Before I get too ahead of myself and reach my eventual conclusion we must ask ourselves "What makes a great song, a GREAT song?" Is it the subject? Is it the melody? It is difficult to establish a recipe for the perfect song. However it may be it is to an extent agreed that a GREAT song must have a reaction.
A song in itself is a collection of feelings, and it is absolutely essential that a listener reacts. One would find it hard to connect with a song if they feel nothing right? Consequently a great song can influence a million people.
History has shown perfect examples of the power of one song and the reaction of millions. For example the anti-war movements of the 1960s saw music events such as Woodstock promote peace as well as the protest songs of folk artists like Bob Dylan or Joan Baez.
In November 2004 The Rolling Stone Magazine published a special issue with the cover story being a list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" The top 3 songs being:
1. Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan
2. Satisfaction, The Rolling Stones
3. Imagine, John Lennon
You see Believe it or not these masterpieces all have something in common. All are simply a commentary on their vision of the world; it's as simple as that. John Lennon's world with no heaven, no hell below us, and above us only sky , Satisfaction's imaginary world without any sexual gratification, and Like a Rolling Stone's story about a fall from grace each have influenced copious amounts of individuals almost as answers to life's endless troubles.
However I'm not finished there, now for my personal opinion on this matter. Like the acclaimed music magazine the Rolling Stone, I too believe the greatest song of all time is track 1 on Bob Dylan's 6th and most controversial album. Prior to Highway 61 Bob Dylan was a folk artist, that is it was just him, his guitar and his harmonica taking on the world, throughout the early 60s Bob Dylan had reached a considerable height of fame. Songs like Blowin' in the Wind and The Times They Are A' Changin secured his position as the leading folk artist in the United States.
However this all changed as countless Dylan fans put on Highway 61 Revisited onto their record players for the first time. The first sound heard is the smashing of a cymbal, which almost symbolised a slap in the face by Dylan to all his fans. Dylan now was supported by a full band, something unheard of at the time in relation to a folk artist. In an infamous 1966 concert during a rendition of Like a Rolling Stone Dylan was booed off stage.
Fans wanted to know what the hell was going on! Where was the man they once knew who stood tall amongst a new and changing generation? Little did they know that Dylan was sick of being labelled as the leader of the country for a new generation, he was in his early 20s he didn't know how to lead millions into a direction he shared no real interest in.
How does it feel?
How does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
This confronting four verse chorus was a result of the frustrating events of the past. Like a Rolling Stone originally started off as 20 pages about a fall from grace. The final version was significantly cut down, but the beauty of the song is it was all spontaneously written and done totally by ear. Al Kooper the pianist who attended the recording session claimed that "It just Happened".
The reason as to why I believe Like A Rolling Stone is a the perfect song is because it challenged the fundamental conventions and laws of music at the time that it set a forth a new genre of music that would go on to influence artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The sharp powerful language of Dylan filled with intricate metaphors along with a passionate voice that sounded so young but at the same time old harmonize with the sharp chords stuck by the guitar and the full-charge of the organ behind it.
Bob Dylan broke all the rules at his own will, but instead of causing almost certain disaster he created an epic 6 minute song that will continue to be a part of our lives for many more years to come. He even as far as to say it himself "Like A Rolling Stone's the best song I wrote". Well in my opinion it still is.