Culture Re-View: Bob Dylan records an all-time classic

On the cusp of a musical transformation - Bob Dylan in 1965
On the cusp of a musical transformation - Bob Dylan in 1965 Copyright Val Wilmer/Redferns
By Saskia O'Donoghue
Share this article
Share this articleClose Button

On 15 June, 1965, the iconic singer-songwriter laid down the ever-popular track, marking his move from folk star to rock star


‘Like A Rolling Stone’ may seem as fresh as ever but, in fact, the Bob Dylan classic was recorded 58 years ago today.

The hit song, recorded on 15 June, 1965, is hailed as one of the best of all time, topping Rolling Stone magazine's ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ lists in 2004 and 2010 and spawning countless covers.

The recording session took place at Columbia Records in New York City between 15 and 16 June and the result was one of the most unconventional chart hits of the time.

Its lyrics - including the directness of the question “How does it feel?” - have been interpreted as expressions of resentment rather than love and were written by Dylan earlier in June, following a gruelling tour of England.

‘Rolling Stone’ marked Dylan’s transformation from an artist focused purely on folk to a bonafide rock star - but not everybody appreciated the change.

His label Columbia almost cancelled the release of the track, recorded as part of the ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ album, due to the “raucous” sound, “confrontational” lyrics - and its length.

At over 6 minutes long, the success of the song was influential in changing the music business’ long-understood convention on the length of singles, which dictated that they were to be less than three minutes in length.

Regardless of concerns surrounding the unusual record, a month after its recording a copy was leaked to influential DJs via a popular club and the song was put out as a single.

While some radio stations were reluctant to play such a long track, Dylan’s masterpiece reached number 2 in the US Billboard charts - his highest charting position until 2020. In that year ‘Murder Most Foul’ scored the singer-songwriter his first ever number one song on a pop chart under his own name - and became an instant worldwide hit.

Still got it - Bob Dylan playing in London's Hyde Park in 2019Getty

Writing about the track in 2004, Rolling Stone magazine lauded it thus: "No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time".

The title of ‘Like A Rolling Stone’, which has long been rumoured to be about the late model and former debutante Edie Sedgwick who was Andy Warhol’s muse, was inspired by Hank Williams' 1948 song ‘Lost Highway’ which contains the line “I'm a rolling stone, I'm alone and lost”.

While the success of Dylan’s track transformed him into a rock star, many of his fans and peers were not thrilled.

Folk Star - Dylan performs with Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963AP

Folk off

By 1965, when ‘Rolling Stone’ came to fruition, Dylan was the leading songwriter of the American folk music revival and his dedication to the genre led to the media labelling him as the "spokesman of a generation".

In July of that year, he performed his first electric concert at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and ‘Rolling Stone’ was booed by some of the audience, with members of the folk movement criticising the artist for moving away from his famed political songwriting and going ‘mainstream’.

This disapproval - known as the ‘Electric Dylan controversy’ - carried on as Dylan continued to perform with an electric band.

In 1966, during a tour performance in Manchester, a crowd member famously shouted “Judas!” at the performer while others in the audience greeted his new sound with derisiveness.

Today, Bob Dylan is known for his ability to drift through numerous musical styles and ‘Rolling Stone’ has long been considered as a pivotal moment in the development of folk rock.

Slaven Vlasic/2014 Getty Images
The hand written lyrics to 'Like A Rolling Stone' at an auction previewSlaven Vlasic/2014 Getty Images

Despite any controversy over the track, it still remains one of the most influential compositions of the 20th century. That fact was cemented in 2014, when a copy of Dylan's handwritten lyrics to the song fetched some $2 million (approximately €1.85 million) at auction - creating a world record for a popular music manuscript.

Share this article

You might also like