Although the world is full of songs inspired by stories, few songs can claim to be the remains of one. But Like A Rolling Stone is one that can. Extracted from a short story Dylan wrote, and which he describes as “20 pages of vomit“, the song is about alienation – although whose alienation remains a matter of some debate. (The leading candidates are Edie Sedgwick, Joan Baez and Dylan himself.)
Despite being six minutes long, it was released as a single, and rose to #2 on the American charts, making it Dylan’s biggest hit to that time. (It was beaten out of the top spot by “Help”.) The song marks Dylan’s first use of electric guitar in his music, and thus represents his shift from his folk roots to a more pop sound. Not coincidentally, it also marks the point from which he became a part of the cultural mainstream, albeit remaining an iconoclastic and dissenting part of it.
The song was first performed live by Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Since then, it has been covered by numerous artists, including Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine proclaimed the song, with its characteristic restraint, “the greatest song of all time.”
That Says It All – Duncan Sheik