Like a Rolling Stone

Highly Appreciated


“Like a Rolling Stone”  is a 1965 song by the American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.  Its confrontational lyrics originated in an extended piece of verse Dylan wrote in June 1965, when he returned exhausted from a grueling tour of England.  During a difficult two-day pre-production, a breakthrough was made when it was tried in a rock music format, and rookie session musician Al Kooper improvised the organ riff for which the track is known.  It was only when a month later a copy was leaked to a new popular music club and heard by influential DJs that the song was put out as a single and became a worldwide hit.  In 2004 and again in 2011, Rolling Stone placed the song at number one on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.  At an auction in 2014, Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to the song fetched $2 million, a world record for a popular music manuscript.  (More from Wikipedia)


Reading between the lines, many of the songs on Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 were apparently chosen by what had hit the Top 100 at some point during that time period; that would explain the presence of the strangest of the songs, the closing track “It’s-a-Happening” by the Magic Mushrooms, which remarkably made it to something like #94 for a week.  Even more intriguing to me were the songs that hadn’t hit the Top 100 at all.  One immediate fave was “A Public Execution” by a Texas band called Mouse and the Traps (the song was officially issued under the name Mouse), doing something that I didn’t think would ever happen:  someone else creating music along the lines of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and Highway 61 Revisited.
(January 2011)
*       *       *
When I first realized that I was a record collector – which happened while I was still in high school, maybe even junior high – I had many “dreams” of what I wanted to accomplish.  I was an instant Bob Dylan fan from the first time I heard Like a Rolling Stone, so naturally, I wanted to get all of the Dylan albums, and I started ordering those albums from Columbia Record Club soon thereafter.  That sounded easy enough to do back in the 1960’s; but as it turned out, Dylan’s first album came out a full 50 years ago, and he has been releasing albums continuously over that period.  I am probably still missing several of them, because I started to get careless about keeping up sometime in the 1980’s; however, I have really been enjoying his recent releases, from Time out of Mind on.  
One last Bob Dylan story, and then I’ll move on:  I was walking through a big record show (I think it was one in San Francisco that featured many non-record items also – one item that I remember is a wrapper for Beatles bumble gum that was all ripped up and priced at $20).  I saw a copy of Highway 61 Revisited – the album that has Like a Rolling Stone on it – and I could not for the life of me tell any difference between that album and the one that I own.  I then turned to the vendor and said, “Okay, I give up; why is this album worth $125?”  It turns out that some copies of the album have an alternate take of “From a Buick 6”; the only way to tell is to look for a “-1” at the end of the number that is printed on the vinyl disc itself.  
 (April 2012)
*       *       *
Al Kooper moved to Greenwich Village in 1965 and became part of the backing band for Bob Dylan, along with ace guitarist Mike Bloomfield.  That’s Kooper playing the signature Hammond Organ riffs on Dylan’s monster hit Like a Rolling Stone (and other songs on Highway 61 Revisited); the story is that the people in the studio were trying to put his organ in the background, but that it was Dylan himself who brought it out to the front of the mix. 
(September 2012)
*       *       *

I was born a couple of years later than Greg Shaw, so I turned 14 in 1965.  By then, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were old news; and while I was still paying attention, what was really grabbing me at the time were American artists and bands.  First and foremost was Like a Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan; that song – plus the flip side “Gates of Eden” that was nearly as long and every bit as good – captivated me in a way that I just couldn’t keep quiet about.  Other great folk-rock sounds of that period included the release of the cover of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” by the Byrds and the revamped The Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel.  Bob Dylan himself preferred the Byrds’ cover to his own recording of “Mr. Tambourine Man; but in my usual contrarian way, I preferred Dylan’s original – it was a lot longer for one thing. 


These songs were followed closely by the glorious sounds of garage rock and psychedelic rock that were then in their infancy.  Songs like “Pushin’ Too Hard” by the Seeds, “We Ain’t Got Nothin’ Yet” by Blues Magoos, and I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) by the Electric Prunes really made an impression on me.  It wasn’t until I picked up the Nuggets collection and then the numerous Pebbles albums that I plumbed the depths of this scene, but it was by no means brand new to me either. 

(May 2013)
*       *       *

The Mixed Up Confusion single was released on December 14, 1962 – a full 5 months before Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released – but was almost immediately pulled from the market.  Though not electric in the same way as, say, Like a Rolling StoneMixed Up Confusion is rock and roll all the way.  Had this song been given any exposure at all, the folk-rock movement could have been started years earlier. 


(June 2013/2)


*       *       *


Besides the Rolling StonesRolling Stone magazine is also named after Rollin’ Stone, as is Bob Dylan’s signature song, Like a Rolling Stone.  


(March 2014/1)


*       *       *


The title song on Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – the album which includes Dylan’s signature song Like a Rolling Stone – includes a novel take on the Biblical story of Abraham, when God told him to kill his newborn, long-promised son Isaac.   


(August 2014)


*       *       *


But suppose Peter, Paul and Mary hadn’t had the same manager as Bob Dylan, or that they hadn’t liked Blowin’ in the Wind?  Or suppose it hadn’t been a hit?  Bob Dylan is an unquestioned songwriting genius, but his singing style is an acquired taste – if Dylan had to depend on his own recordings, the world might have already moved on by the time Like a Rolling Stone came out more than two years later. 


You think I’m kidding?  You think Bob Dylan is such a huge talent that he would have been a success no matter what?  Consider the case of Mimi and Richard Fariña


(March 2015)


*       *       *


The first cut on John Birch Society Blues, “Mixed Up Confusion” was my introduction to Bob Dylan’s very first 45, as I have written about previously.  With Dylan backed by an electric band, the song dates from November 1962 and was released on December 14, 1962 – 6 months before Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan came out, and fully 2½ years before the electric Dylan hit with full force on “Like a Rolling Stone” – but it was almost immediately pulled from the market and is now a great rarity.  The flip side of this single, and the only song that I recognized on John Birch Society Blues was “Corrina, Corrina”; an alternative take of the song was included on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but I had heard the song previously before I heard it there, by somebody somewhere.  Wikipedia lists so many recorded versions of “Corrina, Corrina” that I have no idea which one it was; probably it was the Ray Peterson recording of “Corrina, Corrina” in 1960 that made it to #9 on Billboard Hot 100
(September 2017)
Last edited: March 22, 2021