That video is what it sounded like the first time I heard “Just Like A Woman,” the last of the five songs Bob Dylan performed at the Concert for Bangla Desh during the summer of 1971. I wasn’t particularly blown away by Dylan’s performance as I sat and listened in our rec room not long after receiving the three-LP set for Christmas 1971. But I was far more interested in Dylan’s music that I ever had been, and during early 1972, I began exploring that music in greater detail.
Over the years, that’s meant digging in detail into many of Dylan’s tunes, comparing versions from one era to another, weighing the meanings in lyrics, pondering plugged vs. unplugged takes. But it struck me this morning that I’ve never spent much time thinking about “Just Like A Woman.” In fact, I think the only time I’ve ever really focused much on the song was when I was sitting at a piano trying to fake the song’s chords during a long-ago drunken sing-along somewhere in the suburbs of Copenhagen.
(The set list from that Carlsberg-fueled sing-along was remarkable in its diversity, as I think about it, including “Walk On By,” “Layla,” “Colour My World,” “Delta Lady,” “Without You,” “Fire and Rain” and – I vaguely recall – “I Am The Walrus.”)
As with many other Dylan songs, however, I have collected other versions of “Just Like A Woman” along the way, and I got to wondering this morning about those versions and other covers of the song. The fairly reliable website Second Hand Songs lists forty-two cover versions in English, and there are a few additional covers listed at Amazon. (The same likely holds true for iTunes, which I did not check.)
The first to cover “Just Like A Woman” seems to have been Manfred Mann, shortly after Dylan released the original version of the song on Blonde on Blonde. (Sadly, the two videos of the Mann single at YouTube are truncated.) The album was released in May 1966, and the Manfred Mann cover of the song spent six weeks bubbling under the Billboard Hot 100 in August and September of that year. Dylan’s single of the song entered the Hot 100 at No. 81 in mid-September and peaked a few weeks later at No. 33. Those are the only two versions of the song to make the pop chart.
Pop chart presence aside, “Just Like A Woman” seems to be one of those songs that will always attract singers. More than half of the covers listed at Second Hand Songs have been recorded since 2001, and there are only two significant gaps in the timeline since Dylan first recorded the song: a ten-year gap between the cover by Rick Nelson with the Stone Canyon Band in 1971 and Rod Stewart’s cover in 1981, followed by a seven-year gap to the version by Brazilian artist Celso Blues Boy in 1988. The most recent cover listed is one by Carly Simon that was included earlier this year on Chimes of Freedom – The Songs of Bob Dylan – Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International (an album that is high on my want list).
There are other versions that seem to be notable: “Just Like A Woman” was one of ten tunes selected by a group calling itself the Brothers & Sisters of Los Angeles for a 1969 album titled Dylan’s Gospel. (The webpage that listed the musicians involved seems to have disappeared in the past five years, but I do recall that among the singers on the project were Merry Clayton and Clydie King.)
Among the versions I’ve not yet heard – but probably should – are those from the Byrds in 1990, Judy Collins in 1993, Jeff Buckley in 2003 and Bill Medley in 2007. I have heard and liked the covers by Steve Howe from 1999 and John Gorka from 2011. And my favorite covers are those by Richie Havens from 1967, by Nina Simone from 1971 and by Jamaican performer Beres Hammond from 2004.
But perhaps the most interesting version I found this morning was the cover by the Brazilian group The Smeke. I don’t know when it was recorded, but the recording was posted at YouTube in March 2010. The video uses footage of Edie Sedgwick, the 1960s actress, model, socialite and heiress whose involvement with Dylan has been the subject of rumor and legend for more than forty years. (Here’s the take on those tales from Wikipedia.)