Like a Rolling Stone

Like a Rolling Stone

Infobox Single
Name = Like a Rolling Stone

Artist = Bob Dylan
from Album = Highway 61 Revisited
B-side = "Gates of Eden"
Released = July 20, 1965
Format = 7" single
Recorded = June 15, 1965
Composed by = Bob Dylan
Genre = Rock
Length = 6:09
Label = Columbia
Producer = Tom Wilson
Artist = Bob Dylan
Last single = "Maggie's Farm"
This single = "Like a Rolling Stone"
Next single = "Positively 4th Street"
Misc = Extra tracklisting
Album = Highway 61 Revisited
Type = studio
this_track = "Like a Rolling Stone"
track_no = 1
next_track = "Tombstone Blues"
next_no = 2

"Like a Rolling Stone" is a song by American songwriter Bob Dylan. One of his best-known and most influential works, it had its origin as a short story Dylan had written before developing it as a song and recording it in 1965.

The track was released as a single in July 1965, and also appeared on Dylan's album "Highway 61 Revisited". At over six minutes in length, it was only tentatively played in its entirety on the radio, yet it managed to reach #2 on the charts. It received criticism by Dylan fans for its harder rock sound, a noticeable difference from the artist's earlier folk music. This dramatic change in style was particularly apparent when the song was performed live; it was at one of these events that "Judas" was yelled by a crowd member.

The song dramatically affected the music world and popular culture, as well as Dylan's image and iconic status. It has been covered by a number of artists, including a notable version by Jimi Hendrix. "Rolling Stone" magazine ranked it the greatest song of all time. In his 1988 speech inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bruce Springsteen recalled, "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".cite web|url=,8599,1197784,00.html|title=Bob Dylan at 65|last=Corliss|first=Richard|date=24 May 2006|publisher=TIME|accessdate=2008-05-12]


The basis of "Like a Rolling Stone" was a twenty-page story written by Dylan. It was, according to him, "just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred, directed at some point that was honest." From the story, Dylan wrote four verses and one chorus in Woodstock, New York. [Shelton (1986), p.319–320] The song was written on an upright piano in the key of G sharp; it was changed to C on the guitar while recording.Creswell (2006), p.534] The song was originally written in 3/4 (waltz) time, and with a length of 1:36, was much shorter than the released 4/4 version.Heylin (2003), p.203] The song was recorded by Dylan on June 15, 1965, and concluded the next day.cite web|url=|title=The Hit We Almost Missed|last=Considine|first=Shaune|date=3 Dec 2004|publisher=New York Times|accessdate=2008-05-02] The recording took place in Studio A of Columbia Records in New York City and was produced by Tom Wilson.Marcus (2006), p.203] cite web|url=|title=Greil Marcus on Recording 'Like A Rolling Stone'|date=11 April 2005|publisher=NPR|accessdate=2008-05-02]

The musicians included Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Al Kooper on organ, Paul Griffin on piano, Josef Mack on bass, and Bobby Gregg on drums. Kooper, a teenage guitarist at that time, was originally not supposed to play at all, but was a guest of Tom Wilson.Marcus (2006), p.104] However, as Wilson was not present at the time, Kooper sat down with his guitar with the other musicians. By the time Wilson returned, Kooper was away in the control room. Wilson moved Griffin from hammond organ to piano. Kooper then went to Wilson, saying that he had a good part for the organ. Wilson belittled Kooper's organ abilities but, as Kooper later said, "He just sort of scoffed at me....He didn't say "no"—so I went out there." Wilson agreed when he saw Kooper on the organ.Marcus (2006), p.110–111]

On the first day of recording, five takes of the song were done; however, the song was never completed in its entirety. There was no sheet music and the recording was utter chaos. Instead, the song was played by ear; its essence was found as it went along. In its fourth take, the chorus was reached . This take would appear on "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991" in 1991 and in James Marshs's film "Highway 61 Revisited". During this take, Dylan reached the chorus and played a harmonica, after which he interrupts the take. Marcus (2006), p.203–210]

On the second day of recording, two rehearsal takes and fifteen takes were completed. The fourth take was the master take, which would later appear on the "Highway 61 Revisited" album. After this take was completed, Wilson said happily, "That sounds good to me."Marcus (2006), p.211–225]

Release and live performances

"Like a Rolling Stone" was released as a 45 rpm single on July 20, 1965.cite web |url=|title=Exploring the Unmapped Country|last=Jacobs|first=Ron|date=12 Apr 2005|accessdate=2008-05-03] cite web|url=,,1482218,00.html|title=How does it feel?|date=13 May 2005|publisher=Guardian News and Media, Ltd.|accessdate=2008-05-03] The song's six-minute length caused Columbia Records to reject its release as a single. Bob Johnston, Dylan's new producer, released the song anyway. Despite its length, it became Dylan's biggest hit at that time,Gill (1998), p.82–83] remaining in the U.S. charts for twelve weeks and reaching #2, behind The Beatles' song "Help!".cite web|url=|title=Help!|date=09 Dec 2004|publisher=Rolling Stone|accessdate=2008-05-03] When released, the first two verses and two refrains were put on one side of the vinyl, while the rest of the song was put on the other side. That way, a DJ who wanted to play the whole song could simply flip the vinyl over.Marcus (2006), p.3]

Dylan first performed the song live at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965.cite web|url=|title=Bob Dylan - Like A Rolling Stone|publisher=IPC Media|accessdate=2008-05-03] The audience denounced Dylan for his use of electric guitars; they felt that it marked his entry into the world of, as Bloomfield puts it, "greasers, heads, dancers, people who got drunk and boogied." Dylan stumbled through the song, and it fell back to a 3/4 waltz by the end of the performance.

On May 17, 1966, Dylan and his band performed the song at Manchester Free Trade Hall. Before performing "Like A Rolling Stone", a member of the crowd infamously yelled "Judas!" at Dylan, symbolizing how Dylan "betrayed" the purists by using electric instruments. Dylan responded: "I don't believe you. You're a liar"! [Howard Sounes. "Down the Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan". Doubleday 2001. p256. ISBN 0-552-99929-6] He then told his band to: "play it fucking loud". "Highway 61 Revisited" was issued at the end of August, and when Dylan went on tour that fall, "Like a Rolling Stone" took the closing slot on his playlist and held it, with rare exceptions, through the end of his 1966 "world tour," as well as during his return to touring in 1974 with The Band.

In addition to its inclusion on "Highway 61 Revisited", the standard studio recording of the song can be found on four other official albums: "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits",cite web|url=|title=Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits|publisher=Columbia Records|accessdate=2008-05-26] "Biograph",cite web|url=|title=Bob Dylan: Biograph|publisher=Columbia Records|accessdate=2008-05-18] "The Essential Bob Dylan",cite web|url=|title=Bob Dylan: Like a Rolling Stone|publisher=Columbia Records|accessdate=2008-05-18] and "Dylan".cite web|url=|title=Dylan: The Album|publisher=Columbia Records|accessdate=2008-05-18] An early, incomplete studio recording was included on "The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961-1991". The following albums feature live performances of the song: "Self Portrait", "Before the Flood", "Bob Dylan at Budokan", "MTV Unplugged", ', ',cite web|url=|title=The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7: No Direction Home|publisher=MTV Studios|accessdate=2008-05-25] and The Band's "Rock of Ages".cite web|url=|title=The Band: Rock of Ages|date=21 October 1972|publisher="Rolling Stone"|accessdate=2008-05-25]

Biographical Reading

Though the song's lyrics do not clearly identify the subject, one common school of thought centers on Edie Sedgwick, an actress and model. Sedgwick is often identified as a figure in other Dylan songs of the time, particularly "Just Like a Woman" from "Blonde on Blonde". However, Dylan is believed to have begun an association with Sedgwick in the autumn of 1965, after "Like a Rolling Stone" was recorded,Gill (1998), p.103] while other sources claim that the meeting was in December of 1964.cite web|url=|title=No Direction Home|publisher=BBC|date=20 June 2007|accessdate=2008-06-07] Joan Baez has also been considered a possible target of Dylan's words.

Mike Marqusee has written at length on the conflicts in Dylan's life during this time, with its deepening alienation from his old folk-revival audience and clear-cut leftist causes. He suggests that the song is probably self-referential. Thus, "The song only attains full poignancy when one realises it is sung, at least in part, to the singer himself: he's the one 'with no direction home.'" [Marqusee (2003), p.157]

Cover versions

Many artists have covered "Like a Rolling Stone"; notable covers include versions by Johnny Thunders,cite web|url=|title=Jungle Records - Johnny Thunders - Born Too Loose|publisher=Jungle Records|accessdate=2008-05-02] The Four Seasons,cite web|url=|title=The 4 Seasons Sing Big Hits by Burt Bacharach...Hal David...Bob Dylan|publisher=MTV |accessdate=2008-05-02] The Rascals,cite web|url=,,151500,00.html|title=The Rascals: The Young Rascals|publisher=Artistdirect, Inc.|accessdate=2008-05-02] Cher,cite web|url=|title=Cher | Lyrics | Like a Rolling Stone |publisher=MTV Networks|accessdate=2008-05-02] Judy Collins,cite web|url=,,191566,00.html|title=Judy Collins: Judy Sings Dylan...Like A Woman||accessdate=2008-05-02] The Rolling Stones,cite web|url=|title=Stripped (CD) By the Rolling Stones|, Inc.|accessdate=2008-05-02] Anberlin,cite web|url=|title=Listen to Bob Dylan: A Tribute Album overview|publisher=Allmusic|accessdate=2008-08-13] and Jimi Hendrix, who played a version live at the Monterey Pop Festival. Hendrix was an avid fan of Bob Dylan, and especially liked "Like a Rolling Stone." "It made me feel that I wasn't the only one who'd ever felt so low..." Hendrix said.Lawrence (2005), p.32] After the first verse, Hendrix skipped to the fourth. Hendrix played his version with an electric guitar, and is described thus:

The song has also been covered in various languages. Lars Winnerbäck did a performance of the song in Swedish titled "Som en hemlös själ", literally "Like a Homeless Soul".cite web|url=|title=Coversongs|last=Bjorner|first=Olof|accessdate=2008-05-04] Articolo 31 covered an Italian version titled "Come una Pietra Scalciata",cite web|url=|title=Come Una Pietra Scalciata|publisher=Yahoo!, Inc.|accessdate=2008-05-04] which is in fact a cover version of the 1993 cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" by the Mystery Tramps. A hip-hop song, Articolo 31's version contains overdubs of a confused girl's voice and a rap. This version contains only three of the verses and is only four and a half minutes long. Marcus (2005), p.81–82]


The song has influenced popular culture and pop music across the U.S. The success of the single, followed by other successful Dylan singles and covers, made Dylan a pop icon, in addition to his status as a folk singer.

Many aspects of the song influenced the music which followed. Dylan's raw voice, which is compared to Muddy Waters',Marsh (1999), p.9] displays the "personal accusation" of the song. Kooper's "apocalyptic charge" on the organ accompanied with Dylan's singing "keep [the song] from being just another icy hipster bitch session...." Dylan's voice has an edge that nears "heartbreak".

The six-minute length, considered too long to be put on a single at the time, has also influenced music. It gave more opportunities for future songs to be singles, without the time constraint that was previously an issue. The length of "Like a Rolling Stone" also challenged radio airings. The song, though it was not always flipped to the B-side for the second half, still challenged the average three-minute length of songs that aired on the radio.Marcus (2005), p.145]

In 2004, "Rolling Stone" magazine declared "Like a Rolling Stone" the greatest song of all time, declaring, "No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time."cite web|url=|title=Like A Rolling Stone: Greatest Song of All Time|date=09 Dec 2004|publisher=Rolling Stone|accessdate=2008-05-03] When asked about the accolade in his 2004 interview with Ed Bradley on "60 Minutes," Dylan was bemused, saying he never paid attention to such polls, as they changed frequently. [cite episode
title = Dylan Looks Back|series = 60 Minutes|serieslink = 60 Minutes|airdate = 2004-12-05

Serbian rock musician, journalist and writer Dejan Cukić wrote about "Like A Rolling Stone" as one of the forty-six songs that changed history of popular music in his 2007 book "".

On June 23, 2008, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts quoted a line from the song in his dissenting opinion in "Sprint Communications Co. L.P. v. APCC Svcs. Inc." Roberts quoted the line as "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose", as it appears in some sources, including Dylan's official website, though on "Highway 61 Revisited" it is sung, "When you "ain't" got nothing..." [ [ "Sprint Communications Co. L.P. v. APCC Svcs. Inc.", 554 U.S. ___, slip op. at 4 (Roberts, C.J. dissenting)(2008)] ] [ [ "The Chief Justice, Dylan and the Disappearing Double Negative"] ]




External links

* [ Poetic Accident: Recording 'Like a Rolling Stone'] , from (National Public Radio) - includes link to full version of song.
* [ Lyrics] , from
* [ Audio sample] , from
* [ Vocal performance and speech intonation] by Michael Daley, York University, Toronto
* [ List of cover versions] (aspiring to completeness)
* [ List of recorded covers] (more limited scope)
* [ Analysis of the recording] , from

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