June 17, 2015

Boomer Anthems: "Like A Rolling Stone"

"It's like a ghost is writing a song like that, it gives you the song and it goes away. You don't know what it means. Except that the ghost picked me to write the song."
It was ten pages long. It wasn't called anything, just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred directed at some point that was honest. In the end it wasn't hatred, it was telling someone something they didn't know, telling them they were lucky. Revenge, that's a better word. I had never thought of it as a song, until one day I was at the piano, and on the paper it was singing, "How does it feel?" in a slow motion pace, in the utmost of slow motion. -- -- Bob Dylan

It was 50 years ago today that Bob Dylan walked into Studio A at Columbia Records in New York and recorded "Like a Rolling Stone," which we [Rolling Stone] have called the single greatest song of all time. The track was on store shelves just a month later, where it shot to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 (held back only by the Beatles' "Help!") and influenced an entire new generation of rock stars. "That snare shot sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind," Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988....

"Somewhere on the [European] tour, Dylan began penning a long, free-form piece of writing he compared to "vomit."

"[It was] just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred," he said, "directed at some point that was honest."

"He headed back to Woodstock when the tour wrapped and continued to work on the piece. "The first two lines, which rhymed 'kiddin' you' and 'didn't you,' just about knocked me out," he told Rolling Stone in 1988, "and when I got to the jugglers and the chrome horse and the princess on the steeple, it all just about got to be too much."

".... Columbia didn't have high hopes for "Like a Rolling Stone" since it was six minutes long and so unlike Dylan's previous work, but it became the single biggest hit of his career. It upset a lot of traditional folkies in the process, but it turned Dylan into a rock star at the exact moment that the folk music scene was fading. He ended every single show on his legendary 1965/66 world tour with the Hawks with the song, and he's now done it a total of 2,024 times, second only to "All Along the Watchtower." (Oddly enough, he hasn't played it a single time since late 2013.) Last year, the handwritten lyrics sold for over $2 million, nearly double the original estimate.

-- Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan, 'Like a Rolling Stone' - 500 Greatest Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone Al Kooper, who played organ on the session, remembers today, "There was no sheet music, it was totally by ear. And it was totally disorganized, totally punk. It just happened."

The most stunning thing about "Like a Rolling Stone" is how unprecedented it was: the impressionist voltage of Dylan's language, the intensely personal accusation in his voice ("Ho-o-o-ow does it fe-e-e-el?"), the apocalyptic charge of Kooper's garage-gospel organ and Mike Bloomfield's stiletto-sharp spirals of Telecaster guitar, the defiant six-minute length of the June 16th master take. No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.

[Note: This curiously entertaining and bizarre version of "Like A Rolling Stone" from 2013 is best played full screen (Click small square icon at very bottom left of the frame.) with attention to the controls that allow you to "Switch Channels" on the left side of the screen.]

Posted by gerardvanderleun at June 17, 2015 6:04 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

"Somewhere on the [European] tour, Dylan began penning a long, free-form piece of writing he compared to "vomit."

He wasn't wrong.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at June 17, 2015 9:35 AM

It all meant so much then, and now it matters very little. To borrow a phrase from some other salesmen, "teach your children well"

Posted by: Will at June 17, 2015 9:49 AM

Absolutely. Worst. Song. EVER!

Thank you Christopher Taylor.

Posted by: Larry Geiger at June 17, 2015 1:14 PM

Through every single stage of my life up to and including this point I have never understood the appeal of Dylan.

Is that last paragraph satire?

Posted by: Burn the Witch at June 17, 2015 5:59 PM

Dylan, you either like him or you don't.

Posted by: chasmatic at June 17, 2015 8:07 PM

Well, I get him and I love him. I have so much respect for that guy. God bless him!

Posted by: Auntie Doodles at June 17, 2015 8:52 PM

Wow, Gerard, it looks like Auntie Doodles and I are about the only Dylan fans in your commentariat today.

I don't revere him greatly like others. I think Dylan worship is silly. Just like all celebrity worship. I just enjoy his well crafted pop tunes.

Posted by: Mike at June 17, 2015 9:49 PM

I was trying to find out how to stop this cr*p, then I hit the comment button, everything is ok now.

Posted by: offswitch at June 18, 2015 2:41 AM

Excellent. Brilliant song, fantastic take on it.

Posted by: Herm at June 18, 2015 6:22 AM

I think Dylan has a lot of talent as a poet, none as a singer, and a head full of nonsense when he was at the peak of his popularity.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at June 18, 2015 8:09 AM

I loved Dylan when I was playing a monaural LP of "Highway 61 Revisited" on a portable Sears phonograph. I still love Dylan, still love this album, but not this song. It is angry, mean spirited, and it reeks of class envy. The class envy theme turned me off even in the 60's, when I young, and really liked the song. I never cared for the 'hate the rich girl' theme in rock songs, anyway. I just can't take pleasure in seeing someone brought down.


Posted by: jwm at June 18, 2015 10:54 AM

I fell asleep sitting next to Dylan once. While he was singing. It's still my reaction.

But how could you give us all those words on that stupid song, and no explanation at all of the brilliant video? Who did it? For what? Who paid for it? That had to cost a pile of money. All those actors, all that impressive timecode editing.

Posted by: S. Weasel at June 18, 2015 11:04 AM

Weasel's got it. Even here, everyone's talking about Dylan, and not that astoundingly brilliant video. I've never seen anything like that.

Who cares if you like the song. Play it as advertised, and flip from channel to channel, or you'll miss something quite memorable. I can't wait to show this around.


Posted by: Andrew X at June 18, 2015 3:37 PM

Never liked dylan for the simple reason I enjoy great melodies, and outside of Blood on the Tracks dylan sucks at melody. George Harrison and the Byrds and others had to invent melodies for his songs in order to make them hits. LARS is one of the most irritating and tuneless melodies in the bunch, and it always sounded to me like the guitar was out of tune (due to the dylan's affectation for chaotic sessions, instead of just planning out, rehearsing and arranging the goddam song it's no wonder. I think there's a cult that worships dylan for his obscure lyrics, but it's long past time to say "the emperor has no clothes. The Beatles were great songwriters, great lyricists (when they weren't aping dylan) and vastly more enjoyable and listenable. Aging boomers don't like to admit it, but dylan doesn't age well, and very few young people could name a dylan song for you, while they can probably name several, if not a dozen, Beatles songs, or if played them recognize them. Dylan has zero, unless they've heard blowin' in the wind in church. As further evidence that dylan was a product and an artifact of the '60s, he never did another notable thing when they were thru. He hasn't had a hit since then unless someone took him in hand (Jeff Lynne) and wrote it for him. Enough about dylan already. He enjoyed a brief period where people worshipped him like some sort of prophet: today he's less influential and his music is less played than old disco records. No one bothers to cover his tunes, at least not expecting to have a hit with them (G&R managed it, mostly because when they did it they were so hot they could have covered anyone and had a hit). Just like hendrix' unwarranted reputation as some sort of rock god, dylan doesn't warrant any special note other than he was great when he was doing it, but he has no lasting power or influence. deal with it, folkies.

Posted by: docweasel at June 19, 2015 9:58 PM

Dylan hung around with Woody Guthrie and other commies when he was starting out.
I reckon his lefty leanings didn't go away.

Posted by: chasmatic at June 20, 2015 2:34 PM

I love it Gerard. Love that you thought of it. I was a kid when it came out and it was a hit right away. Thanks.

Posted by: Arlene Billson at June 23, 2015 5:35 PM

Dylan also once said he'd realized he wrote that song to himself, about himself. That song was written just as he was leaving folk behind and entering a totally uncharted musical world. A lot of people hated him for his success, for his "betrayal" of folk, and for his apparent selI-absorption as he made his journey.

So I took that to mean it was a wail by a dislocated soul. And I think that's why it resonated with 60's youth. They'd been raised in affluence and comfort and in an America sure of herself, but suddenly they were in a world where nothing made sense, where all the things and values that had once been sure and certain no longer made sense. They were, psychologically, "without a home, like a rolling stone."

Was it somewhat silly, pathetic self-pity by a coddled generation? Yes, but good, emotional songs aren't usually about feeling good. They're usually about loss.

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