On 11 February 2019 I set myself the challenging of reading 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die by Robert Dimery (ed.) and following the book’s advice to the letter. I’ve previously read 1001 Films… and started 1001 Albums… but felt 1001 Songs… would be a sensible place to start for what I have in mind here.
My challenge is to read about one song per day and listen to it (YouTube and Spotify, I need you tonight!) before sharing my own thoughts. Some songs I will love, others I’ll hate, and I’m sure there will be those that leave me perplexed but listen to them I shall.
I’ll also try, and most likely fail, to pinpoint the best song from the 1001 on offer but I’m nothing if not foolhardy. Instead of one song, I’m predicting I’ll have about 100 favourites by the end and may have to resort to a Top 10 so far to maintain any semblance of sanity.
So long as I post everyday (including Christmas) then this challenge should come to an end on Wednesday 8 November 2021. Staying with the Barney Stinson theme I am hoping that the whole experience will prove to be…
Bob Dylan – Like a Rolling Stone (1965)
We continue in the US today, dear reader, and find ourselves in the company of one of the greatest songwriters the world has ever known. If that isn’t exciting enough, 1001 Songs has gone with a song that is considered by some to be THE greatest song ever written. Why wouldn’t it be on this list? In 1965 Bob Dylan returned to the US from a tour in England and was physically and mentally drained, even to the point of considering not continuing in music. From hours spent at a typewriter banging away at the keys came a manuscript. Dylan was searching for something, something different and from that search his typed words were condensed down into Like a Rolling Stone.
There is some ambiguity to Like a Rolling Stone, possibly some hidden depths to it. On the surface, Dylan is singing of a woman who has fallen from grace and he is pretty mocking of them but also compassionate at times. This woman used to live the high life and hand out coins to the poor but now they are the ones who are on the streets, struggling to get from one day to the next and not knowing where the next meal comes from. “How does it feel?” Dylan asks them, describing their situation now compared to what it once was. There are some suggestions that this song is about Edie Segwick, an actress and model Dylan briefly had an affair with, and who was one of Andy Warhol’s superstars for a time. Warhol himself is said to be referred to in the song, here as the “diplomat”. Sedgwick later died of a drug overdose having not achieved the stardom she sought. These are tentative claims with other songs by Dylan definitely inspired by Sedgwick. Whatever the truth is, Like a Rolling Stone is about a woman who has enjoyed good times but is now struggling very badly on the streets.
I love the work of Bob Dylan, dear reader, but my amateur music head is about to sound off a bit. Like a Rolling Stone is a great song, it marked a change of direction for Dylan, a transition from folk to rock, but for me it is not his best song. I would lean more towards Positively 4th Street, Blowin’ in the Wind, or The Times They Are a-Changin’ as examples of Dylan’s best work. I also don’t consider this the greatest song ever written but that is my opinion alone. You may agree with me on this or you may dismiss such opinions as moronic and that is fine with me. The world would be a dull place if we all agreed on everything. Like a Rolling Stone is a critically acclaimed masterpiece and for that reason alone it should be on this list.
Favourite songs so far:
Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode (1958)
Ritchie Valens – La Bamba (1958)
Eddie Cochran – Summertime Blues (1958)
The Everly Brothers – All I Have to Do Is Dream (1958)
Edith Piaf – Non, je ne regrette rien (1960)
Ben E. King – Stand By Me (1961)
The Righteous Brothers – You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (1964)
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (1964)
The Mamas & The Papas – California Dreamin’ (1965)
The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (1965)