An ironically titled ode to an enigmatic woman, Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" is a folk-pop song that hinted at his new direction; it is neither a raucous blues-based rock & roll number like he would record on his next few records, nor is the song a solo acoustic folk piece. Rather, "She Belongs to Me" lies somewhere in between. Dylan can be heard dipping his toes in (so to speak), testing the waters with electric accompaniment. According to Clinton Heylin's exhaustive sessionography, Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions (1960-1994) (1995), Dylan's producer Tom Wilson had overdubbed some musicians on one of the artist's solo recordings of "House of the Rising Sun" -- a song Dylan has been fooling around with his whole career -- with the expressed purpose of illustrating the results of electrifying Dylan's music. Apparently, Dylan was not yet fully swayed; though he was impressed with the Animals' version of that song, with the Beatles in general, and with the Byrds' electric versions of his own compositions, Bringing It All Back Home seemed intended to be half electric and half acoustic. The record was the first time Dylan really worked with a group of assembled musicians, and apparently Wilson had to brief them -- Heylin legitimately speculates -- about Dylan's highly idiosyncratic working methods. But Dylan handles the situation and the musicians adroitly, the electric instruments only adding to his already powerful songwriting.
"She Belongs to Me" would probably be a simple 12-bar folk ballad without much to recommend it over similar songs -- as can be heard on a myriad of live bootleg versions -- without its gentle, lolling band groove. The band helps the song along and never gets in the singer's way -- in fact, it is still Dylan's acoustic guitar that remains the element most prominent in the mix, next to his voice and harmonica. Dylan softly sings the lilting melody. John Hammond Jr. plays constant fluid sevenths on a clean electric guitar while William E. Lee plays well-placed bass lines. The light arrangement beefs up the song just enough to make it seem like a smart pop song. And even Dylan's lightest pop songs are nothing less than smart. An oft-repeated criticism of Dylan is that his women protagonists are usually devils or angels. Well, here is a less black-and-white case: "She's got everything she needs/She's an artist she don't look back/She can take the dark out of the nighttime and paint the daytime black," goes the first verse. But in the second, listeners are offered a different perspective: "You will start off standing/Proud to steal her anything she sees/But you'll wind up peeking through her keyhole/Down upon your knees." Clearly, this last line has sexual connotations, and the lyrics hit on sexual politics. "She never stumbles she's got no place to fall/She's nobody's child, the law can't touch her at all." The title of the song is ironic in that this "artist" woman is "nobody's child," a free spirit who belongs to no one, the narrator included.
Some of Dylan's finest versions include the solo acoustic readings from the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, available on Self Portrait (1970), and from 1965 in Manchester on the famous (or infamous, as the case might be) British tour, which is lovely but does indeed sound much like similar versions of songs such as "Visions of Johanna." While this makes a case supporting the fleshed-out arrangement on Bringing It All Back Home, they are brilliant nevertheless. Rick Nelson recorded a great country version of the song available on many of his best-of collections.