Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone

A snare drum shot starts this song that helped shape the sixties.  In 2004 Rolling Stone named Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” the greatest song of all time. When Bob sings  “How Does it Feel?” you can feel the venom.

“Like a Rolling Stone” runs 6:13. It was a big breakthrough when the song got radio play and became a hit, as many stations refused to play songs much longer than 3 minutes. It was also rare for a song with so many lyrics to do well commercially.

The title was taken from the proverb “a rolling stone gathers no moss.” Dylan got the idea from the 1949 Hank Williams song “Lost Highway,” which contains the line, “I’m a rolling stone, all alone and lost.”

The song peaked at #2 in the Billboard 100, #3 in Canada, and  #4 in the UK in 1965. The song was on the album Highway 61 Revisited that was released a few weeks after this single.

I like the studio version the best but I also like the “Judas” live version in 1966. Bob with The Hawks (later The Band) backing him fought boos and shouts through the tour. The world it seemed was upset at Dylan for going “electric” and having a band back him up. These are my favorite live Dylan performances…both versions are at the bottom of the post.

From Rolling Stone Magazine:

The music here is much more in that celestial mode, like it’s ether-borne, rather than anything originating from mind, guitar, bass, drum, organ, voice. The final showdown begins when someone in the audience, from out of the tension of the attendant silence, shouts, “Judas!” In the annals of heckling, that’s a pretty good one. Dylan responds with “I don’t believe you” – a nice little reference, too, to the earlier song. There is venom in his voice. “You’re a liar.” Another pause, before Dylan turns to his band and orders them to “Play fucking loud!” And goodness do they, right on command. Dylan puts his entire body into the “How does it feel?” line, like he is jumping straight down someone’s soul and punching the crap out of it. Then it is all over. Dylan says, “Thank you,” and “God Save the Queen” plays on the PA. Time to be rolling on. 

 

 

From Songfacts

This was the only song on the album produced by Tom Wilson, who produced Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Wilson had been a jazz producer and was brought in to replace John Hammond. Wilson invited keyboard player Al Kooper to the session, and Al produced the famous organ riff that drove the song. This was the last song Wilson worked on with Dylan, as Bob Johnston took over production duties.

Thanks to The Rolling Stones, many associate the phrase with a life of glamor, always on the move, but Williams’ song is about a hobo paying the price for his life of sin. Dylan also used the phrase to indicate loneliness and despair: his rolling stone is “without a home, like a complete unknown.”

Dylan based the lyrics on a short story he had written about a debutante who becomes a loner when she falls out of high society. The lyrics that made it into the song are only a small part of what was in the story.

Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman, who revolutionized the music manager profession and was known as a shrewd defender of his artists, was the one who told Columbia Records that they couldn’t shorten “Like a Rolling Stone” in order to make it more radio friendly.

Dylan recorded another version in 1970 for his Self Portrait album. This time, he used experienced session players in Nashville, Tennessee. Ron Cornelius played guitar on the album and told us about the session: “You’re not reading manuscripts. In Nashville the players are booked because of what they can create right now, not what’s written on a piece of paper. Everybody’s creating their part as the tape is rolling. Out of everybody I’ve worked with, I don’t know of anyone who’s been any nicer than Bob Dylan. He treated me wonderfully, but at the same time you knew being around him day after day that this man wakes up in a different world every morning. On a creative level that’s a really good thing and to try to second guess him or to ask him what he actually meant by these lyrics, you’re shooting in the dark because he’s not going to tell you anyway. And he might be telling you the truth when he says “I don’t know, what does it mean to you.'”

It is rumored that this was written about one-time debutante Edie Sedgwick, who was part of artist Andy Warhol’s crowd. She was the subject of an emotional tug-of-war between the Dylan camp and the Warhol camp.

According to this theory, the song includes some fanged, accusatory lines about Warhol and the way he mistreated the girl:

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

“Poor Little Rich Girl” Sedgwick is viewed by many as the tragic victim of a long succession of abusive figures. After escaping home and heading to New York, she ran into Warhol, who soon began to use her as his starlet. When her 15 minutes had come to an end, Warhol moved on.

Sedgwick and Dylan had a brief affair shortly before the musician married Sarah Lownds, and many say that this Dylan song was written about her. It should be noted that there is absolutely nothing beyond circumstantial evidence to support this idea, but the myth is so widely known that it’s taken on a life of its own and is therefore recognizable on its own terms.

This made Bob Dylan an unlikely inspiration for Jimi Hendrix, who before hearing this considered himself only a guitarist and not a singer. After hearing this, he saw that it didn’t take a conventional voice to sing rock and roll.

Hendrix often played “Like A Rolling Stone,” including a performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Hendrix and Dylan met only once, but Jimi had a knack for bringing out the emotions in Dylan’s songs: he also did a very successful cover of “All Along The Watchtower.” 

The Rolling Stones didn’t take their name from this song, but rather the 1950 Muddy Waters track “Rollin’ Stone.” The magazine Rolling Stone was named after this song, with a degree of separation: Ralph Gleason wrote a piece for The American Scholar about the influence of music on young people called “Like a Rolling Stone,” which he titled after the song. When he founded the magazine with Jann Wenner in 1967, they decided to name it after his story. Wenner muddied the waters a bit when he wrote in the debut issue: “Muddy Waters used the name for a song he wrote. The Rolling Stones took their name from Muddy’s song. ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was the title of Bob Dylan’s first rock and roll record.”

In the November 2004 issue, Rolling Stone Magazine named this #1 on their list of the greatest songs of all time. >>

Greil Marcus wrote a book of almost 300 pages about this song. The book was released in 2005 and is titled Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads.

Al Kooper, who was primarily a guitarist and went on to be a very successful music producer, played this organ on this song. If you listen very closely at the beginning of this song, you will notice that the organ is an 1/8th note behind everyone else. Kooper wasn’t an expert on the organ, but Dylan loved what he played and made sure it was turned up in the mix.

When we asked Kooper what stands out as his finest musical accomplishment, he told us: “By the amount of emails I receive and the press that I get it is undoubtedly the organ part on ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’ I kinda like the way Martin Scorcese edited my telling of that story in the documentary No Direction Home. For me, no one moment or event sticks out. I think reading my resumé every ten years or so, is my finest moment – certainly my most incredulous. I cannot believe I did all the stuff I did in one lifetime. One is forced to believe in luck and God.” (Check out our interview with Al Kooper.)

A line from this song provided the title of the 2005 Martin Scorsese documentary about Bob Dylan called No Direction Home.

Jimi Hendrix’s performance of this song at Monterey is a classic. Hendrix had made a name for himself in Europe, but didn’t manage to make a dent in the US market until the fabled Summer of Love. It happened at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. All of a sudden, an artist who had struggled unsuccessfully for recognition in his own country became one of its future music legends.

Rolling Stone asked a panel of musicians, writers and academics to vote for Dylan’s greatest song in a poll to mark Dylan’s 70th birthday on May 24, 2011. This song came out on top, beating “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and “Tangled Up In Blue” into second and third places respectively.

 

Dylan’s original draft of the song’s lyrics were written on four sheets of headed note paper from the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington, DC. The quartet of handwritten pages fetched over $2 million at Sothebys New York in June 2014, setting a new price record for a popular music manuscript. The previous record was John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for the 1967 Beatles track “A Day In The Life,” which cost $1.2 million.

The Rolling Stones recorded this for their 1995 album Stripped. Stones guitarist Keith Richards explained: “We got over the built-in reticence. If he [Bob Dylan] had written ‘Like a Beatles,’ we probably would have done it straight away. We’ve been playing that song ever since Bob brought it out; it was like a dressing room favorite, a tuning room favorite. We know it really well. It was just a matter of screwing up the courage, really, to get over the feeling like we were riding on its back. We also realized that, hey, we took our name from a Muddy Waters album, a Muddy Waters song. Suddenly it didn’t feel awkward to play it.” 

An early manuscript of this song in the Dylan archives at the Center for American Research in Tulsa reveals some lyrics that were later changed or removed. Instead of “You used to laugh about,” it was “You used to make fun about.” Some lines that were excised:

You’ve studied all these great theories on life
And now you find out they don’t mean a thing
You’ve been blessed by counts these old friends claimed to love
Now they’re all ashamed of you

John Mellencamp performed this with Al Kooper at a Bob Dylan tribute concert held in Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992.

Like A Rolling Stone

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you
People call say beware doll, you’re bound to fall
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging 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 on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone

You’ve gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
Nobody’s ever taught you how to live out on the street
And now you’re gonna have to get used to it
You say you 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 say 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 a chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discovered 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 a steeple and all the pretty people
They’re all drinking, thinking that they’ve got it made
Exchanging all precious gifts
But you better take your diamond ring, you better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you’ve 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

 

 

 

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

27 thoughts on “Bob Dylan – Like A Rolling Stone”

  1. A good song, for sure, though I have been kind of put off by all the hype surrounding it. Seems funny how mad people were back then when he “went electric” – doesn’t sound like all that much of a change now , looking back.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I read one critic say it was 6 minutes of anger…they wanted Blowin’ In The Wind and Girl From The North Country. I love the live version of this.

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      1. Those pictures were iconic! Sad to hear that news indeed. It seems like every year a few more who were critical to the story- leave us.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. She never seemed to want anything from them either. I know it’s selfish but I’m glad that Mark got the stories that he did or that part of history would die with them. I didn’t realize she was in her 80s.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I was shocked when i saw her age also- but Ringo will turn 80 in July. I keep thinking these folks stay the same age..Klaus just turned 82 a couple weeks ago…. Agree with you on Mark nailing down those stories.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I liked the Stones version of this on there Stripped album. The thing that the Stones have is that they can take cover tunes and make em their own. I know I said that in my review of the Still Life album but it needs to said again. lol

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes it is… I think it’s about Edie Sedgewick

      .you know anything about Edie Sedgewick? She was in a movie called Ciao Manhattan. It’s out there but good. She was a beautiful girl…completely lost though.

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      1. It’s sad…when she died it was written in the movie….just a sad case….more… used up by Andy.

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  3. “when you look into the vacuum of his eyes, and he says do you want to make a deal” that line still gives me chills. didn’t realize part of the song was about Andy Warhol. The naive and the innocent are easily chewed up and spit out. i’m surprised Bob would be so vengeful against someone being exploited. Maybe she wasn’t that innocent?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The song is pure venom…I mean that in the best way.

      Edie Sedgewick is who I’ve read it was about…She was a beautiful lady…lost on drugs at the end. She stars in a movie at the end of her life…she died during filming and that is the way they ended the movie…her dying.

      Liked by 1 person

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