From Rolling Stone:
It was exactly 50 years ago today that Bob Dylan walked into Studio A at Columbia Records in New York and recorded "Like a Rolling Stone," which we have called the single greatest song of all time. The track was on store shelves just a month later, where it shot to Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 (held back only by the Beatles' "Help!") and influenced an entire new generation of rock stars. "That snare shot sounded like somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind," Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. "When I was 15 and I heard 'Like a Rolling Stone,' I heard a guy who had the guts to take on the whole world and who made me feel like I had to too."
Just one month before before recording "Like a Rolling Stone," Dylan was in Europe wrapping up the solo acoustic tour chronicled in D.A. Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back. The electric "Subterranean Homesick Blues" had been out for three months and was all over the radio, but his concerts were completely unplugged affairs and protest songs like "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and "The Times They Are-A Changin'" were still sprinkled into his set list. But somewhere on the tour, he began penning a long, free-form piece of writing he compared to "vomit." [It was] just a rhythm thing on paper all about my steady hatred," he said, "directed at some point that was honest."
Tom Wilson invited Al Kooper to stop by the next day's session simply to watch, but he had far bigger plans. "Taking no chances, I arrived an hour early and well enough ahead of the crowd to establish my cover," he wrote in his 1998 book Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards. "I walked into the studio with my guitar case, unpacked, tuned up, plugged in, and sat there trying my hardest to look like I belonged." Soon enough, Bloomfield walked in and began practicing. "[He] commenced to play some of the most incredible guitar I'd ever heard," Kooper wrote. "And he was just warming up! I was in over my head. I embarrassedly unplugged, packed up, went into the control room, and sat there pretending to be a reporter from Sing Out! magazine."
With Kooper in the control room, the same group from the previous day launched into "Like a Rolling Stone," though with Paul Griffin moving from organ to piano. Kooper knew so little about the organ that he didn't even know how to turn it on, but he was desperate to play on a Dylan song and when a distracted Wilson didn't give him a firm "no" he walked into the studio, sat down at the instrument and was delighted to see Griffin hadn't turned it off.
Read it all here.
In tribute, here is Al Kooper (who played organ on the original) as he tells the story of the recording:
And here is the version Bob Dylan sang at Newport:
Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone (Live... by toma-uno
And possibly the most famous version - from the 1966 UK Tour:
And here is the original: