Highway 61 Revisited is consistently rated as one of the greatest albums of all time. But only one song could have taken the crucial spot of album opener. It had to be one of the greatest songs of all time, “Like a Rolling Stone”.
On May 17th 1966, just a week before his 25th birthday, Bob Dylan closed a concert in Manchester with this song. Just before that thunderous drum hit heralded those huge chords, a dismayed crowd member yelled the immortal word “Judas!” Dylan responded by turning to his band and imploring them to “play it flipping* loud!” And they did.
The sheer shock of this is hard to imagine nowadays: a reluctant voice of a generation married to the folk scene suddenly welcomes the brash and loud sound of rock music, setting a trend for Dylan’s desire to do just whatever he wants.
With a song like this, it’s tempting to mythologise or romanticise it, making the story somehow overshadow the music itself. But what makes it truly legendary is how pretty much everything about it comes together perfectly, from the strong, ascending chord progression to the utterly beautiful Hammond organ riff, which was improvised practically without permission on the day of recording.
These instruments work together exquisitely to provide a perfectly-suited foundation for Dylan’s cryptically poetic lyrics, his quick-fire internal rhymes and his shocking rhetorical question refrain. Featuring some of the most immortal lines in music history (“when you ain’t got nothin’ / you got nothin’ to lose”), Dylan’s masterpiece is both immediately accessible and infinitely dissectible. You can either pore over every line, or just embrace the surface-level and the feelings it evokes. Well, how does it feel?
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