The Story Behind “I Want You” by Bob Dylan and the Rock Hall of Famer Who Urged Him to Record It

The year 1966 was a hectic one for Bob Dylan, with constant touring and playing for audiences who were often unhappy with the folk singer’s new direction. Dylan had taken on a rock ‘n’ roll band, which conflicted with the purist view of what a folk artist should be. In Forest Hills, New York, cries of “Where’s Ringo?” greeted the band.

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After moving from a New York recording studio to the quiet of Nashville’s Music Row, the sessions for the album Blonde on Blonde took on a new energy. Musicians had to be “on-call” and wait while Dylan wrote lyrics. The album was nearly complete when they entered Studio A at Columbia Records on March 10, 1966. The sun was coming up by the time they had the finished recording. Let’s look at the story behind one of the songs from Blonde on Blonde, “I Want You” by Bob Dylan.

The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns
Blow into my face with scorn, but it’s
Not that way. I wasn’t born to lose you
I want you
I want you
I want you so bad
Honey, I want you

The Recording

Al Kooper, who played guitar and organ on previous Dylan recordings and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2023, had urged the singer to record “I Want You.” Dylan seemed to resist recording the song until the last session. He showed the band the song on an acoustic guitar. Guitarist Charlie McCoy asked about the intro. Dylan showed them, and the band attempted a take. They discussed the arrangement further and gave the song another try. They finished three complete takes and two partial attempts at the song before agreeing the last full take was the master. They finished the session at about 7 a.m.

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
I want you
I want you
Yes, I want you so bad
Honey, I want you

The Single

The song appeared as the lead track on side two of Blonde on Blonde. The 3:08 duration down to 2:57 for the single release. Columbia paired it with a live recording of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” from May 14, 1966, in Liverpool, England. “I Want You” peaked at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits featured the song, and the entire recording session is included in the 2015 eight-disc The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: Collector’s Edition.

How all my fathers, they’ve gone down
True love, they’ve been without it
But all their daughters put me down
‘Cause I don’t think about it

“It’s Not the Bomb that Has to Go, It’s the Museums”

When authors Nora Ephron and Susan Edmiston asked Dylan if music was more in tune with what’s happening than other art forms, he replied, “Great paintings shouldn’t be in museums. Have you ever been in a museum? Museums are cemeteries. Paintings should be on the walls of restaurants, in dime stores, in gas stations, in men’s rooms. Great paintings should be where people hang out. The only thing where it’s happening is on radio and records. That’s where people hang out. You can’t see great paintings. You pay half a million and hang one in your house, and one guest sees it. That’s not art. That’s a shame, a crime. Music is the only thing that’s in tune with what’s happening. It’s not in book form. It’s not on the stage. All this art they’ve been talking about is nonexistent. It just remains on the shelf. It doesn’t make anyone happier. Just think how many people would really feel great if they could see a Picasso in their daily diner. It’s not the bomb that has to go, man, it’s the museums.”

Well, I return to the Queen of Spades
And talk with my chambermaid
She knows that I’m not afraid to look at her
She is good to me, and there’s
Nothing she doesn’t see
She knows where I’d like to be, but it doesn’t matter
I want you
I want you
Yes, I want you so bad
Honey, I want you

Imagery and Live Performances

“I Want You” contains deep symbolism. Many reviewers have pointed out the multiple characters and the link to Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones as the “dancing child” with time “on his side.” The song has evolved through the years. Dylan didn’t perform it live until 1973 when he was joined onstage by Neil Young and members of The Band at the SNACK (Students Need Athletic and Cultural Kicks) benefit concert. He slowed it down through the years and performed it more like a dirge. In 1981, he brought the tempo back up and played a more spirited version. He played it during The Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead 1987 Tour.

Now, your dancing child with his Chinese suit, he
Spoke to me. I took his flute
No, I wasn’t very cute to him, was I?
But I did it because he lied and
Because he took you for a ride
And because time was on his side and
Because I want you
I want you
Yes, I want you so bad
Honey, I want you

Sophie B. Hawkins included a version of the song on her 1992 Tongues and Tails album and released it as a single, reaching No. 49 on the UK singles chart. She told Songfacts, “I was on a plane going to Los Angeles, sitting in coach, and Dylan’s manager came back into coach to talk to me. He said Bob heard my version of ‘I Want You’ and really liked it.”

Hawkins was asked to perform the song at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in 1992.

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Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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