There is an undeniable kinship between America’s two favourite blue-collar troubadours, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. When Dylan first heard his New Jersey counterpart he joked, “He better be careful, or he might go through every word in the English language.” In that respect, they both share a rather verbose likeness and since that early comparison, their paths have often crossed.
When Springsteen inducted Bob Dylan in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he remarked, that the first time he heard a Bob Dylan album (Highway 61 Revisited, in 1965), Dylan’s performance “thrilled and scared me.”
The singer continued: “It made me feel kind of irresponsibly innocent. And it still does. But it reached down and touched what little worldliness I think a 15-year-old kid, in high school, in New Jersey had in him at the time.”
And speaking on the American talk show, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Springsteen talked about the impacts that the early comparison had on his career. He told the host, “I became self-conscious about the Dylan comparison, so I moved away from [that style of songwriting] quickly.”
This was a stylistic choice that ‘The Boss’ still laments to some degree, “Looking back I kind of had my own Dylan-esque style. And I kind of wish I had never moved away from it so quickly.”
He later described this early style as “a lot of fun,” with a lot of “joy and a reasonable amount of depth.” Fortunately for fans of his early work this early “uninhibited” style features on Springsteen’s new record,Letter To You, in the form of re-recorded previously unheard tracks from the period. However, none of them are obviously as faithful as Springsteen covering Dylan himself back in 1975.
The track, ‘I Want You’, is one of the songs on Blonde and Blonde that folk purists first hated when it was released. It epitomised Dylan’s so-called electric perversions. It’s a track that signifies moving on in an undoubted sonic blast. With a parade of interesting characters, Dylan concocts a swirl of song, that dallies with visceral rock vigour.
The brilliance of the track, however, belongs to his Nashville backing band, they lay down a groove that gives the album an added dimension. It also finds Dylan at his peak of his iconic vocal stylings that has spawned an endless slew of parodies.
With all that in the mix, it’s a pretty difficult anthem to cover on paper, but Springsteen takes it off in an entirely new direction with a much more languid melody and some Laurie Anderson-esque strings laid over the top. His variation of the song, recorded live at Westbury Music Fair, has a music-box lullaby-like feel to it that contrasts the lyrics and Springsteen gravelly East Coast vocals with a very interesting counterpoint.