“What do you want to call this, for now?” Bob Johnston asks Bob Dylan, whose reply to his producer is punctuated by giggles. “This is called… yes… we’ll call it ‘Just a Little Glass of Water’.” And, on January 21, 1966, in Columbia Records’ Seventh Avenue studio in New York City, Dylan and his musicians — Mike Bloomfield and Robbie Robertson on guitars, Garth Hudson on the organ, Richard Manuel on piano, Rick Danko on bass guitar and Sandy Konikoff on drums — launch into the first recorded pass at a song that would become known to bootleggers as “She’s Your Lover Now”.
What turned out to be the best version — which we now know to have been take 15 — was included on a couple of the early bootlegs I bought in 1969/70: Forty Red White & Blue Shoestrings and GWW: Seems Like a Freeze Out. It’s a song I quickly grew to love, seeing it as part of the “revenge” series that began with “Like a Rolling Stone” and continued with “Positively 4th Street” and “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?”, although for years I wrongly imagined it to have been recorded in Nashville during the sessions than began on February 14 and yielded the bulk of what became Blonde on Blonde.
Now, thanks to the release of the $599 18-CD “collector’s edition” of The Bootleg Series Vol 12: The Cutting Edge, we know how hard Dylan worked on this song before abandoning it at the end of the day. Indeed, we know how hard he worked on many of his songs. The many takes that were needed before “Like a Rolling Stone” emerged from its chrysalis were not the exception. On this evidence, any idea of Dylan’s attitude to the recording process as being one based primarily on intuition and spontaneity would be seriously to underrate his interest in detailed development.
As with several of his songs, mostly notably “Like a Rolling Stone” , “She’s Your Lover Now” began life in a rather stately triple metre before finding its ultimate destiny in a fast 4/4. (The many takes of “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”, for example, begin with a voice-and-piano sketch in 6/8 before making the change almost immediately.)
In terms of format, “She’s Your Lover Now” probably the most complicated song he ever wrote: by my amateur calculation its structure settles on A-A-B-C-D-A-E, where A is 8 bars, B is 13 (yes!), C is 8, D is 10 and E is 8. The contrasting cadences and their associated harmonic suspensions make perfect sense, but they must have been hell for the musicians to remember, particularly while trying to keep up with Dylan’s constantly changing attitude to the song’s metre and tempo, which by take 4 has temporarily settled on a rather plodding rock backbeat.
Between takes 10 and 11, with Dylan having taken over at the piano, we hear Johnston, with Dylan’s approval, suggesting a “double beat”: a fast 8/8 instead of the soggy 4/4. Immediately the song reveals its true personality. But the take breaks down, and Dylan is not satisfied. “It’s not together, man,” he says. “Just play it together. Just make it all together. You don’t have to play anything fancy or nothing. Just together. Okay?”
He also massages the lyric as he works through the song, most significantly changing the key line from “You’re Her Lover Now” quite late in the process, while experimenting with different stresses in his phrasing. Take 15 goes further than its predecessors and builds a terrific momentum until breaking down as he sings “Now your mouth cries wolf…”, possibly having run out of words.
At the end of the session, clearly having abandoned hope of getting it right with the band that day, he lays down a version alone at the tack piano. “Last take, any time,” Johnston says. “Okay,” Dylan replies. “It’s not going to be really exactly right.” He’s still exploring, and we can hear how, left to his own devices, he finds a 12/8 feel that somehow synthesises and incorporates all previous metrical variants. He would never return to the song, leaving us with a fascinating work-in-progress document of one that didn’t quite make it.
* The photograph is by Jerry Schatzberg and is included in the Collector’s Edition of The Cutting Edge (purchase details: bobdylan.com).