No. 21: Bob Dylan, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
Released in July of 1965, Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was, in many ways, the dividing line between the past and the future of rock and roll.
The lyrics, the mood, the ramshackle rock and roll sound… it was the way forward. Issued as a single and the lead track on the ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ LP, it ran for a then-unprecedented six minutes.
Dylan and his entourage don’t waste a second of that time, plowing through a field of sound and words to concoct one of the most magical records of all time. Even with its odd shape and size, the record shot to No. 2 in the U.S. charts that summer.
Pre-Dylan, song lyrics were pretty much your standard love and longing, perhaps a bit of life and death, but usually with ground-floor wording. After Dylan’s early efforts sunk into the consciousness of his contemporaries, the field was blown wide open. The Byrds hit big with their take on Dylan’s ‘Mr Tambourine Man,’ and launched the “folk rock” parade. The Turtles, Sonny & Cher, and countless others would follow the path. Dylan himself took things yet another step forward by bringing electric instrumentation into his music in early 1965 with side one of ‘Highway 61”s predecessor, ‘Bringing it All Back Home.’
But with ‘Like A Rolling Stone,’ he would make the ultimate ‘folk rock’ statement, closing one door and opening another at the same time. Poetry was now as much a part of the arsenal for young musicians as the electric guitar. This would inspire more literate writers such as Paul Simon, Lennon/McCartney, Neil Young and so on to up their ante and push the ball forward. And it would also, unavoidably, lead to many pale imitators (Mouse & The Traps aside), spewing out twisted phrases of pseudo-imagery in hopes of earning their poetry badges.
Musically, that crack of the snare drum that sets ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ in motion is the shot heard round the world. Mike Bloomfield’s sharp-as-nails guitar and Al Kooper’s hammond organ give the song mighty wings.
This is rock and roll as it was meant to be: Raw, literate, exciting, challenging and above all, memorable as hell. It can be said that ‘Like A Rolling Stones’ was not only the pinnacle of Dylan’s 50 year, and still going, career, but it may also have been the crowning achievement of the genre.
Never before or since has one single record delivered so much. It embraced the future as fondly as it cherished the past. It was perfectly of it’s time and yet transcends history by creating it’s own universe. Entire books — good ones! — have been written about this song.
We welcome Mr. Dylan and his creation to our list of the Top 100 Classic Rock Songs of All Time. In a perfect world, some of us might say it should sit at the very top. News flash, it ain’t a perfect world, but with records like this around, it’s really not such a bad place to hang out, ya know.
Watch Bob Dylan Perform ‘Like A Rolling Stone’