Meaning of Like A Rolling Stone By Bob Dylan

“Rolling Stone is the best song I’ve ever written,” said Bob Dylan in 1966. Many years later, readers of the almost eponymous magazine (by the way, named after the composition of Muddy Waters, not this track) agreed with the author and recognized it as the greatest musical track of all time.

You can argue as much as you like about the objectivity of their choice, but it cannot be denied that the creation of the great songwriter had a tremendous impact on the development of rock and roll.

The history of the creation of the song Like a Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan began writing the song at the end of a UK tour in 1965. At that point, he was so disappointed with the way his career was developing that he was ready to quit music:

…I was about to finish singing. I was exhausted and the way things unfolded was a very dreary situation… But Like a Rolling Stone changed everything. I mean, she was something that got me excited. It’s very tiring when other people tell you how they admire you if you don’t get excited about yourself.

Playboy, 1966

According to his recollections, at first they were just outlines of a long poem.

He composed them while at the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington DC:

It took ten pages. It had no title, just a rhythmic thing on paper, telling about my unshakable, sincere hatred for a certain issue. But in the end it was no longer hatred, but telling someone about something they didn’t know, telling them how lucky they were. “Vengeance” is a better word. I didn’t see it as a song at first, until one day I was sitting at the piano and singing “How does it feel?” at a slow pace, at a very slow pace.

Saturday Evening Post, 1966

Dylan completed work on the lyrics of the song Like a Rolling Stone at home. In the final version, four verses and a chorus remained from the multi-page stream of consciousness set out on several sheets.

Record Like a Rolling Stone

The song was recorded in June 1965 with several session musicians including guitarist Mike Bloomfield and Al Cooper. Tom Wilson is the producer. Dylan immediately warned that he didn’t want the B.B. King-esque blues, which initially put them in a difficult position.

Additional difficulties arose due to the lack of musical sheets. As Cooper later recalled:

… it was completely recorded by ear. And it was totally spontaneous, totally punk. She just happened.

They tried to play Rolling Stone in different styles, but it didn’t work out. The real breakthrough came when they tried to perform it in the style of rock music. After that, it became clear in which direction to move. Soon the song was ready.

Single release

But the result did not impress the bosses of the Columbia Records label, which recorded the Highway 61 Revisited album. They were embarrassed by the six-minute duration of the song and the very unusual vocals and sound. But they had to change their minds after company employee Sean Considine took the tape to the Arthur disco, where many celebrities and influential people from the media rested. The track made a splash among the public. It was played over and over until the tape broke.

The next day, radio stations flooded the Columbia office with requests for copies of the song. The further fate of Like a Rolling Stone was predetermined. On July 20, 1965, the composition was released as a single with Gates of Eden on the back. She climbed to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, failing to top Help! The Beatles and peaked at number four on the UK Singles Chart.

Meaning of Like a Rolling Stone

The name of the composition is taken from the proverb “a rolling stone gathers no moss” (literally, “a rolling stone does not grow with moss”). Its analogue in Russian can be considered the expression “whoever does not sit still, he will not make good.” Bob probably got the idea for the phrase from Hank Williams’ Lost Highway, which has the line “I’m a rolling stone, I’m alone and lost”.

The popular songs of the 1960s, as they are now, were devoted to love. Dylan made his way to the top of the charts with a composition that does not have the slightest hint of tender feelings. In Like a Rolling Stone, he refers to a girl who went from haughty, wealthy socialite to street beggar.

The author seems to have mixed feelings about her. At first it looks like he’s just being sarcastic. Then it becomes clear that he pities her. And later there is a feeling that he even envies her, because getting rid of property and ties in society makes her truly free. Now she can go through life like a tumbleweed that follows the wind across the steppe.

An interesting explanation of the main idea of ​​the song was given by writer Robert Shelton:

Rolling Stone about the loss of naivety and the harshness of life experience. Myths, pillars and old beliefs disappear, exposing a very complex reality.

At a press conference at the KQED television studio in December 1965, a journalist remarked that Dylan had been too hard on the girl in the song. He also asked if the author wished to change the lives of such people or point out their mistakes. Bob replied that he just wanted to prick them.

Who is the song Like a Rolling Stone about?

Naturally, in the characters of the composition, the audience saw hints of real people from among Dylan’s acquaintances. According to the legendary Andy Warhol, he was often told that a diplomat with a Siamese cat was a clear allusion to him. In the main character, many saw the actress and model Edie Sedgwick, who was in love with Bob and became depressed after he married Sara Lowndes. Marianne Faithfull and Joan Baez were also named as possible prototypes.

However, most of the musician’s biographers agree that Like a Rolling Stone was not dedicated to a specific person. According to Howard Sounes, in the song the author refers to everyone whom he considered false (“phony”). And Mike Marchisi suggested that in some lines Dylan means himself.

Influence and achievements

David Fricke of Rolling Stone marked Like a Rolling Stone’s place in modern music history with the following words:

No other popular song has so strongly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic traditions of its day—at all times.

The previously unheard-of combination of elements from different genres, the sharp vocals of young Dylan, harsh and sometimes even cynical lyrics – all this amazed the listeners and gave a powerful impetus to a new era of rock and roll. Paul McCartney, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen and other well-known singers have acknowledged the huge impact of the track on their work.

The song is included in various ratings of the greatest tracks. We list the most authoritative lists:

  • 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone) – 1st
  • 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)
  • 100 Greatest Rock Songs (VH1) – 4th
  • 200 Greatest Songs of the Sixties (Pitchfork Media) – 4th
  • 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (Mojo) – 1st
  • Readers of Uncut and Mojo magazines recognized it as the best song of Bob Dylan.

Cover versions of Like a Rolling Stone were performed by The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and many other famous musicians.

Clip Like a Rolling Stone

Let’s watch the music video for the song, recorded on Late night with David Letterman. Admittedly, Bob Dylan did not shine at that performance))).

In 2013, Interlude released a fun, interactive music video for the song, in which you can change channels to watch different characters supposedly perform the song. Next is an excerpt.

Interesting Facts

  • For Self Portrait, Dylan recorded a new version of Like a Rolling Stone.
  • In June 2014, four sheets of paper with handwritten outlines of the song went up for auction at Sotheby’s for more than two million dollars. The previous record for this kind of lot was $1.2 million, which the buyer paid for John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to A Day in the Life.

Lyrics of the song Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan

Once upon a time, you dressed so fine,
Threw the bums a dime, in your prime, didn’t you?
People call, say “Beware, doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about everybody that was hangin’ out,
But now you don’t talk so loud, Now you don’t seem so proud,
About havin’ to be scroungin’ your next meal

How does it feel? How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
A complete unknown
Like a rollin’ stone

You’ve gone to the finest schools, alright, Miss Lonely,
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
You never had to live out on the street,
But now you’re gonna have to get used to it
You said you’d never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He’s not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

You never turned around to see the frowns
On the jugglers and the clowns when they all did tricks for you.
Never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulders a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal

Song Quotes

“I wrote it. I didn’t screw up. She was honest.”

Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones

It seems that such songs are written by a certain spirit. He gives you a song and leaves. You don’t know what that means. Except that the spirit chose me to write the song.

Bob Dylan, 2004 interview with Robert Hilburn

We have overcome innate modesty. If he [Bob Dylan] wrote Like a Beatles, we probably did it right away. We’ve been playing this song ever since Bob introduced it. We have always preferred her in the dressing room and during setup. We really know her well. In fact, we just had to muster up the courage to get rid of the feeling that we were leaving on it. We also realized that we took our name from a Muddy Waters album, a Muddy Waters song. All of a sudden, we were no longer embarrassed to play her.

Keith Richards (about their cover)

It seemed to go on and on forever. She was just amazing… He showed us all that it’s possible to go a little further.

Paul McCartney

When I heard Like a Rolling Stone, I wanted to get out of the music business because I felt, “If this wins and does what it’s supposed to do, I don’t have to do anything else…” But she didn’t do anything. It sold, but no one responded to it as they should.

Frank Zappa

It’s shocking to live in a world where Manfred Mann, The Supremes and Engelbert Humperdinck were, and “Like a Rolling Stone” comes out.

Elvis Costello

Add a comment