Dylan rocks on at 69

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 April, 2011, 12:00am


To some, Bob Dylan, 69, is a rock fossil with a ghastly voice; but to others he is the greatest songwriter ever. His Like a Rolling Stone topped Rolling Stone magazine's 500 greatest songs of all time.

The song smashed the three-minute mark for the first time in pop, and added a blistering vitriol to a genre whose lyrics, up to that point, had been little more than romantic ditties.

By the time of its release in July 1965, Dylan was already an established name. He began his career playing in folk clubs around Minnesota where he grew up. In 1960, he moved to New York and released his first album in 1962.

His breakthrough album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was released in May 1963. The songs embraced surreal humour and social commentary while articulating fears of nuclear armageddon. Its opening song, Blowin' in the Wind, became a worldwide hit for American folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

By mid-1964, Dylan was exploring more personal issues, and his use of electric guitar was angering his folk-loving fans.

Like a Rolling Stone was written after a gruelling European tour, when Dylan was considering quitting altogether.

Originally an angry 10 pages, he eventually reduced it to four verses and headed to the studio. The recording session lasted two days, during which time the song evolved from waltz to rock, acquired a driving beat and an organ riff from Al Kooper which became its signature.

At first, the record company refused to release it. They were unhappy about its six-minute length; but copies were leaked to DJs and resulting demand saw a change of heart.

The record reached number 2 in the charts. But the song's influence on other musicians was profound. It opened doors to much greater self-expression, lyrical sophistication and musical exploration, changing the face of popular music forever.

Dylan plays Kitec April 12 and 13.

Check out: DVD - The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965; CD - Highway 61 Revisited