July 31, 2021

Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan’s song of hate and revenge

It is a new anniversary of the release of one of the great rock songs, Like A Rolling Stone, by Bob Dylan.

On July 20, 1965, the Columbia label put on sale with many doubts the single that ended up becoming the artist’s greatest commercial success; a decisive composition for Bob Dylan’s career that went from folk to rock and caused a schism among his followers.

It was twelve weeks in the second position of sales, behind Help!by The Beatles. A song that decisively influenced the world of rock and covered by musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Mick Ronson with David Bowie, Johnny Winter, Green Day, Johnny Thunders, Sixto Rodríguez and Jeff Beck & Seal, among others.

Bob Dylan, in the days of “Like a Rolling Stone”. His record company was suspicious of the subject, AP Photo

“That shot sounded like someone kicked the door open to your mind,” he said. Bruce Springsteen, when he introduced Dylan at his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Although he had already recorded songs with electric guitar, such as Subterranean Homesick Blues, which had been playing on the radio since the end of March, their concerts were something else. Accompanied only by acoustic guitar and harmonica, Dylan was an essentially protest singer with themes like The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll O The Times The Are-A Changin’. With Like A Rolling Stone, included in his album Highway 61 Revisited, began its electrical stage which added it to the rock movement.

How lyrics and music were created

Upon his return from a tour of England in 1965, Dylan had material for his next album. Highway 61 Revisited; some lyrics were just sketches, but within that handful of lyrics, there was a ten-page one that the artist felt was more of a poem than a song.

“I wrote it as soon as I got back from England, rather I vomited it up, in ten pages I concentrated all the hatred that I had accumulated and with which I could not live any longer. Once I wrote it, that hate that thirst for revenge disappeared. I didn’t see the poem as a song until one day, sitting at the piano, I began to sing “How Does It Feel? (How does it feel?) And that’s where the melody started to come, ”Dylan said.

Determined to turn the poem into a song, Dylan entered the Columbia studio in New York on June 15, 1965 with Tom Wilson as producer, the excellent Chicago guitarist Mike Bloomfield (1943-1981), who bought a Fender Telecaster to those sessions, Paul Griffin on piano, Joseph Macho on bass and Bobby Gregg on drums.

With the electric guitar.  For stripping off the acoustics, they came to yell at him "Judas".  AFP photo

With the electric guitar. For stripping off the acoustics, they even yelled “Judas” at him. AFP photo

Bloomfield recalled that that session had been quite disorganized and that a few topics had passed. “We did several takes of It Takes A Lot Of To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (that ended up calling Phantom Engineer) and later Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence, but there were none left and we started with Like A Rolling Stone. Dylan showed us a slow and rough version of the song, we did a few takes (there were five) and it all ended there, just when we started to understand the song ”.

The next day, Wednesday June 16, Dylan returned to the studio with more ideas on what to sound like. The guitarist Al Kooper he had joined the group at the invitation of the producer.

“I got there earlier, took out my guitar, plugged it in and started playing a bit until Bloomfield came along and he started playing in an incredible way, I had never heard anyone like that. So, I put my guitar away and went to the control booth. When Wilson asked Griffin to drop the Hammond and switch to the piano, I volunteered to play it, but he didn’t take me seriously. Anyway, in an oversight I went in and started playing with the group. You can hear that the organ always comes in a little later because I expected them to make the chord and then play it, I’m always a little behind to make sure I had to play, “said Al Kooper, who introduced a sound that made the song easily recognizable.

Bon Dylan.  Speculation about who he wrote to "Like a Rolling Stone" they were several.

Bon Dylan. Speculations about who he wrote “Like a Rolling Stone” to were several.

When Dylan listened to the master, he asked that the sound of the organ be later, since it had been relegated by the volume of the band and thus it was finally Like A Rolling Stone after twenty takes in which they accentuated that electric spirit that added to the cynical tone with which Dylan sings became the best rock song in history, according to the magazine’s survey Rolling Stone.

Beyond the validity of these polls, the song is a excellent combination of energy, freshness and creativity. Music, lyrics and that new electric sound between raw and produced, was received with the open arms of a huge audience that was beginning to listen to an important voice within the movement.

A song that exudes poison

Now, a fundamental part of Like A Rolling Stone it’s in the lyrics, in which Dylan distills a certain poison, open hostility and some compassion, at least, in that chorus beginning, in which he sings It feels?.

The original manuscript of "Like a Rolling Stone"by Bob Dylan was auctioned for $ 2 million.

The original manuscript of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” was auctioned for $ 2 million.

The story of which the lyrics speak has Miss Lonely as the protagonist, who after a life of luxury and opulence falls into disgrace. “Once upon a time you dressed so well / You threw pennies at homeless people in your prime / Now you don’t speak so loud / Now you don’t seem so proud. How does it feel? / Being homeless / like a complete stranger / like a stone rolling”.

This hard X-ray of a woman who loses her position and it is exposed almost to the ridiculous has as its counterpart a look in which the loss can be seen as liberating. Some of that seems to suggest Dylan himself. In effect, he says: “When you have nothing / you have nothing to lose / You are invisible now / You have no secrets to hide.”

In December 1965, in a television interview, a journalist asked Dylan. “You are hard on the people in your songs. Why do you want to torment them? To which the singer replied: “To change their lives and make them know themselves.”

However, Who was Miss Lonely? There were never certainties about this mystery. There was talk that the contempt so evident in the song could be directed towards Marianne Faithfull or even Joan Baez, but those who toured New York believed that it had been inspired by the actress Edie Sedgwick (who had been with Dylan) and her close relationship with Andy Warhol (who would be the diplomat of the chrome horse, of which the subject speaks).

Bob Dylan, with harmonica, but with a very rock pose.

Bob Dylan, with harmonica, but with a very rock pose.

Even Warhol admitted to having believed that much of all this hostility Like A Rolling Stone it was addressed to him.

Anyway, while Dylan’s historian, Michael Gray, said that Sedgwick was dedicated to Blonde On Blonde, the artist’s biographer, Howard Sounes, noted that should not be reduced to one person the story of that iconic song.

“It seems to me addressed to those whom Dylan perceived as false. It is quite an irony that one of the great songs of the rock era, so associated with peace and love, is one of revenge, “he added.

Mistrust of the seal

Columbia Records intended to locate the simple Like A Rolling Stone with Gate Of Eden on your B-side on the cemetery of delayed releases; the six minutes that the song lasts made them suppose that no station would air it. Big mistake!

But the label’s launch coordinator, Shaun Considine, made a big bet on the issue. He rescued one of the discarded acetates from the recording and took it to the Arthur Club, a trendy nightclub in New York, and asked the DJ to play it. So it was and he discovered that at least in that area the song was a success, danced several times during that night.

Bob Dylan, in River, in April 1998.

Bob Dylan, in River, in April 1998.

The next day, several DJs asked Columbia to send them the album and could no longer prevent its release, which occurred on July 20, 1965, 56 years ago. Despite its duration, the song was a hit on radio stations that played it over and over again, complete.

From folk to rock, with boo

Five days after the release, Bob Dylan performed at the Newport Folk Festival, in Rhode Island, New York. An encounter that brought together the best of North American folk.

Dylan decided to break with his folk past and make an electric set. He was accompanied by Bloomfield, Kooper and the rhythm section of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band (without Paul Butterfield) and introduced Like A Rolling Stone amid widespread disapproval. Critic Paul Nelson said that amid the boos that tried to cover up the music, people yelled at him “get rid of the electric guitar.”

In early August, Dylan returned to the studio and finished his album. Highway 61 Revisited. It was the last meeting with Bloomfield that he preferred to continue in the Butterfield Blues Band.

About him, Dylan told the Rolling Stone in 2009: “He was the best guitarist I ever played with. I still miss him; he had such a soul, he knew all styles and he could play them incredibly well ”. Bloomfield died on February 15, 1981. He was found in his car with the doors closed and an empty vial of Valium; it was labeled accidental death and not suicide, because no note was found. He was 37 years old.

Almost a year after launch, Dylan kept getting rejected for having gone rock. In May 1966, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, shortly before the start of Like A Rolling StoneSomeone in the audience shouted “Judas” at him, for betraying the folk movement. Dylan replied, “I don’t believe you, you’re a liar” and told his band “Let’s play really loud.”

Bob Dylan and guitarist Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones at their historic Like a Rolling Stone concert in River.

Bob Dylan and guitarist Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones at their historic Like a Rolling Stone concert in River.

In 2010, the magazine Rolling Stone elected Like A Rolling Stone What the best song ever And in 2014, Sotheby’s auctioned the original manuscript of the letter for $ 2,000,000, nearly double the original estimate. On April 5, 1998, Bob Dylan performed the song with the Rolling Stones at a concert on River Court.