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(Credit: Xavier Badosa)

Music

When Bob Dylan performed ‘Like A Rollin Stone’ with Carole King

@TomTaylorFO

As Bob Dylan was tearing his way through Russian literature when he first arrived in Greenwich Village, he no doubt came across the following quote about the explosion of writers in the Soviet region from Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “We all came out of Gogol’s Overcoat.” As it happens, in the years that followed, any young songwriter could quite accurately opine ‘we all blew out of Dylan’s wind’. 

However, he was far from alone in the counterculture movement and one force that fronted the feminist side, in particular, was Carole King. As Kathleen Hanna, one of the foremost figures in of the Ms. Magazine new-feminist movement, would opine when it comes to King’s masterful 1971 record Tapestry: “I listened to that record non-stop, it was a record that was in my house when I was really small and I knew the whole thing back and forward by the time I was six years old, as that’s one of the many times we moved.”

Continuing to eulogise it by adding: “I remember listening to the song ‘So Far Away’ in our station wagon as it pulled away from my neighbourhood and waving goodbye to my best friend. Throughout my life, I’ve had a different favourite song on that record for a different reason and it sort of stayed with me.”

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But aside from the beautiful melodies, it was something else that attracted Hanna to the album as she grew older. “I think her story is so interesting, too, of starting out as a songwriter and not feeling confident and then deciding to put out her own songs with her own voice,” she said. “That was a really empowering story when I finally learnt it. I just thought she was this cool, powerful ‘70s woman with her curly hair and swirly skirts. I found her fascinating as a person as well, like a role model. She played piano, sang and wrote the songs, and everyone knew that it was really implicit at the time, that it was her album.”

Thus, it seems very fitting that the counterculture trailblazers of Dylan and King finally got together to perform in 1992. Along with a ridiculous roster of musicians (listed beneath the video below), they blitzed through perhaps the finest counterculture of them all: ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Every now and again, there is a song that presents itself with such unflinching brilliance and mercurial bravura that every living thing under the sun just has to stand back and regard it — ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ is undoubtedly one of them.

If Dylan was the Jesus figure of the counterculture movement then this was his moment of caustic condemnation in the temple of his own creation and it proved one thing beyond doubt: hell hath no fury like Dylan scorned. This song is a masterpiece and it has no problem telling that to anyone who’ll listen and even those with their backs turned can get caught up in its glorious maelstrom too.

However, it has to be said, that despite the fact that Dylan is surrounded by King and a coterie of the finest musicians you could shake a stick at, his vocal performance for this incarnation is somewhat questionable. In fact, it is almost as though he is doing a parody of himself at his daemon-channelling 1990s height. Nevertheless, the core of the song still soars and King and co ensure it bristles with the same bravura it always has even if Dylan’s voice of sand and glue was a little too clogged up on the day. 

Performed by:

Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar) Chrissie Hynde (guitar) Syd McGuinness (guitar) Steve Vai (guitar) Carole King (keyboards) Paul Schaffer (keyboards) James Brown (horn) Edgar Winter (horn) Doc Severinsen (trumpet) William E. Lee (bass) Anton Fig (drums) Jim Keltner (drums) Roseanne Cash, Nancy Griffith, Emmylou Harris, Michelle Shocked, Mavis Staples (backup vocals).