Monday - 08 February 2016

Sotheby’s to sell Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics to ‘Like a Rolling Stone’

01 May 2014Written by Alex Capon

A near complete working draft written by Bob Dylan for arguably his most famous song, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, will be offered at Sotheby’s in New York this summer.

Estimated to fetch $1m-2m, the four pages written on The Hotel Roger Smith letterhead sheets represent the only known surviving draft of the final lyrics for the transformative anthem.

The auctioneers have billed the consignment as 'the most significant popular music manuscript ever to appear at auction'. They have not released any information about the seller, although he was described as 'a longtime fan from California' who reportedly acquired the manuscript directly from Dylan.

With marginal notes, corrections, additions and doodles, the draft gives an interesting insight into how Dylan composed the final version and the unused lines in particular will be of special interest to Dylanologists. These include alternatives for the "How does it feel…" chorus where he toyed with different rhyming schemes to incorporate lyrics such as "get down and kneel", "raw deal" and "shut up and deal". The name "Al Capone" can also be found scrawled in one of the margins, with a line leading to the lyrics "Like a complete unknown".


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Above: the photograph for Bob Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde' album cover taken c.1965 by Jerry Schatzberg, printed later, which is estimated at $9000-12,000 at Sotheby's in New York.


The song 'Like a Rolling Stone' itself was recorded in 1965 when Dylan was only 24 and appeared on the album Highway 61 Revisited. Although it was kept off the top of the Billboard chart by The Beatles' Help, the song is known to have influenced artists including Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones both of whom released covers. It also topped Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

This is the first time that handwritten Dylan lyrics for 'Like a Rolling Stone' have appeared at auction although other manuscripts do exist - a version of the song's chorus for example is in the Dylan collection of The Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

Assuming the current manuscript sells at Sotheby's, it will likely set a record for 'Dylanalia' which currently stands at a premium-inclusive $965,000 (£591,000) for the Fender Stratocaster guitar played by Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival sold at Christie's New York in December.

Another handwritten Dylan manuscript will also appear at the same Sotheby's New York sale on June 24. This is a two-page sheet comprising the final lyrics for A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall with edits, additions and corrections. It is estimated at $400,000-600,000.

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