“Once upon a time you dressed so fine, threw the bums a dime, in your prime, didn’t you?”
TOP FIVE SONGS BY THESE PEEPS IN THESE PICTURES
Lots of people write and sing what Paul McCartney dubbed as “silly love songs,” because as McCartney also noted, we never can get enough of them.
But then, a lot of us can’t get enough of the ultimate hate song, which only the crazed genius Bob Dylan could have writ.
Rolling Stone is coming out with its 500 Greatest Songs Ever list today and I can’t argue with their No. 1 pick, Mr. Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” It so happens that I just played the Stones cover video of it a couple of weeks ago and I’m replayiing the version from Mick and the boys here. It’s hard to argue against Dylan’s song if only for the enduring impact and influence it’s had on pop and rock music.
“Like a Rolling Stone” was not the kind of song you’d hear on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand–it was way too good and deep for that, and Mr. Dylan almost always runs deep and good. What’s so awesome (I hate that worn-out word but it really fits here) is his longevity–he’s one of the few old rockers and folkies and bluesmen still creating and performing music that sounds as fresh and original and creative as anything this self-appointed music critic ever heard. He’s one of the few musicians and song makers whose creative well never, ever seems to run dry. Even the venerable Beatle McCartney’s newest creations and CD’s have been less than memorable. But anytime Dylan comes out with a new CD it’s an event for music lovers of all ages and musical tastes. I play his newest stuff–that would be stuff from recent decades–as well as the Dylan classic stuff all the time.
Well, back to the magazine’s Top 5 list. The only one I really like is Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?”–a song that would certainly be on my Top 5 list. Great song from one of the greatest albums ever produced. I never tire of playing it and never tire of Marvin Gaye’s lyricism and his aching blues chops. I mean, the man was feeling his people’s pain in that studio, and reaching into all our hearts for some emphathy and understanding.
Lennon’s “Imagine” is in the Top 5 list, which I can live with, but Aretha’s “Respect” at No. 5??? I just can think of too many other songs I’d put in my Top 5. “Layla” comes to mind, and I could go all the way back to the Roy Orbison era and probably come up with another top 5.
The Stones make the mag’s list with “Satisfaction,” and it’s worthy if only because it, like Dylan’s No. 1 song, has had such a lasting impact and influence in rock music. If there was a single song that ushered in the entire era of “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” for better or for worse–well, the Stones took what Elvis started to much edgier and rawer and darker and cool places and everybody else in rock followed.
All this said, how do you come up with a list of greatest five songs ever and not have a Beatles song on it? It’s as if they stuck John’s “Imagine” in there as consolation.
But hey–I’m not so sure I wouldn’t make “Louie, Louie” my No. 1 greatest ever. Silly me.
Here’s the Rolling Stone editors on why they chose Dylan’s song for Numero Uno:
“I wrote it. I didn’t fail. It was straight,” Bob Dylan said of his greatest song shortly after he recorded it in June 1965. There is no better description of “Like a Rolling Stone” – of its revolutionary design and execution – or of the young man, just turned 24, who created it.
Al Kooper, who played organ on the session, remembers today, “There was no sheet music, it was totally by ear. And it was totally disorganized, totally punk. It just happened.”
The most stunning thing about “Like a Rolling Stone” is how unprecedented it was: the impressionist voltage of Dylan’s language, the intensely personal accusation in his voice, the apocalyptic charge of Kooper’s garage-gospel organ and Mike Bloomfield’s stiletto-sharp spirals of Telecaster guitar, the defiant six-minute length of the June 16th master take. No other pop song has thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time, for all time.
Just a few weeks earlier, as he was finishing up the British tour immortalized in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back, Dylan began writing an extended piece of verse – 20 pages long by one account, six in another – that was, he said, “just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred, directed at some point that was honest.” Back home in Woodstock, New York, over three days in early June, Dylan sharpened the sprawl down to that confrontational chorus and four taut verses bursting with piercing metaphor and concise truth. “The first two lines, which rhymed “kiddin’ you’ and ‘didn’t you,’ just about knocked me out,” he confessed to “Rolling Stone” in 1988, “and when I got to the jugglers and the chrome horse and the princess on the steeple, it all just about got to be too much.”
The beginnings of “Like a Rolling Stone” can be seen in a pair of offstage moments in Don’t Look Back. In the first, sidekick Bob Neuwirth gets Dylan to sing a verse of Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway,” which begins, “I’m a rolling stone, I’m alone and lost/For a life of sin I’ve paid the cost.” Later, Dylan sits at a piano, playing a set of chords that would become the melodic basis for “Like a Rolling Stone,” connecting it to the fundamental architecture of rock & roll. Dylan later identified that progression as a chip off of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.”
Just as Dylan bent folk music’s roots and forms to his own will, he transformed popular song with the content and ambition of “Like a Rolling Stone.” And in his electrifying vocal performance, his best on record, Dylan proved that everything he did was, first and always, rock & roll. “‘Rolling Stone”s the best song I wrote,” he said flatly at the end of 1965. It still is.
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