"I don't want you to be no slave/I don't want you to work all day/I don't want you 'cause I'm sad and blue/I just want to make love to you." Recorded in 1954 when the writing/recording team of Willie Dixonand Muddy Waters (respectively) were at the height of their powers, "I Just Want to Make Love to You" is a hilariously honest and sensual blues classic. It was first released as a Chess single, then on the collection The Best of Muddy Waters (1958).
In an interview with David S. Rotenstein, Dixon explained the bluntness of the lyric with a similarly frank answer, "Somebody says, 'Why would he make a song, "I Just Want to Make Love to You"?' And, naturally, you could make a statement saying everybody, everything makes love one way or another and a lot of times people would like to say, 'Damn, I'd like to make love to you.'" Dixon saw his role as a songwriter much like one of his students, Chuck Berry, did: To appeal to as many people just like him as possible; it is music as communication, and the idiomatic lyrics were reflections of his audience.
Though it does not employ the exact stop-time like some other blues standards he wrote during the same era, Dixon does use the repetitive riff -- this one ebbs more than stops -- that has become so associated with electric Chicago blues it is almost a caricature of the genre. The original 1954 recording is impossibly slinky, with Otis Spann tickling out the main riff on piano, with Dixon himself finishing it off on his upright bass. Elgin Evens cracks into the breach on drums, Little Walter Jacobs wails away in the corner of the room on harmonica -- coming to the fore on a solo -- and Jimmy Rodgers's guitar underpins it all with counterpoint guitar. Waters is in the zone here, opening the song with a huskier than usual growl, along the lines of his colleague Howlin' Wolf. The bridge comes out of nowhere, as if the band is settling into a haunting easygoing groove and Waters wakes them up with his powerful bellow: "I can tell by the way you switch and walk/I can see by the way you baby talk/I can know by the way you treat your man/That I can love you baby, it's a crying shame." And then it slinkers off into the distance, fading out with Waters now down to a coo: "love to you...love to you." It is a decidedly urban production from Dixon, who did it all: wrote, performed, and recorded. To say he was not properly compensated for his work for Chess -- not to mention what he did to link blues to rock & roll -- would be a major understatement.
It is hard to imagine now, but the Rolling Stones' radical reinterpretation of the song for their American debut LP, England's Newest Hitmakers (1964), came only ten years after the original. The lads pump up the tempo to a furious clip that has an exciting adolescent urgency approaching early punk rock. Even the overproduction (with strings!) on Etta James' early cover of "I Just Want to Make Love to You" can not mask her swinging, sultry spirit. Hers was released on her 1961 Chess debut, At Last.