No. 49 on the UK Singles Chart in February 1993.[66][4] The single version had a duration of 4 minutes and 19 seconds, and was backed with "Live and Let Love" as the B-side.[67]


Bob Dylan single
Chart (1966) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[68] 12
Canadian RPM Singles Chart[69] 24
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[70] 24
UK (OCC)[42] 16
US Billboard Hot 100[71] 20
US Top 100 (Cashbox)[72] 25
Sophie B. Hawkins single
Chart (1993) Peak
UK (OCC)[4] 49




  1. ^ Walters & Mansfield 1998, p. 239.
  2. ^ a b "Rollin' & tumblin'". Rolling Stone. August 11, 1994. p. 70.
  3. ^ a b c "Tracy Chapman shows tender side". Courier-News. Associated Press. April 23, 1992. p. D-16. Archived from the original on April 6, 2023. Retrieved April 6, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c "Sophie B. Hawkins: singles". Official Charts Company. Archived from the original on March 10, 2023. Retrieved March 4, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Pollock, Bruce (February 27, 2019). "Sophie B. Hawkins – "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover"". Songfacts. Archived from the original on August 30, 2021. Retrieved August 30, 2021.
  6. ^ Dettmar & Latham 2021, pp. 13–14.
  7. ^ Dettmar & Latham 2021, p. 14.
  8. ^ a b Edwards 2021, p. 104.
  9. ^ Björner, Olof (November 8, 2013). "1966 Blonde On Blonde recording sessions and world tour". Still on the Road. Archived from the original on October 26, 2019. Retrieved May 6, 2014.
  10. ^ Sanders 2020, p. 236.
  11. ^ Starr 2021.
  12. ^ a b Sanders 2020, p. 237.
  13. ^ a b c d e Sanders 2020, p. 238.
  14. ^ Heylin 2009, pp. 311–312.
  15. ^ Wilentz 2009, p. 124.
  16. ^ Wilentz 2009, p. 124-125.
  17. ^ Heylin 2009, pp. 312–313.
  18. ^ Marqusee 2005, p. 189.
  19. ^ Brown 1989, p. 180.
  20. ^ Gill 1998, pp. 99–100.
  21. ^ Gilliland 1969, show 40, track 1.
  22. ^ Gill 1998, p. 100.
  23. ^ a b Heylin 2009, p. 312.
  24. ^ Herren 2018, pp. 242–243.
  25. ^ Brown 1989, pp. 180–181.
  26. ^ a b Beviglia 2013, p. 58.
  27. ^ a b Nogowski 2022, p. 60.
  28. ^ Mellers 1985, p. 146.
  29. ^ a b "CashBox Record Reviews" (PDF). Cash Box. June 25, 1966. p. 18. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 26, 2021. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  30. ^ Heylin 2021, p. 455.
  31. ^ Heylin 2016, 60–99.
  32. ^ Nogowski 2022, p. 59.
  33. ^ Heylin 2016, 7290: a Sony database of album release dates ... confirms once and for all that it came out on June 20, 1966"..
  34. ^ Margotin & Guesdon 2022, p. 226-227.
  35. ^ Nogowski 2022, p. 64.
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  38. ^ Billboard magazine, July 22, 1966; p. 19
  39. ^ Billboard magazine, July 30, 1966
  40. ^ "Cash Box Magazine Charts (July 2, 1966)". Cash Box. Archived from the original on April 13, 2019. Retrieved March 27, 2011.
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  43. ^ Goldstein, Richard (June 1966). "Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (Columbia)". The Village Voice.
  44. ^ McGregor, Craig (October 8, 1966). "Pop Scene". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 19.
  45. ^ Murray, Peter (July 22, 1966). "Peter Murray's record review". Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel. p. 6.
  46. ^ Spencer, Neil (2015). "Blonde on Blonde". Uncut Ultimate Music Guide: Bob Dylan. p. 25.
  47. ^ a b c d Trager 2004, pp. 328–329.
  48. ^ Nogowski 2022, p. 120.
  49. ^ Nogowski 2022, p. 162.
  50. ^ Nogowski 2022, p. 266.
  51. ^ "I Want You". Bob Dylan's official website. Retrieved April 27, 2023.
  52. ^ Margotin & Guesdon 2022, p. 226.
  53. ^ Sanders 2020, p. 276-277.
  54. ^ a b Flick, Larry (October 10, 1992). "Single Reviews" (PDF). Billboard. p. 78. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 8, 2022. Retrieved September 27, 2021 – via World Radio History.
  55. ^ Gettelman, Parry (May 22, 1992). "Sophie B. Hawkins". Orlando Sentinel. p. C8.
  56. ^ Lepage, Mark (August 15, 1992). "Sophie: She follows her hunches in the studio". The Gazette. p. E3.
  57. ^ Heine 2009, p. 74.
  58. ^ Storm, Jonathan (March 6, 1993). "PBS lures youth with Dylan and an everybody-must-give-dough drive". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. D12. Archived from the original on September 28, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  59. ^ Clark, Randy (October 17, 1992). "Music Reviews: Singles" (PDF). Cash Box. p. 5. Archived (PDF) from the original on April 7, 2022. Retrieved September 27, 2021 – via World Radio History.
  60. ^ "New Releases: Singles" (PDF). Music & Media. February 6, 1993. p. 9. Archived (PDF) from the original on March 8, 2021. Retrieved September 27, 2021 – via World Radio History.
  61. ^ Sweeting, Adam (July 16, 1992). "Speaking in too many tongues". The Guardian. p. 27.
  62. ^ Plunkett, Richard (November 13, 1992). "Singles: Sophie B. Hawkins". The Age. p. EG4.
  63. ^ Wild, David (November 26, 1992). "Come gather round, people". Rolling Stone. p. 17.
  64. ^ Robins, Wayne (October 17, 1999). "Bob Dylan: 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Gardens". Newsday. Archived from the original on September 27, 2021. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  65. ^ Tom, Moon (October 19, 1992). "In music and spirt, stars come out to mark Dyan's 30th anniversary". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. C6.
  66. ^ "New Releases: Singles". Music Week. January 23, 1993. p. 21.
  67. ^ I Want You (Single label). Sophie B. Hawkins. United States: Columbia Records. 1992. 38-74747.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  68. ^ "Bob Dylan – I Want You" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved September 5, 2014.
  69. ^ "RPM 100: week of August 15, 1966". RPM. July 17, 2013. Archived from the original on August 16, 2018. Retrieved March 10, 2023 – via Library and Archives Canada.
  70. ^ van Slooten 1998, p. 107.
  71. ^ Whitburn 2013, p. 262.
  72. ^ Downey, Albert & Hoffman 1994, p. 105.

Books and journal articles

Radio documentary

External links[edit]

  • Lyrics at Bon Dylan's official website.