"Just Like a Woman" is a song written by Bob Dylan and first released on his 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde (see 1966 in music). 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 analysed 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, 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 aboutEdie 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. Live recordings of the song have been included on Before the Flood,Bob Dylan at Budokan, The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert, and The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975, The Rolling Thunder Revue.
The song has been criticized for supposed 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."
However, music critic Paul Williams, in his book Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, Book One 1960 - 1973, has countered allegations of misogyny by pointing 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".
- In a February 2000 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, presidential candidate Al Gore answered two questions by singing parts of "Just Like a Woman".
- In The Simpsons episode "The President Wore Pearls", Lenny Leonard is seen pushing over a slot machine during Springfield Elementary's casino night. After declaring that he is a "big man", the machine falls back over him, where he then says "But I break just like a little girl", a reference to "Just Like a Woman"'s chorus.
- In Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar-winning film Annie Hall, Allen's character goes on a date with a rock journalist, played by Shelley Duvall, who irritates him by reciting the chorus of "Just Like a Woman" when recalling a Dylan concert.
- In Stephen King's novel Carrie, a notebook is found that the title character had filled with the repeated lyrics, "Nobody has to guess/That Baby can't be blessed/Till she finally sees that she's like all the rest." These lines are taken from the second verse of "Just Like a Woman".
- In Michael Cunningham's short story "White Angel", "Just Like a Woman" is heard playing in the background during a pivotal moment of a party scene.
- The song is featured in "A Home at the End of the World" (2004).
"Just Like a Woman" has been covered by a variety of different bands and artists, including Radka Toneff, Roberta Flack, Manfred Mann, Nina Simone, The Byrds, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, Jeff Buckley, Rod Stewart, Counting Crows, Gregg Allman, Richie Havens, and Something Corporate.
- Manfred Mann released their version of the song on July 29, 1966 (b/w "I Wanna Be Rich"). It went to #10 on the UK Singles Chart.
- The Byrds recorded the song twice: once in 1970 during sessions for their (Untitled) album and again in 1971 during sessions for Byrdmaniax. However, both versions went unreleased at the time, with the 1970 recording first appearing on the 1990 Byrds box set and the 1971 version being included as a bonus track on the remastered Byrdmaniax CD in 2000.
- Guitarist Bill Frisell covered the song, strictly as an instrumental, on his album Have a Little Faith.
- The Panics covered "Just Like a Woman" on their EP Factory Girl, and on a bonus EP released with their album Cruel Guards titled Join The Dots.
- Les Fradkin released a cover of the song on his 2006 album, If Your Memory Serves You Well.
- Stevie Nicks covers the song on her 1994 album Street Angel.
- Charlotte Gainsbourg and Calexico covered the song for the 2007 Bob Dylan biopic, I'm Not There.
- Swedish rock singer and songwriter, Svante Karlsson, covered the song on his debut album American Songs in 1999.
- Roberta Flack covered "Just like a Woman" on her 1970 album "Chapter Two".
- The Philosopher Kings performed a cover of the song on their debut self titled album.
- Barbara Gosza, singer and songwriter, covered the song on her album Ceremonies in 1995.