The fact will seem incredible to many American fans but even as late as the early 1970s, central heating was considered an 'extra' in many British houses. It certainly wasn't a standard service, like hot and cold running water. As a consequence, many houses had gas fires in two or three rooms or, failing that, moveable electric bar fires or convector heaters. As a consequence, large areas of the house, like passageways and less-frequently used rooms remained unheated, even in winter. And winter then was just that - severely cold, unlike today's climes, which see the grey, dull, lowering skies of autumn or the squally rain begin in October and extend right through to the end of March.
This meant it wasn't uncommon, on a chill winter's morning, to see frost formed on the inside of the windows. Closer inspection revealed that each frosted pane had a unique pattern; a cross between the whorls and contours found on your fingertips and the intricate patterning of an individual snowflake. This is where I Like You enters the article.
You see, the first quality that has always struck me about this song is its crispness. It is stark - at least, in the early sections - but magisterially so. A thing of beauty but its delicate tracery belies its inner strength. Without wishing to seem too precious or pretentious, it is as if it were constructed of the finest lace, yet that same lace were made of tensile steel.
Listen to most songs from that era. Even the usual singer-songwriter material, where he/she is seemingly only accompanied by their acoustic guitar. Listen carefully. There's usually a lot more going on than you first realised. Not so with I Like You. The carefully picked guitar intrigues in its boldness, its willingness to say 'this is all there is to begin with: this is it - naked guitar'. Then the ethereal (cliched but there is no other term to accurately describe the effect) voices of the girls begin to chant their 'la la la's over the same slowly repeated guitar plucking.
A bold move then and one that could prove suicidal today. If the record didn't move into the 'main action' immediately, today's disc jockeys (do they still call them that?) and radio programmers would reject it from any playlist. And 'how silly' that would be. Even Donovan's vocals, when they arrive, have a languid sound to them. Not ennui but a laid-back, calm statement of fact, as he outlines just how he feels about the song's subject.
Just when the listener feels he/she is getting the measure of The song, in come the violins and all the rest and the song changes tempo. Violently, if truth be told but a song as ground-breaking as this deserves reward and the boldness never jars but works astonishingly well, in contrasting the shifting land.
Nor do the changes end there. Before anybody can think “oh, upbeat rock song now”, Donovan takes it all down again and we're back to the pared-down, oasis-like calm of the opening. Songs - good songs and bad - have always served as markers of moods and memory-stirrers. That's why we all have our own 'special songs'. I unreservedly and unabashedly declare this one of mine. Like so many such numbers, it's a love song but it's a love song par excellence and non-pariel.
I Like You always conjures up a frosty night. Cold but clear, with a cloudless, deep dark blue sky. Silent. No sodium streetlights to reflect up and weaken the rich darkness of the navy blue canopy. There are stars a-plenty and the moon is full and bright. Just blue and silver. The air is chilled and breath and speech comes out as mini-clouds. Despite the coldness, it's a healthy situation. Would that there were more places unfettered by the pollution of streetlights, noise and other 21st century intrusions.
This is a central plank in the esential greatness of I Like You. It is timeless. Yes, it has the standard Donovan references to Linda and we know that, on the literal level, it was recorded in October 1972 and issued in March 1973 but none of that matters. Not in the slightest. It doesn't take much imagination to envisage a court bard, many centuries ago, singing such a song on his lyre.
There are so many things about I Like You that could be eulogised. The gradual fading-in and out of the song (many faded out but few, other than Steeleye Span's Gaudete - album version only - did both); the subtle but effective build-up to the 'rock' sections; the atmospheric guitar; the sympathetic and utterly stunning strings, for which credit must be given to Chris Spedding... but lists are dull. Listen to it again and rhapsodise about the song yourself. The intimacy inherent in the song almost means the listener feels reluctant to listen to it with anyone he/she feels may not be sympatico with the song's meanings.
I Like You is magnificent; a crystalline song worthy of the highest praise and I have no hesitation at all in considering it one of the greatest songs Donovan has ever written and recorded. My other choices may vary, depending upon mood and circumstances at the time but this song always retains its place.