by Tony Attwood, updated 5 August 2018 with additional video links.
Of course you never know with Dylan, but it is hard to put any interpretation on “She Belongs to Me” other than that it is about a child – a daughter most like, but it could be the daughter of a friend.
Never has a 12 bar blues sounded so beautiful, so relaxed, so warm, so kind. Perhaps a listener who is in his 20s smoking dope might not find it so, but anyone who has a daughter instantly sees it, feels it, warms to it.
If the lyrics don’t convey the message then the music and the accompaniment does. The most famous version of course is on Bringing it all Back Home, but there are also examples on the curious Self Portrait album, recorded at the Isle of Wight, and a truly lovely version on “No Direction Home”. This last version is perhaps the earliest attempt by Dylan to have an instrumental break without a lead instrument – something that he worked on over and over again in the concerts and recordings of the late 90s and early 21st century.
The girl in the song has everything – she never stumbles, she has an Egyptian ring, she’s got everything she needs…
Of course it is a child – the child who can play forever with the simplest toys, who can paint or crayon a picture and make it exactly what she wants it to be. She is the girl you idolise, the girl you bow down to, the girl whose birthday you make into the biggest occasion in the history of the world. The girl to whom you want to say, “I made you, you are everything, this is the world I give you.”
And of course you buy her toys.
What father would not have wanted to give her such a beautiful eloquent testimony as this elegant song, in that most simple and traditional of formats, the 12 bar blues with its repeated opening line.
Quite how it is possible to interpret the song differently, and still make sense of the title is beyond me – although I must admit much of the world is beyond me. The girl has the freedom of the world – which only the young have. And yet she belongs to the adult in her life. Only with a child is the title, the general lyric, and the final line about the trumpet and drum meaningful, without getting into the most convoluted analysis of the trumpet and drum, not to mention the title and half of the lyrics being symbolic for something else.
In a case like this, let’s live with Occam’s Razor – if there is a simple explanation why not take it, and make it so.
If you haven’t heard the version on No Direction Home, give it a try. It is just something to behold. It is available on Spotify
And here is a fascinating live version which I really do love; it seems to give a new insight into the song every time I hear it.
And two more live versions
What else is on the site
1: 500+ reviews of Dylan songs. There is an index to these in alphabetical order on the home page, and an index to the songs in the order they were written in the Chronology Pages.
2: The Chronology. We’ve taken the songs we can find recordings of and put them in the order they were written (as far as possible) not in the order they appeared on albums. The chronology is more or less complete and is now linked to all the reviews on the site. We have also produced overviews of Dylan’s work year by year. The index to the chronologies is here.
3: Bob Dylan’s themes. We publish a wide range of articles about Bob Dylan and his compositions. There is an index here.
4: The Discussion Group We now have a discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook. Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link
5: Bob Dylan’s creativity. We’re fascinated in taking the study of Dylan’s creative approach further. The index is in Dylan’s Creativity.
And please do note The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, is starting to link back to our reviews