I found this in Zavvi's closing down sale a few years ago. I've read the author's Mystery Train a couple of times, and appreciated his wide-ranging grasp of the American musical scene coupled with his attention to historical detail. Both of these skills are put to good use in this book as he focuses on the lead-off track on Dylan's classic 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, describing the recording session in detail, teasing out connections with other music and reviewing the song's historical significance (when it was released as a single, it reached #2 on the US charts and established Dylan as a pop star, in spite of it being six minutes long in a world where singles were invariably less than half this length). To this end, he collects together various comments about the song (the most memorable being Bruce Springsteen's, who said the opening "snare shot [...] sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind") which underline the innovation and originality of the song.
It's an interesting and pleasant read, although I thought the links with other songs were a bit tenuous in places (I'd agree with the other reviewer who found the final link to The Pet Shop Boy's "Go West" hard to fathom). And the fact that the last hundred pages were given over to a transcription of studio chatter during the session, a list of references and an index suggests that there was never really enough material here for a book. Perhaps it would have been different if the author had been able to supplement his interview of Al Kooper (who played at the session) by speaking to Dylan himself about his most famous song, but - perhaps not surprisingly - this didn't come to pass.
You thought it was just a great song that captured completely the spirit and concerns of the time? This book helps see things a bit more clearly and gives background and highlights of the sessions, issues and achievements. Great account of why Dylan was so great and how despite all the pressures he produced all his ground breaking stories and songs. You will never listen to 'Like A Rollin' Stone' the same way ever again.
He ignores Dylan's decision to come to the 1969 Isle of Wight not to Woodstock but gives special background to the 1966 Judas tour. Brilliant book. Highly recommended.
While Greil Marcus's flights of fantasy sometimes work (Lipstick Traces comes to mind here), Like A Rolling Stone simply falls flat on its face. Marcus makes little connection with wider trends in the musical and political culture of the decade -- which was one of the book's intentions -- and succeeds only in reminding us that he remains quite a Dylan fan. He devotes far too much space to tedious transcriptions of studio chatter during the recording of the song, digresses on to some cover versions and ends up discussing the Pet Shop Boys' cover version of the Village People's 'Go West' (I kid you not), suggesting that he'd run out of both ideas and inspiration. Parts of this book might have formed the basis of a neat chapter in a wider study of Dylan's 1960s (or the decade's key songs) but as a book, it reeks of a marketing ploy.
This is a great book, If you read it as one man's intelligent take on one of the greatest records of all time, then it is a work of inspired genius. If you want the history and the facts, go read one of the hundreds of Bobographies (although there are facts and tales a plenty here). If you want to be drawn into another world, one you half know already through your intimate relationship with this terrific song, then get this.
I share Greil Marcus's love of Bob Dylan, Highway 61 and Like a Rolling Stone. But would I write a book about that fabulous song? Is Greil the kind of Dylan freak Dylan hates? I think he is.
There are a lot of very good points made in this magnum opus, a 200+ plus page book about a remarkable 6 minute song. Marcus writes lucidly about mid-sixties America and pop culture (we are contemporaries, but I am a New Yorker, while Marcus is from the Bay area). He sure knows his Dylan - frighteningly so. There are good cameos about Mike Bloomfield (a few years ahead of Clapton, for all of you English fans who think it was the white Brits who discovered Black blues first) and Al Kooper, the man who contributed the haunting organ, despite being a guitar player. Bob Dylan, the great enigma, emerges a tad more clearly from all the froth.
I agree with Marcus that Dylan's genius is apparent on all of Highway 61 and especially on this wonderful song, but I believe his transition to rock and roll started on Bringing It All Back Home and continued to build in intensity and quality on Blonde On Blonde, an album Marcus says little to nothing about. I do agree that it changed music forever in a way that no other Dylan song did, and that it is worth the non-stop rhapsodic commentary.
But there is so much opinionated drivel in this book, the celebration of the relatively cheesy Beatles (is he serious in comparing the Beatles' progression from a male Shirelles to valid, original artists comparable to Dylan?) and fun but super-silly Rolling Stones (he calls the raucous Let it Bleed the second best rock and roll album ever) and the finale that lauds the ludicrous Pet Shop Boys (who might share a gerbil with Greil, I guess), that all of the good points made are undercut. Marcus comes across as a male groupie of some of the most tedious, over-ripe tripe I've ever heard.
Marcus should have kept to the subject more closely and stopped his over-rapturous praise of relative mediocrity. Dylan yes, the rest - are you kidding?