“Like a Rolling Stone” is a 1965 song by the American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Its confrontational lyrics originated in an extended piece of verse Dylan wrote in June 1965, when he returned exhausted from a grueling tour of England. Dylan distilled this draft into four verses and a chorus. “Like a Rolling Stone” was recorded a few weeks later as part of the sessions for the forthcoming album Highway 61 Revisited.
During a difficult two-day preproduction, Dylan struggled to find the essence of the song, which was demoed without success in 3/4 time. A breakthrough was made when it was tried in a rock music format, and rookie session musician Al Kooper improvised the organ riff for which the track is known. However, Columbia Records was unhappy with both the song’s length at over six minutes and its heavy electric sound, and was hesitant to release it. It was only when a month later a copy was leaked to a new popular music club and heard by influential DJs that the song was put out as a single. Although radio stations were reluctant to play such a long track, “Like a Rolling Stone” reached number two in the US Billboard charts (number one in Cashbox) and became a worldwide hit.
Critics have described the track as revolutionary in its combination of different musical elements, the youthful, cynical sound of Dylan’s voice, and the directness of the question “How does it feel?” “Like a Rolling Stone” transformed Dylan’s image from folk singer to rock star, and is considered one of the most influential compositions in postwar popular music. Rolling Stone magazine has labelled the song on the top of their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. The song has been covered by numerous artists, from The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Rolling Stones to The Wailers and Green Day.
At an auction in 2014, Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to the song fetched $2 million, a world record for a popular music manuscript.