|"Just Like a Woman"|
|Single by Bob Dylan|
|from the album Blonde on Blonde|
|"Obviously 5 Believers"|
|Released||August 18, 1966|
|Recorded||March 8, 1966|
|Studio||Columbia, Nashville, Tennessee|
|Bob Dylan singles chronology|
"Just Like a Woman" is a song written by Bob Dylan and first released on his 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde. It was also released as a single in the U.S. during August 1966 and peaked at #33 on the Billboard Hot 100. Dylan's recording of "Just Like a Woman" was not issued as a single in the United Kingdom but the British beat group, Manfred Mann, did release a hit single version of the song in July 1966, which peaked at #10 on the UK Singles Chart. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Dylan's version of the song at #232 in their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
In the album notes of his 1985 compilation, Biograph, Dylan claimed that he wrote the lyrics of this song in Kansas City on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1965, while on tour. However, after listening to the recording session tapes of Dylan at work on this song in the Nashville studio, historian Sean Wilentz has written that Dylan improvised the lyrics in the studio, by singing "disconnected lines and semi-gibberish". Dylan was initially unsure what the person described in the song does that is just like a woman, rejecting "shakes", "wakes", and "makes mistakes". The improvisational spirit extends to the band attempting, in their fourth take, a "weird, double-time version", somewhere between Jamaican ska and Bo Diddley.
Clinton Heylin has analyzed successive drafts of the song from the so-called Blonde On Blonde papers, papers that Heylin believes were either left behind by Dylan or stolen from his Nashville hotel room. The first draft has a complete first verse, a single couplet from the second verse, and another couplet from the third verse. There is no trace of the chorus of the song. In successive drafts, Dylan added sporadic lines to these verses, without ever writing out the chorus. This leads Heylin to speculate that Dylan was writing the words while Al Kooper played the tune over and over on the piano in the hotel room, and the chorus was a "last-minute formulation in the studio". Kooper has explained that he would play piano for Dylan in his hotel room, to aid the song-writing process, and then would teach the tunes to the studio musicians at the recording sessions.
The master take of "Just Like a Woman" was produced by Bob Johnston and recorded at Columbia Studios, Nashville, Tennessee on March 8, 1966, during the recording of Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's seventh studio album. The song features a lilting melody, backed by delicately picked nylon-string guitar and piano instrumentation, resulting in arguably the most commercial track on the album. The musicians backing Dylan on the track include Charlie McCoy, Joseph A. Souter Jr., and Wayne Moss on guitar, Henry Strzelecki on bass guitar, Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano, Al Kooper on organ and Kenny Buttrey on drums. Although Dylan's regular guitar sideman, Robbie Robertson, was present at the recording session, he did not play on the song.
This exploration of female wiles and feminine vulnerability was widely rumored--"not least by her acquaintances among Andy Warhol's Factory retinue"--to be about Edie Sedgwick. The reference to Baby's penchant for "fog, amphetamine and pearls" suggests Sedgwick or some similar debutante, according to Heylin. "Just Like a Woman" has also been rumored to have been written about Dylan's relationship with fellow folk singer Joan Baez. In particular, it has been suggested that the lines "Please don't let on that you knew me when/I was hungry and it was your world" may refer to the early days of their relationship, when Baez was more famous than Dylan.
Discussing whether the biographical basis of this song is important, literary critic Christopher Ricks has argued, "Everyone can understand the feelings and the relationship described in the song, so why does it matter if Dylan wrote it with one woman in mind?"
In addition to its appearance on Blonde on Blonde, "Just Like a Woman" also appears on several Dylan compilations, including Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Masterpieces, Biograph, The Best of Bob Dylan, Vol. 1, The Essential Bob Dylan, and Dylan.
The "Just Like a Woman" recording session was released in its entirety on the 18-disc Collector's Edition of The Bootleg Series Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 in 2015, with highlights from the outtakes appearing on the 6-disc and 2-disc versions of that album.
Live recordings of the song have been included on Before the Flood (recorded February 1974), Bob Dylan at Budokan (recorded March 1978), The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert (recorded May 1966), The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue (recorded November 1975), and the Deluxe Edition of The Bootleg Series Vol. 13: Trouble No More 1979-1981 (recorded June 1981). In November 2016, all Dylan's recorded live performances of the song from 1966 were released in the boxed set The 1966 Live Recordings, with the May 26, 1966 performance released separately on the album The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert. In June 2019, five live performances of the song from the 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour were released in the box set The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings.
The song has been criticized for supposed sexism or misogyny in its lyrics.Alan Rinzler, in his book Bob Dylan: The Illustrated Record, describes the song as "a devastating character assassination...the most sardonic, nastiest of all Dylan's putdowns of former lovers." In 1971, New York Times writer Marion Meade wrote that "there's no more complete catalogue of sexist slurs," and went on to note that in the song Dylan "defines women's natural traits as greed, hypocrisy, whining and hysteria." Dylan biographer Robert Shelton noted that "the title is a male platitude that justifiably angers women," although Shelton believed that "Dylan is ironically toying with that platitude."
Countering allegations of misogyny, music critic Paul Williams, in his book Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Book One 1960-1973, pointed out that Dylan sings in an affectionate tone from beginning to end. He further comments on Dylan's singing by saying that "there's never a moment in the song, despite the little digs and the confessions of pain, when you can't hear the love in his voice." Williams also contends that a central theme of the song is the power that the woman described in the lyrics has over Dylan, as evidenced by the lines "I was hungry and it was your world."
Bill Janovitz, in his AllMusic review, has noted that in the context of the song, Dylan "seems on the defensive...as if he has been accused of causing the woman's breakdown. But he takes some of the blame as well; he was clearly taken by the woman at first, but apparently matured a little and saw through 'her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls.'" Janovitz concludes by noting that "It is certainly not misogynist to look at a personal relationship from the point of view of one of those involved, be it man or woman. There is nothing in the text to suggest that Dylan has a disrespect for, much less an irrational hatred of, women in general." Similarly, Christopher Ricks asks, "could there ever be any challenging art about men and women where the accusation just didn't arise?" Ricks has written that the speaker in the song seems to be referring to a woman who occasionally plays the "little girl card": "Someone who has times when she regresses to being childlike--who can't live up to the best part of herself." Moreover, Gill has argued that the key "delimitation" in the song is not between man and woman, but between woman and girl, so the issue is one "of maturity rather than gender".
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"Just Like a Woman" has been covered by a variety of different bands and artists, including Stevie Nicks, Radka Toneff, Roberta Flack, Dixie Carter, Manfred Mann, Nina Simone, the Byrds, Joe Cocker, the Hollies, Van Morrison, Jeff Buckley, Rod Stewart, Counting Crows, Gregg Allman, Hazel O'Connor, Richie Havens, Howard Hewett and Something Corporate.