“Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan
(Words/Music: Bob Dylan, Album: Highway 61 Revisited, Columbia 1965)
Before I begin to discuss Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” I would just like to acknowledge how serendipitous it is that I would be writing about this song on the day that Dennis Hopper, a person who fully embraced the philosophy of being a Rolling Stone, died. Sent a chill up my spine when I heard he died and I knew this was my song for the day.
When Bob Dylan wrote “Like a Rolling Stone,” he was drawing upon an archetype not only in rock ‘n’ roll, but also in the blues, originating as an old blues song by Muddy Waters from which the band and magazine took their names. It would appear in a number of songs such as The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” (“You know he’s never gonna stop movin’/ Cuz he’s the rolling stone”).
The song became the theme song of rock ‘n roll, topping Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004 (and again in 2010). It contains classic and memorable lyrics, and, from the first notes of the organ, the song is recognizable. Not a lot of songs have that instant recognition: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” are a few that come to immediately to mind.
But it almost sounded significantly different.
An up-and-coming session guitarist Al Kooper sat in as on organ because he convinced producer Tom Wilson that he had a good plan for the song (he didn’t) and basically coned his way onto the organ. As the legend goes, when Dylan heard it, he insisted that the organ be turned up and the rest, as they say, is history. Twenty-one year old Al Kooper played one of the most distinctive musical parts on the greatest rock song in history pretty much by accident. And even though Al Kooper would go on to work with numerous bands from the Rolling Stones to Alice Cooper to his formation of Blood, Sweat and Tears, he would never match the fame of being the organist on this Dylan classic.