It was 50 years ago today that one of the truly momentous events in rock history took place when Bob Dylan recorded “Like A Rolling Stone” in New York City at Columbia Records’ Studio A. Within weeks of its release on July 15, 1965, the song became a massive hit, where it nestled on the Billboard charts for several months.
“Like Rolling Stone” was a game changer. It opened the doors for a new kind of music that fused folk with electric rock and brought a kind of sophisticated lyricism to top 40 radio that hadn’t really been heard up until then. The only comparable rock and roll word-slinger was Chuck Berry. To my ears, Berry was Walt Whitman to Dylan’s William Blake. You’re free to pick your own bards.
Dylan in Studio A.
I remember hearing “Like A Rolling Stone” for the first time in the kitchen of my childhood home when I was 14 years old. The memory is as vivid as most of the life-changing moments of my life, which generally revolve around sex, drugs and rock and roll. When the song came on the cheesy plastic radio in our kitchen, time stopped and I was swept up inside some sort of mystical swoon that was mind-expanding and emotionally transformative. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was one of those moments that sent me down Blake’s road of excess where “you never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.” I have yet to to find, on a spiritual or intellectual level, “what is more than enough.” And I hope I don’t. It was Dylan, among a handful of other visionaries, that got me searching.
Here’s Dylan performing “Like A Rolling Stone” at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965. He’s roundly booed by a vocal majority of folk music squares. Others in the crowd, were quite aware, however, that they were watching the future of rock and roll.