Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” Changed the World

A meaningless poll taken of pop musicians found that Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” changed the world. If nothing else, it got Patti Smith through adolescence, which had some negligable effect on the planet.

Dylan song ‘changed the world’ (Reuters)

Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” topped a poll on Friday to find the 100 songs, movies, TV shows and books that “changed the world” in the opinion of musicians, actors and industry experts. Dylan’s 1965 single beat Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” into second place in the survey for “Uncut” magazine.

Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher, Robert Downey Jr, Rolling Stone Keith Richards and Lou Reed were among those who gave their views for the poll. “I absolutely remember where I was when I first heard it. It got me through adolescence,” rocker Patti Smith said of the winning song.

Ex-Beatle McCartney picked “Heartbreak Hotel” as his number one choice. “It’s the way (Presley) sings it as if he is singing from the depths of hell,” McCartney said. “His phrasing, use of echo, it’s all so beautiful. Musically, it’s perfect.”

The Beatles’ song “She Loves You” ranked at number three, followed by the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

The good news is that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” didn’t win. Aside from that, though, the poll results are incomprehensible.

For one thing, the premise is obviously rather dubious: Do songs really “change the world?” To the extent they do, however, one would think something on the order of “We Shall Overcome” or “We are the World” would be more likely candidates.

That aside, the choices are odd. “Like a Rolling Stone” was certainly Dylan’s biggest hit, but I doubt even Dylan would characterize it as particularly world-changing, even within the context of his own discography. Ditto “”She Loves You” for the Beatles. There are songs from Ringo Starr’s solo career that are more meaningful. And while “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Satisfaction” are standards than have held up extremely well to the passage of time, they are hardly songs of social significance, aside from the latter’s launching of the Rolling Stones into stardom.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Don Surber says:

    “I wrote a song about dental floss but did anyone’s teeth get cleaner?”
    — Frank Zappa at 1985’s “Porn Rock” hearings in the Senate to make Tipper Gore feel important

  2. Leopold Stotch says:

    I vote for the Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies.” Talk about life-altering …

  3. Anderson says:

    Well, Patti Smith’s Horses got *me* through adolescence, and my plan to change the world (what was it–my “socialist revolution”?) is well underway, according to one OTB commenter.

    Statues of Bob Dylan, therefore, will be erected in my socialist utopia!

  4. Tom Blumer says:

    Part of the significance of Dylan’s song, was, as I recall, that it was his first non-acoustic piece, and that by itself made people sit up and take notice (some in horror).

    Beyond that, the message about betrayal, complacency, and cynicism was very powerful, and serves as a call to caution when we put our beliefs in any one person or movement, or feel like we’ve somehow finally made it and can go into cruise control.

    I would have picked The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as Number 1, and Dylan #2. I notice WGFA didn’t even make the Top 20:;jsessionid=MFHXYHQTPT1FNQFIQMGSM5WAVCBQWJVC?xml=/news/2005/08/05/ncult105.xml

    I suspect Pete Townshend’s recent “troubles” might have made some voters a bit hesitant on The Who.

    The Who’s “My generation” did make #18. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” closed the book on the naive enthusiasm of “My Generation,” and confirmed that Dylan was right.

    BTW, I understand Dylan is actually a somewhat conservative guy.