Bob Dylan sounds simultaneously condescending, self-righteous, sneering, contemptuous, and compassionate in this folk-rock song from his masterful, full-throttled excursion into electrified folk and pop, Highway 61 Revisited (1965). The narrator in the song, as with many Dylan lyrics from "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" to "Ballad of a Thin Man," seems to be warning someone of a great fall from grace, an awakening, as if he has either been through it all himself already or is just too smart to fall into such traps: "Now when all of the flower ladies want back what they have lent you/And the smell of their roses does not remain/And all of your children start to resent you/Won't you come see me, Queen Jane?" Part of the fun with Dylan songs is trying to decipher not only his symbolism, but his intended targets -- real or fictional. One guess would have to posit Joan Baez as said queen, the similarity between the names Joan and Jane being only a launching point. There is much to suggest that the relationship between the two singers had soured well before the time of this recording, and the two of them together were often referred to as the king and queen of folk music before Dylan's forays into rock & roll. Whoever the target, the subject is clearly one Dylan's narrator feels is coddled and sheltered, insulated by "advisors" who "heave their plastic at (her) feet to convince (her) of (her) pain." The narrator thinks of himself as one who will be there to pick up the pieces at the end of it all, when Jane is through with deceiving herself and ready to act more human: "(When) you want somebody you don't have to speak to/Won't you come see me, Queen Jane."
Like much of the album, "Queen Jane Approximately" is recorded with a "warts and all" philosophy: Electric guitars are gloriously loose and more than a bit out of tune, rubbing against the upright piano of Paul Griffin and Al Kooper's organ chords; the mix is raw, with a garage rock ethos. The Grateful Dead have covered "Queen Jane Approximately" many times as part of their extensive repertoire of Dylan tunes. They handle it with typical sensitivity on two of the Dick's Picks collections, Vol. 9 (1997) and Vol. 17 (2000). Bob Weir surrenders the lead vocal microphone to none other than Dylan himself when the Dead backed Dylan on a late-'80s stadium tour, available on the much-maligned Dylan & the Dead (1989). It is one of the better moments on the disappointing record.