There’s something serene about hearing the first workings of a song immortalised in acetate. It’s a pivotal moment in a track that is usually left on the cutting room floor, and so when we are given rare glimpses into these cherishable moments, it feels all the more monumental. When the artist in question is Bob Dylan, and the song is his Blonde on Blonde smash ‘I Want You’ — a song released 55 years ago —it can feel like one of the purest moments in pop culture.
‘I Want You’ will go down as a classic Bob Dylan song. Released in June of 1966, it made up the tracklisting of the freewheelin’ troubadour’s seminal album and instilled a few more pop sensibilities into his work. Having “gone electric” the year prior, shocking his diehard folk fanatics, who yelled “Judas” as he plugged in for his audience, Dylan made a conscious choice to choose rock and roll and compete with the growing roster of guitar heroes.
Throughout ‘I Want You’, Dylan introduces a huge cast of characters, including a guilty undertaker, a lonesome organ grinder, a drunken politician weeping, the Queen of Spades, plus a host more. It’s one of the more complex yet irreverent Dylan compositions. Sounding closer to a flowing stream of consciousness than a direct narrative, the writer’s deviations are held together by the strength of the simple chorus and the knowledge of his reem of drafts.
“I want you, I want you, I want you, so bad” is certainly one of Dylan’s simplest refrains, but he delivers it with such swagger that it melts into the music. The chorus and the upbeat tempo made this song perfect for radio play, and it was selected as one of the album’s singles. It also meant that the song was prime for covers, with Cher providing her own unique version of the track.
That’s what makes this recording, gathered by Swinging Pig, so interesting. This version of the song, the first take that Dylan and the band laid down, is much rockier. As well as providing the first take of the track we also have Dylan providing a quick rehearsal of the song. Recorded in the early hours of a March morning in 1966, a 24-year-old Bob Dylan steps up to the mic to record one of his finest songs. “‘I Want You’,” he responds when asked to name the track.
Kenneth Buttery’s switch of sticks to brushes when laying down the trundling beat would change the song’s makeup in later takes, making it instantly more radio-friendly and a pop hit in waiting. Dylan has changed the pace of the song throughout his career, perhaps owing to the knowledge of these other takes. Famously slowing it to a lilting ballad during his 1978 tour.
Celebrating his 80th birthday this year, it seems fitting that we look back at the singer-songwriter’s verve and talent in a moment of artistic clarity. While the single would eventually use take five as the official track for release, there’s something a little purer about this version of the song.
Listen to the rare rehearsal audio and the first-ever recording of Bob Dylan song ‘I Want You’ below.