Friday, February 20, 2009

Perfectest Songs: "Like A Rolling Stone" (1965)

By the greatest rock guitarist, the greatest cover of what is generally acknowledged to be the greatest rock and roll song of all time.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience was performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. When Hendrix says, "That's [Dylan's] grandmother over there," he's probably looking at bassist Noel Redding. As other nostalgic boomers know from the old Warner Reprise album (which the JHE shared with Otis Redding), just before he pounds out the song's majestic I-IV-V opening progression, Jimi says what a nice evening it is, adding, "No buttons to push." I always felt I knew just what he meant.

Listen for his deft rephrasing of Dylan's then two-year-old original (BD: "Napoleon in rags and the language that he used"; JH: "Napoleon in rags and the sweet talk that he used"). And that guitar! How could there possibly be just one of him? On the original, Dylan used bluesman Michael Bloomfield but warned him not to play any blues licks. So the Dylan cut has Roger McGuinn/Peter Buck-style jangling, which Hendrix gently re-appropriates and literally turns upside down.

Hat tip to the late David Ware, PA '72

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