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Bob Dylan writing "Like A Rolling Stone"

Words By: Sam Pethers | June 14th, 2015

Bob Dylan writing "Like A Rolling Stone"

June 15th, 1965 - Bob Dylan arrived in New York City after a month of touring in Europe. Dylan had been very well received during his recent tours of the UK, US and Canada despite his album Bringing It All Back Home receiving mixed reviews.

The general feeling toward Dylan's new work was well captured during an interview on the Les Crane Show in February 1965. In talking about Dylan's songwriting skills, Crane said, "For those out in the audience that might not know all of the songs you've written just name a few of the big ones." Dylan reluctantly replied, "Ohhhh, Subterranean Homesick Blues", to which Crane quickly interjected, "That ain't one of the big ones, how 'bout "Blowin' In The Wind"". The mention of "Blowin' In The Wind" received an ovation from the audience.

"I'd never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that that was what I should do ... After writing that I wasn't interested in writing a novel, or a play. I just had too much, I want to write songs."

The negative response to Dylan's new sound reportedly drove him to the brink of walking away from music altogether. In a 1966 interview with Playboy Magazine Dylan said, "Last spring I guess I was going to quit singing. I was very drained, and the way things were going, it was a very draggy situation..."

In all likelihood Dylan returned from his tour of Europe in early June 1965 and headed straight for Woodstock N.Y. where he began writing lyrics to a new song. He later described the lyrics he was writing as "this long piece of vomit, 20 pages long, and out of it I took "Like a Rolling Stone" and made it as a single. And I'd never written anything like that before and it suddenly came to me that that was what I should do ... After writing that I wasn't interested in writing a novel, or a play. I just had too much, I want to write songs."

Dylan quickly started putting together musicians to record "Like A Rolling Stone". He invited blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield to his house in Woodstock, later saying, "When it was time to record my record I couldn't think of anybody but him [Mike Bloomfield]".

Bob Dylan writing "Like A Rolling Stone" Dylan and Bloomfield during the "Like A Rolling Stone" sessions.

Bloomfield retold the story of arriving at Dylan's Woodstock house: "The first thing I heard was "Like a Rolling Stone". I figured he wanted blues, string bending, because that's what I do. He said, 'Hey, man, I don't want any of that B.B. King stuff'. So, OK, I really fell apart. What the heck does he want? We messed around with the song. I played the way that he dug, and he said it was groovy."

Bob Dylan writing "Like A Rolling Stone" Dylan during the "Like A Rolling Stone" recording session.

At some point in early June, Dylan visited the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington D.C.--located just around the corner from The White House--where he continued refining the lyrics to "Like A Rolling Stone" ahead of his recording session at Columbia Studios in NYC. During his stay in D.C. Dylan wrote the near finalised lyrics for "Rolling Stone" on four pieces of Roger Smith Hotel letterhead paper. These pieces of paper sold at a Sotheby's Auction in 2014 for two million US dollars.

The Sotheby's Auction in 2014 dated the lyric sheets to June 15th-16th. However, given that the song was recorded on these days it is more likely they were penned earlier. The lyrics Dylan wrote while in D.C had alternate chorus lines, including, "like a dog without a bone,", "it ain't quite real", "does it feel real", "shut up and deal", and "get down an' kneel".

Listen below to the original piano demo version of "Like A Rolling Stone" that Dylan played for the session musicians on June 15th,1965 at Columbia Studio A--799 Seventh Avenue, New York City.

Listen:

And here are the outtakes of "Like A Rolling Stone" that were recorded on June 15th-16th, 1965.

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