Bob Dylan’s Best Songs: Like A Rolling Stone




….would be Like A Rolling Stone because I wrote that after I’d quit. I’d literally quit singing and playing, and I found myself writing this song, this story, this long piece of vomit about twenty pages long, and out of it I took Like A Rolling Stone and made it as a single. And I’d never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that that was what I should do, you know. I mean, nobody had ever done that before.
~Bob Dylan (to Martin Bronstein – Feb 1966)

.. The sound is so rich the song never plays the same way twice
~Greil Marcus

The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind
~Bruce Springsteen (Jan 1988)

TOC

  1. Facts
  2. Quotes
  3. Lyrics
  4. Live versions
  5. Cover versions

@#2 on my list of Bob Dylan’s top 200 songs.

Facts

Wikipedia:

Its confrontational lyrics originated in an extended piece of verse Dylan wrote in June 1965, when he returned exhausted from a grueling tour of England. Dylan distilled this draft into four verses and a chorus. “Like a Rolling Stone” was recorded a few weeks later as part of the sessions for the forthcoming album Highway 61 Revisited.

During a difficult two-day preproduction, Dylan struggled to find the essence of the song, which was demoed without success in 3/4 time. A breakthrough was made when it was tried in a rock music format, and rookie session musician Al Kooper improvised the organ riff for which the track is known. However, Columbia Records was unhappy with both the song’s length at over six minutes and its heavy electric sound, and was hesitant to release it.

Critics have described the track as revolutionary in its combination of different musical elements, the youthful, cynical sound of Dylan’s voice, and the directness of the question “How does it feel?” “Like a Rolling Stone” completed the transformation of Dylan’s image from folk singer to rock star, and is considered one of the most influential compositions in postwar popular music. According to review aggregator Acclaimed Music, “Like a Rolling Stone” is the statistically most acclaimed song of all time. Rolling Stone magazine listed the song at No. 1 in their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.

Known studio recordings:

Studio A
Columbia Recording Studios
New York City, New York
June 15, 1965
The 1st Highway 61 Revisited session, produced by Tom Wilson.

5 takes

  • Take 4 released on THE BOOTLEG SERIES (RARE & UNRELEASED) 1961–1991, Volume 2, 26 March 1991.
  • Take 5 released on CD 1 of BOB DYLAN – THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 12 BOB DYLAN 1965-1966 THE BEST OF THE CUTTING EDGE, 6 November 2015.
  • Take 1-5 released on CD 3 of BOB DYLAN – THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 12 BOB DYLAN 1965-1966 THE CUTTING EDGE DELUXE EDITION, 6 November 2015.
  • Bob Dylan (harmonica, vocals, piano, guitar)
  • Michael Bloomfield (guitar)
  • Al Gorgoni (guitar)
  • Al Kooper (guitar)
  • Frank Owens (organ)
  • Bobby Gregg (drums)
  • Joseph Macho Jr. (bass)
Studio A
Columbia Recording Studios
New York City, New York
June 16, 1965
The 2nd Highway 61 Revisited session, produced by Tom Wilson.

15 Takes

  • Take 5 released on HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, CS–9189, 30 August 1965.
  • Take 11 released on CD 1 of BOB DYLAN – THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 12 BOB DYLAN 1965-1966 THE BEST OF THE CUTTING EDGE, 6 November 2015.
  • Take 1-15 released on CD 4 of BOB DYLAN – THE BOOTLEG SERIES VOL. 12 BOB DYLAN 1965-1966 THE CUTTING EDGE – COLLECTOR’s EDITION, 6 November 2015.
  • Bob Dylan (guitar, harmonica, vocals)
  • Michael Bloomfield (guitar)
  • Paul Griffin (piano)
  • Bobby Gregg (drums)
  • Joseph Macho Jr. (bass)
  • Al Kooper (organ)

Live:

  • First known live performance: Festival Field, Newport, Rhode Island – 25 July 1965.
  • It has been performed 2012 times live – last performance: Christchurch, New Zealand
    Horncastle Arena – August 28, 2018
  • Top year 1978 – 112 performances




Quotes

Everything is changed now from before. Last spring I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained and the way things were going it was a very draggy situation – I mean, when you do Everybody Loves You For Your Black Eye and meanwhile the back of your head is caving in. Anyway, I was playing a lot of songs I didn’t want to play. I was singing words I didn’t really want to sing. I don’t mean words like “God” and “mother” and “president” and “suicide” and “meat cleaver”. I mean simple little words like “if” and “hope” and “you”. But Like A Rolling Stone changed it all; I didn’t care any more after that about writing books or poems or whatever. I mean it was something that I myself could dig. It’s very tiring having other people tell you how much they dig you if you yourself don’t dig you. It’s also very deadly entertainment-wise. Contrary to what some scary people think, I don’t play with a band now for any kind of propaganda-type or commercial-type reasons. It’s just that my songs are pictures and the band makes the sound of the pictures.
~Bob Dylan (to Nat Hentoff – March 1966)

Often regarded as the greatest rock single of all time, its magnitude and tension develops right through its six minutes. At first, the narrator seems vindictive, as if he enjoys watching an over-protected person forced out into a cruel world. Dylan had little sympathy with those who hadn’t fought easy comforts. Yet this and subsequent versions reveal a sad resignation that softens the tone of “I told you so.” One night, I got Dylan to talk about the song: “Why does everybody say of something like ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ ‘that Dylan—is that all he can do, put down people?’ I’ve never put down anybody in a song, man. It’s their idea. ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ man, was very vomitific in its structure. It seemed like twenty pages, but it was really six.
Robert Shelton (No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan)

If the length was subversive of all the rules, and the music announced itself as unique and enor- mous—it wasn’t only the opening drum sound that was thrilling, but the beautifully expressive guitar licks, the interaction, the torrid, clever flow of it all, while the voice was at once so young and so snarling, so energetic and so cynical. And then there were the words. They too were a jolting, glorious assault: a chaotic amalgam of blues ver- nacular, impressionism, allegory and an intense directness: ‘How does it feel?’
Michael Gray (The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia)

“You’ll find out when you reach the top, you’re on the bottom,” he later wrote. Dylan had been famous, had been the center of attention, for a long time. But now the ante was being upped again. He’d become a pop star as well as a folk star (though the latter crown would soon be stripped from him, since the folk world doesn’t recognise dual citizenship), and was, even more than the Beatles, a public symbol of the vast cultural, political, generational changes taking place in the United States and Europe. He was perceived as, and in many ways functioned as, a leader. He was twenty-four years old. The pressure was enormous.
Paul Williams (Bob Dylan Performing Artist I: The Early Years 1960-1973)

I was living in Nashville when I first heard “Like A Rolling Stone”. By then, well, nothing he did surprised me. I just loved it: it was like an anthem. I didn’t want to hear the rumours of who was who and what was what. It just worked. I was there when he did Blonde On Blonde, and I was the only songwriter in Nashville allowed in the building – because I was the janitor!
Kris Kristofferson (Uncut Magazine – Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs)

More closely controlled than many of Dylan’s most ambitious lyrics of the 1965-66 period, “Like A Rolling Stone” is a brilliantly caustic cameo of the fall into self-discovery rendered in four lengthy stanzas. Here, music and lyric are equally outstanding, going so well together that it’s hard to imagine them apart. Thunderous on the 1965-66 world tour, the performance cements the effect, riding the concept as if in a carnival-painted cadillac. One of the top 10 singles of all time.
Ian MacDonald (Uncut Magazine – Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs)

That sneer – it’s something to behold. Elvis had a sneer, of course. And the Rolling Stones had a sneer that, if you note the title of the song, Bob wasn’t unaware of. But Bob Dylan’s sneer on “Like a Rolling Stone” turns the wine to vinegar.
It’s a black eye of a pop song. The verbal pugilism cracks open songwriting for a generation and leaves the listener on the canvas. “Rolling Stone” is the birth of an iconoclast that will give the rock era its greatest voice and vandal. This is Dylan as the Jeremiah of the heart. Having railed against the hypocrisies of the body politic, he starts to pick on enemies that are a little more familiar: the scene, high society, “pretty people” who think they’ve “got it made.” He hasn’t made it to his own hypocrisies – that would come later. But the “us” and “them” are not so clearly defined as earlier albums. Here he bares his teeth at the hipsters, the idea that you had a better value system if you were wearing the right pair of boots.
Bono (Rollingstone.com – 100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs)

One of the most self-righteous and eloquent indictments ever committed to wax, Like a Rolling Stone filters Bob Dylan¹s indignation for pseudo-bohemian sixties’ scenesters through his legendary wit. If Dylan’s first incarnation was as a protest singer, Like a Rolling Stone signals the era of Dylan as court jester/verbal assassin.
James Gerard (allmusic.com)

l was 15 when this came out and to hear it over the radio, for the very first time ever, is one of those moments that, for the rest of my life, makes me grateful to have shared the planet with the man who wrote this. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the greatest single ever. lts effect in 1965 was cataclysmic. That rimshot from the drum kicking it off is just staggering. It signalled the revolution in lots and lots of ways. It’s a privilege to be on the same planet as the man who wrote that.
CP Lee (Uncut Magazine – Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs)

The Live 1966 version is as powerful as any piece of music made in American history.
Dave Marsh (Uncut Magazine – Bob Dylan’s 40 best songs)

“Like A Rolling Stone” is also no doubt the most famous song ever written out of sheer boredom
~Mark Polizzotti (33-1/3 – Highway 61 Revisited)

I wanted to quit the music business, because I felt: If this wins and it does what it’s supposed to do, I don’t need to do anything else.
Frank Zappa

Lyrics

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you’re gonna have to get used to it
You said you’d never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Live versions

Even its live debut at Newport teeters on the edge of disaster, despite Dylan’s best efforts (and the recent DVD shows just how much he is pushing himself). Thankfully the furore over the gesture itself, playing electric blues at a goddamn folk festival, soon overtook any question regarding the actual quality of the set. For a while afterwards, though, ‘Rolling Stone’ continued to scale the heights – just as long as Dylan had sufficient reason to focus on that ‘steady hatred’ that originally inspired it, as he did at most stops along the way throughout his 1966 world tour. The legendary Manchester performance soars because he found himself compared to a false apostle (which made a change from the Messianic types he generally encountered) and so was again obliged to tell ‘someone something they didn’t know.’

And the gobsmacking (to use a good Geordie word!) footage of his performance in Newcastle a couple of days later, included entire on the No Direction Home DVD, proves no less maelstromic. Here we can see he is visibly speeding out of his brains and probably more than a little miffed that the Mr. Jones puffing on his pipe in the front row thinks he’s attending a poetry recital. But of all the songs written within the vortex, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ is the one that should have been pensioned off along with the remains of the Triumph Bonneville he mangled on that back road leading up to the rustic retreat where he first heard a piece of paper singing to him, ‘How does it feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel?’
-Clinton Heylin (Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan 1957-1973 (Songs of Bob Dylan Vol 1))

Odeon Theatre
Liverpool, England
14 May 1966

Gaumont Theatre
Sheffield, England
16 May 1966

Odeon Theatre
Newcastle, England
21 May 1966

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & electric guitar)
  • Robbie Robertson (electric guitar)
  • Garth Hudson (organ)
  • Rick Danko (bass)
  • Richard Manuel (piano)
  • Mickey Jones (drums)

The BEST video on youtube ?

Meadowlands Brendan T. Byrne Sports Arena
East Rutherford, New Jersey
21 July 1986

Radio City Music Hall
New York City, New York
18 January 1992
Taping for Late Night (w/ David Letterman) 10th Anniversary show

Barrowland
Glasgow, Scotland
24 June 2004

One of the worst things people can say when writing a book like this is “You really had to be there”. Yet, for, “Like A Rolling Stone”, that night, “you really had to be there”. Dylan’s voice was a blurred burr and yet powerful and compelling as it competed with a deafening crowd throughout this epic song.
~Andrew Muir (One More Night: Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour)

Cover Versions

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – (winterland 1968)

The Rolling Stones – Like a Rolling Stone – Live 1998

Patti Smith – Montreux Festival 2005

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Pittsbrurgh – 19 May 2009:
(only E Street Band performance)

The Drive-by Truckers (studio version  from “The Fine Print”)

Mick Ronson & David Bowie (from Ronson’s “Heaven & Hull”):

Johnny Winter:

John Mellencamp:

Green Day (Non-Album Track, released 2009):

Sources

-Egil

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