The Lyrics and the Music: “I Want You”. It was never meant to be like this.



I don’t know what it means either: an index to the current series appearing on this website.


“The Lyrics and the Music” is a series by Tony Attwood which sets out to find out what happens when one reviews a Dylan song not primarily as a set of lyrics, but as a piece of music which includes lyrics.

“I Want You” is a song that I find fascinating, and which only began to make sense to me when I started to consider the music and the lyrics separately, rather than simply hearing the song as recorded by Dylan.

For the album version always appeared to me to be an incredibly trivial piece of music, and yet after appearing on Blonde on Blonde it was performed over 200 times live by Dylan between 1976 and 2005,  So my question was, why was it this important to him?   Listening to how he performed it on stage, I think the answer becomes obvious.

My initial feeling about the piece came primarily from not from the lyrics but from the organ sounds and the descending instrumental line (which many people hear as a descending dum, de dum, de dum).   These factors give us nothing short of musical trivia, (especially that descending line).  It almost sounds like something out of a fairground.

But the lyrics offer something else – or rather two something else’s, if there can be such things.   The chorus is trivial, both musically and lyrically, repeating “I want you” and then adding “so bad”.   That is hardly what any of us would quote if telling a colleague or friend that Dylan was a master of words.

However the verses are something quite different, for the trivia of the music found on the LP version is never found in the lyrics:

 The drunken politician leaps
Upon the street where mothers weep
And the saviors who are fast asleep, they wait for you
And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin’ from my broken cup
And ask me to
Open up the gate for you

So this is a song of strange contradictions: bouncy organ music and interesting, often dark or at least somewhat obscure lyrics, but with a lighthearted feel to the melody.

It was only later that Dylan resolved the puzzle for me (although of course not for me specifically)…

This is now an utterly different song with different meanings throughout.

I have no idea why Dylan adopted the original version (although Dylan might have confessed somewhere and in my old age I’ve now forgotten) – or maybe the song in reality was just a filler to help fill up the album – or maybe because the record company would only agree to Dylan’s release being a double album if it had a lighter track in it that maybe could get some exposure on radio.  (In which case Dylan would be playing a trick on the record company, writing a mournful set of lyrics and then putting them to a bouncy melody).

Certainly when the musical accompaniment to the lyrics is changed the song itself retains absolutely nothing of the feel of the version that we were given on the album as this version below shows.

Thus my feeling (and of course it is offered with no proof), is that the musical version Bob offered for the album was something he was edged into by the record company, and the feeling he had for the song from the start was more in keeping with these two live performances.

Here the lyrics and the music are as one, and I remain with the feeling that the album version makes no sense at all.  This is a song of pain, and the pain on the album version has been utterly removed.   The live versions make it really one of the Dylan classics.


  1. That contrast between jaunty music and darker lyrics happens elsewhere, eg Positively 4th Street with its light, lilting organ and its bitter, contempt-ridden words. The joyous, ‘lyrical’ guitar on Desolation Row comes to mind, too.
    Thanks for the 1994 take – wonderful!

  2. Like all of bob’s major work in the mid 60s this comes from and works as a liminal space that serves as a metaphor for light I found out about all of this and more in a book about American psychedelic music I found in thrift shop was so different and on e mark it has to be right blew my mind

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