Steve Kline Ages of Rock
1965: Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan’s most successful popular hit, is reluctantly released by Columbia Records. The flip side is Gates of Eden. The cynical, confrontational, angry and vengeful-sounding Like a Rolling Stone is written after Dylan’s exhausting tour of the U.K. (documented in Don’t Look Back.) In later interviews, Dylan will say he is on the verge of quitting the music business altogether, but Like a Rolling Stone helps change his mind. Lucky for us. Columbia’s reluctance is due to the song’s length and bitter-sounding lyrics. It will hit #1 on the Cashbox chart and become a worldwide mega-hit. It is considered by some to be the greatest and the most influential piece of music written in the 20th Century. It transforms Dylan from folk singer to rock star and gives a rookie studio musician by the name of Al Kooper his shot at eternal rock fame: It is his organ riff that becomes this song’s signature, along with the angry-rant-vengeance lyric that is capped by a sneering “How does it feel?” The song has a difficult birth. Dozens of recording sessions. Differing tempos. Sweating it with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Then there is the 21-year-old Kooper, an unknown session guitarist who is just supposed to observe the session, intimidated by Bloomfield but with an idea for the organ. During a break or some such with musicians slipping in and out, Kooper sits down at the organ. When Dylan hears tape of the fast-tempo rock version with Kooper at the Hammond, he loves it. He wants volume up on that organ part. You can fill in the rest because this song is part of your life soundtrack right to this day. Topping it off: It is one of the tracks on what some consider Dylan’s greatest album ever, Highway 61 Revisited. It is #1 on Rolling Stone’s list of the top 500 rock songs. How does it feel?