One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)


One of Us Must Know is a hidden gem in the Bob Dylan catalog. Its quality is not due to lyrical acumen but rather to the outstanding ensemble playing of the band and Dylan’s great vocal performance. It’s definitely one of the best performances on Blonde on Blonde and surely ranks as one of the best in Dylan’s entire career.

Lyrically, One of Us is a pretty boring read, at least by Dylan standards. The song is a straightforward and simple apology from one lover to another for some thoughtless mistakes made along the way that destroyed whatever woulda coulda been in the relationship. There are no lyrical surprises, no wild imagery, and no especially clever rhymes. Shelton refers to it as “almost mundane literalness”.

Still, there are some interesting aspects. No doubt you’ve heard the term “backhanded compliment”, which means the complimentor insults or ridicules the complimentee as the ‘complement’ is delivered. This song is sort of a backhanded apology. The narrator does apologize. “I didn’t mean to treat you so bad” he says. Yet at the same time, he also calls her a little girl (“I didn’t realize how young you were”), claims that she duped him (“it was well understood/ That you’d be comin’ back in a little while”), and accuses her of metaphorical domestic violence (“you clawed out my eyes”). Finally, he defends himself at the end of each chorus by saying that it was he – not she – that made the real effort in the relationship (“I really did try to get close to you”). Interestingly, many Dylan songs share this characteristic, such as Don’t Think Twice, You Go Your Way and I Go Mine, and I Don’t Believe You. A Dylanologist psychiatrist could probably write an interesting paper about this pattern.

The performances handed in by both the session men and Dylan is the real story. The sound, with its swirling organ and impassioned vocals, is similar to Like a Rolling Stone, although the playing is much more precise and nuanced. The guitar fills are sharp and tasteful. The piano playing is particularly inspired. The sound slowly builds to a driving crescendo each time the chorus comes around. The vocal has tremendous charisma, grabbing the listener’s attention right away and holding it throughout. Listen to how he extends the vowels, especially the “o”s and “a”s. The vocal builds as each verse transitions into the chorus. Dylan holds the last word before the chorus right up until the band kicks into overdrive.

There is a great deal of confusion over which musician is playing which instrument on the recording. One Of Us is the only song on the album that was chosen from the New York City sessions. The musicians from these sessions are not credited on the album sleeve.

All the major sources agree that some of the Hawks, who later became The Band, were involved. Al Kooper was also present, and so was piano player Paul Griffin. The notes included in The Bootleg Series Volume 1-3 credit Garth Hudson as the organ player and Richard Manuel as the piano player (both members of The Band). Dylan commentator Michael Krogsgaard says it’s Kooper on organ and Griffin on piano. Paul Williams credits Hudson on organ. Just from listening, it certainly seems to be Griffin on piano. The organ sounds much like Kooper’s playing on Like A Rolling Stone, but the playing is much more assured and forceful, which argues for Hudson. Whoever was playing, he worked hard on getting the right sound, attempting nineteen takes during the first session and another three during the third.

One of Us was released as the first single from Blonde on Blonde. It failed to crack the Billboard Top 100. It was a curious choice for a single (much like the earlier Please Crawl Out Your Window) since, at least lyrically, it is a decidedly minor song.

Rock critic David Marsh includes the song in his book, The Heart of Rock and Roll: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made.

One of Us does not appear on any official live albums. Aficionados of this song can find an interesting version on the widely available bootleg Darkness at the Break of Noon, which was recorded during rehearsals for a 1978 tour.

Mick Hucknall, formerly of Simply Red, slows it down a bit.


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
When I saw you say “goodbye” to your friends 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

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

I couldn’t see what you could show me
Your scarf had kept your mouth well hid
I couldn’t see how you could know me
But you said you knew me and I believed you did
When you whispered in my ear
And asked me if I was leavin’ with you or her
I didn’t realize just what I did hear
I didn’t realize how young you were

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

I couldn’t see when it started snowin’
Your voice was all that I heard
I couldn’t see where we were goin’
But you said you knew an’ I took your word
And then you told me later, as I apologized
That you were just kiddin’ me, you weren’t really from the farm
An’ I told you, as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant to do you any harm

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

3 thoughts on “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”

  1. Almost certainly Paul Griffin on piano
    But who on organ Kooper or Hudson?
    And Levon on drums? Certainly sounds like him!!

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