Certain Songs #77: Bob Dylan – “Like A Rolling Stone”


Album: Highway 61 Revisited.

Year: 1965.

I almost didn’t write anything about “Like A Rolling Stone,” not because it isn’t a song that I love, but I’m not sure I have anything to add to the infinite plethora of words that have already been spilled dissecting it every which way. 

How does it feel?

What can I possibly add? I mean, Greil Marcus wrote an entire fucking book about it, and I’m guessing that – unless it takes you unawares (and “Like a Rolling Stone” is pretty fucking great at taking you unawares) – you roll your eyes when it comes on the radio cos you know it so well.

How does it it feel?

I mean, as well as you’re ever going to know an eternal mystery such as “Like a Rolling Stone." So for me: three quick glimpses into that eternal mystery.

To be on your own?

First off: the absolute lushness of the original version, making all of the groundbreaking rock songs from Bringing It All Back Home seem like sketches, with Al Koopers organ vamps, Mike Bloomfield’s subtle leads and Bobby Gregg’s builds at the end of each verse, it pretty much makes everything else recorded that year seem two-dimensional.

With no direction home?

Next off: the version from the Manchester 1966 concert where – pissed (or pretending to be pissed) at being called "Judas!” – he instructs The Hawks to “PLAY FUCKING LOUD!!!”  And with that, they all crash together on the song’s majestic beginning, and Dylan just spits out the lyrics, singing not from his head, but right from his everlovinmutherfucking heart. I think it’s, arguably, the most intense rock and roll performance ever. 

Like a complete unknown

Finally, there’s the version in 1974’s Before The Flood. The Hawks are now The Band, and it’s a document of the biggest tour ever. No boos, only adulation. It’s also the version that Martin Scorcese got me to love. I’ve only ever seen Scorcese’s "Life Lessons" segment in 1989’s omnibus film New York Stories once or twice, but the scene where Nick Nolte paints furiously to this steamrolling version is forever etched in my brain. Prior to seeing it, I was lukewarm on Before The Flood afterwards, I was all in.

Like a rolling stone?

Official video for “Like a Rolling Stone”

My Certain Songs Spotify Playlist:

Every “Certain Song” Ever

Comments are closed.