“Like a Rolling Stone” is Bob Dylan at his cynical best. It’s clear that he dislikes the girl (“Miss Lonely”) and what she stands for (“How does it feel?”). Yet he also recognizes that by abandoning her position in society, she can enjoy a freedom she’s never known (“You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal”).
The recording of this song is legendary. Dylan had written a long (10 or 20 pages, accounts differ) story/poem, and he extracted the lyrics to create these four verses. But in the studio, he couldn’t get the sound he wanted. Al Kooper, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the session, sat down at the Hammond organ and improvised the now-famous riff. The session’s producer wanted it removed, but Dylan liked it, and insisted it stay. Then when he performed live at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, he was booed – electric guitars! A rock sound! The folk icon Bob Dylan was dead, long live rock star Bob Dylan.
“Like A Rolling Stone” was the closing track on the legendary album Highway 61 Revisited. Bruce Springsteen described the moment he first heard the song:
The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind … He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock’n’roll for ever and ever “
Rolling Stone anointed “Like a Rolling Stone” as number one in its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.