I Want You

Commentary

I Want You was release as a single, ultimately reaching number twenty on the Billboard charts. It’s not hard to understand why. I Want You is one of the most melodic and pop-sounding songs in the Dylan catalog.

I Want You was recorded with Al Kooper on organ, a holdover from the earlier NYC sessions, and Nashville musicians pulled together by record producer Bob Johnston. Kooper part is especially interesting. He  played a Lowrey organ on  the  track, the same type used by Garth Hudson on many The Band and Dylan/Band recordings.

One of the most striking aspects of the song is that it takes the cliched love lyric about being ‘born to be with somebody’ and turns it around. In this song the singer doesn’t sing the cliched ‘I was born to be with you’, but rather “I wasn’t born to lose you”. In other words, the singer doesn’t believe in some fairy tale magical destiny, but now that he has happened into something great he’s not going to let it go easily.

Like many Dylan songs, there is no clear narrative flow. It seems to be a pretty complicated scene, with as many as three different women involved. There’s the object of affection of course, but there’s also the Queen of Spades who he “returns” to, and the Chamber-Maid who the narrator is “not afraid to look at” (The Queen of Spades and the Chamber-Maid could be the same person – it’s not clear).

Dylan often refers to women as ‘queens’. He does so in Just Like a Woman (“Queen Mary”), Need a Woman (“Well I need a woman to be my queen”), and Gates of Eden (“two-wheeled gypsy queen”).

The Queen of Spades/chamber-maid references are interesting. Like Memphis Blues Again, the narrator is referring to another woman who is willing to give him what he needs if his lover will not. See the similarities between these lines from Memphis Blues:

When Ruthie says come see her
In her honky-tonk lagoon,
Where I can watch her waltz for free
‘Neath her Panamanian moon.
An’ I say, “Aw come on now,
You must know about my debutante.”
An’ she says, “Your debutante just knows what you need
But I know what you want.”
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.

And these lines from I Want You:

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 always found the final verse of the song especially confusing.

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, though, because he lied
Because he took you for a ride
And because time was on his side
And because I . . .
I want you, I want you,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

Who is this child in a “Chinese suit”? Interestingly, Paul Williams suggests that the character is a romantic rival that the narrator wants to drive away. In his live shows Dylan almost always skips this verse.

Dylan has performed this song many, many times. It appears on two live records, At Budokan and Dylan and the Dead. The slowed-down version on Budokan is pretty good, one of the better cuts on a very mediocre record. The Dylan and the Dead version is, like almost everything on the record, awful. The song was also recorded for the Unplugged album, although it didn’t make the final cut. It’s a very slow version that works well. I’m not sure if it exceeds the original, but it is definitely worth a listen.

And one more thing. The song also has one of Dylan’s most inventive rhymes – “interrupt” and “broken cup”. Good one!


Lyrics

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 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,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

Now 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.

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,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

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, though, because he lied
Because he took you for a ride
And because time was on his side
And because I . . .
I want you, I want you,
I want you so bad,
Honey, I want you.

4 thoughts on “I Want You”

  1. Avatar

    I think it is too tempting for those of us analysing Dylan’s music almost 20 years into a new millenium, so far away from the time it was written, that we forget about the biggest issue of Dylan’s hay day – the Vietnam War. The undertakers is guity, he doesn’t just feel guilty — Dylan makes clear that he is guilty, like all the other bureaucrats and most of the adult population who are walking around pretending that hundreds of thousand of our kids, 18 year olds with their lives ahead of them, had been rounded up and dumped into the man-made jungle that was the Vietnam war. 200,000 – 250,000 of them came home in coffins draped in flags, most of the rest came home in a different kind of coffin. Dylan has set the scene.

  2. Avatar
    Charles Hartman

    These are the official (website) lyrics, but what Dylan actually sings is “She knows that she’s not afraid to look at her.” The cast of characters is uncertain and their interactions are very tangled.

    1. steve

      Thanks for the comment. That’s interesting. I wonder if he just just “mis-sung”, wouldn’t be the first time. Or perhaps he wanted it that way. I just listen to the Dylan and Dead version, he sings it the official version there.

    2. steve

      Interesting, thanks  for the comment.   I  wonder if he  just “mis-sung”,  wouldn’t  be the  first time,  or  he  wanted  it  that way?  I just  listen to  the Dylan  and  the  Dead  version.   He sings it the  “official  way.

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