Bob Dylan Countdown #151: “All I Really Want To Do”

So who do you have in the battle of the Dylan cover versions? It was Cher vs. The Byrds in a tete-a-tete over “All I Really Want To Do,” the two disparate artists having duked it out in the charts in 1965. (For the record, Cher won easy in the U.S., but The Byrds had her number in the UK.) I’m going with Cher, because she captures the playfulness of the song; The Byrds’ version is too solemn by a half.

I know I’m going to sound like one of those annoying dudes who digs for autobiographical evidence in songs, but I’ve always heard “All I Really Want To Do” as Dylan’s gentle prodding of his fans and critics to just chill out and let him be the songwriter he wants to be. While it works on the surface level as a guy trying to cajole a girl that his intentions are pure, some of the lines seem like references to Bob’s public persona.

An example of some of the things the narrator’s not lookin’ to do:  “simplify you, classify you,” “analyze you, categorize you,” “define you or confine you,” “Or select you or dissect you/Or inspect you or reject you.” That sounds like the kind of treatment Dylan might want for himself. His last promise:  “I ain’t lookin’ for you to feel like me/See like me or be like me.” Perhaps a reminder to his fans to not follow leaders and watch their parking meters?

You also have to consider that “All I Really Want To Do” is the first song on Another Side Of Bob Dylan, an album designed to pull back from all the heavier stuff he had been doing, an album which contained a song with the line, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Throw in Dylan’s laughter during the song and his impromptu yodeling, and it all seems calculated to get everyone to lighten up.

Come to think of it, that’s probably what he’d tell me when he read that long-winded description. You can tell us all you want, Bob; it doesn’t mean we’re gonna listen.

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