One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)

By Tony Attwood

First, a confession.  When I bought Blonde on Blonde on its release, I ran through the songs and then settled down to play tracks three and four of side one, over and over and over again.  I can still remember my mother asking ironically if this new LP only had two tracks on it, when I took the album home, so I never had to be without it.

Over the decades since then Visions of Johanna (track 3) has become recognised as an absolute masterpiece.  But One of Us Must Know (track 4) has more or less vanished although Dylan, or at least his record company, must have thought that there was something special about the song, for it was the first single to be released from the album – and in those days singles were important.  It reached number 33 in the UK charts.

And yet there is so much to commend One of Us Must Know.  It is, like Visions, a story, a history, a recollection.  This time there are only two characters – the singer and the person to whom he sings. But the atmospheric connection with the characters is as strong as in Visions.

I couldn’t see when it started snowing
Your voice was all that I heard

How atmospheric do you want your music to be, for goodness sake!

One of Us Must Know is the ultimate song of farewell, self justification and (to a small degree) apology.   And anyone who has been left by another whom they so deeply loved must feel this song inside out and from heart and soul.

I didn’t mean to treat you so bad
You shouldn’t take it so personal
I didn’t mean to make you so sad
You just happened to be there, that’s all

Imagine the person you really, utterly love, saying that to you.  And Dylan’s explanation of the misunderstanding – that he didn’t realise that the woman was expecting to be with Dylan forever more – is well, just, unbearable too.  You’ll know it if you have ever felt it.

When I saw you say “goodbye” to your friend and smile
I thought that it was well understood
That you’d be comin’ back in a little while
I didn’t know that you were sayin’ “goodbye” for good

This is a “Simple Twist of Fate” approach to life – that we are blown by the winds of chance and happen to be wherever we are taken.  Although Dylan does say that he tried to push against those winds.

Sooner or later, one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you

The couple have not communicated properly, Dylan justifies himself and, as the whole second verse shows, as it builds to that ultimate put down…

I didn’t realize how young you were.

We also have the interesting line …

That you were just kiddin’ me, you weren’t really from the farm

Are we back to Maggie’s Farm?  Presumably so, and all the arguments over what that actually stands for.  (See my review of that song for comments)

And I told you, as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant to do you any harm

And then the music – there it is that descending chord sequence again in the last two lines of each verse before that long held sub-dominant chord, resolving to the dominant, taking us to the chorus.

But, sooner or later, one of us must know
You just did what you’re supposed to do
Sooner or later, one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you

Play this song, and then listen to “Rolling Stone”.  Listen to those opening rocking chords before Dylan sings, then listen to “You used to laugh about everybody that was hanging out” – it is the same chordal pattern, the same resolution.   And finally that famous descending bass line “He’s not selling any alibies, as you look into the vacuum of his eyes”.

There is the same feeling in the voice, the same use of the harmonica.    One of us must know is “Rolling Stone” again, but with just the start of an apology for the hurt caused.  Less vicious, but still not accepting any responsibility whatsoever.  The pain is there, but Dylan just shrugs.

Try it – the chorus of One of Us Know, the chorus of Rolling Stone.

So is this why One of Us Must Know is not regarded highly?  Rolling Stone is simply better and (in passing) much nastier than One of Us Must Know.   Maybe that’s it.  But surely there is room in this universe for two masterpieces on the same subject.

If, as a result of this little resume just a handful of readers turn back to One of Us Must Know, then I have done my job.  It is a masterpiece.  But oh, the pain.

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5 Responses to One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)



  2. michaelmross says:

    This is a song of deep apology, without a trace of vindictiveness (unlike it’s stylistic first cousin: She’s Your Lover Now). It’s an intimate love song – of losing love and regretting it. It’s expressively sensual, particularly the elongated words at the end of each verse: “goooood”, “werrrrre”, “harrrrrm”, which are sung in a low tone for what seems an eternity. Perhaps the most sophisticated quatrain a pop song has ever contained is this:

    When you whispered in my ear
    And asked me if I was living with you or her
    I didn’t realize just what I did hear
    I didn’t realize how young you were

    It’s a one-of-a-kind creation, so unlike any other song it’s in a class all of its own.

  3. I went back after several years of not listening to Dylan regularly, but Sooner or Later started going thru my mind like an echo, I had to play it (and Visions of Johanna) again, and at my age now of 65 vs when I first heard it as a teenager and also played the same tracks repeatedly, I am more blown away then ever. In fact, it goes for just about all his music. I enjoyed reading your comments and will look up others. Thanks. I do agree these songs are masterpieces as I now realize how they get to you emotionally in such a strong unconscious way. That is why they live on; they will be relevant for as long as humans are around.

  4. This link is included in The Bob Dylan Project at: (Additional Information)

  5. Benjiman says:

    This song is the reason I love Bob Dylan. The greatest example of his insight into the human condition.

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