Bob Dylan was operating on a different level in the 1960s. A matter of months after landing the ultimate American record with Highway 61 Revisited, he returned with not only one of the finest break-up albums but one of the very first and perhaps finest double-albums: Blonde on Blonde. Not content with the usual 40 odd minutes you could squeeze onto the 12 inches of an LP, he decided to stretch it over two.
Perhaps the highlight is a sweet and simple song of love falling to its end. “Introduced as friends” is a line seeped in poetical realism regarding the torturous business of moving on and relinquishing what once was. With more than a hint of irony, Dylan pushes blame towards his former flame in a sad sigh that whistles with enough melodious beauty to hint at the glowing good times that once were.
While on the surface, you might think that Stevie Nicks’ silken tones might get snagged on the sandpaper sound of Dylan – especially considering that the gravel-voiced Joe Cocker provided the previous best cover – she’s had more than enough break-up experience to completely reinvent the track from her own perspective. And apparently, that is exactly how Dylan advised her to proceed. “I told him that I was going to do ‘Just Like a Woman‘ one day, and I don’t think he believed me,” she recalled of a chance meeting with Dylan. “He just said, ‘Cool. If you can do it from a woman’s point of view, then great’.”
With nothing more than slight performative tweaks, Nicks achieved this subversion with aplomb. Soaring with femineity, she takes the irony that lingers in the “little girl” line and fires it right back pointedly in a breathy sigh. This was a move that got the nod of approval from Dylan. As Nicks recalled: “I called him when the song was pretty much done and he came down to the studio to listen to it. I said, ‘You hate it, right?’ And he said, ‘No, I don’t. I really like it.’ I said, ‘Well, would you consider singing on it?’ And he said, ‘No, I won’t sing on it, but I’ll play some guitar and maybe some harmonica if you want me to’.”
Naturally, this was everything that Nicks wanted to hear. “I thought, ‘Well, praise God.’ It was really important to me that he liked it,” she said. “I never would have put that song on the record if I didn’t think he was pleased.” Despite her humility, there is nothing that you couldn’t like about her version. Cut with the same sense of energy and atmosphere as all of her work, the song flows like luscious locks, yet it keeps the same thorns on the rose that gives the original its unique bittersweet brilliance.
The track comes from Nicks’ 1994 album Street Angel, eight years after she first told Dylan about her intentions while he toured with Tom Petty in Australia, and they conversed backstage. As the cover suggests, the musicians found themselves reading from the same hymn sheet that Nicks decided to stay on the road with Petty, Dylan and the band for the whole month and even joined that for a cover of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’.