Vocal Performance and Speech Intonation: Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”


This article proposes a linguistic analysis of a recorded performance of a single verse of one of Dylan’s most popular songs—the originally released studio recording of “Like A Rolling Stone”—and describes more specifically the ways in which intonation relates to lyrics and performance. This analysis is used as source material for a close reading of the semantic, affective, and “playful” meanings of the performance, and is compared with some published accounts of the song’s reception. The author has drawn on the linguistic methodology formulated by Michael Halliday, who has found speech intonation (which includes pitch movement, timbre, syllabic rhythm, and loudness) to be an integral part of English grammar and crucial to the transmission of certain kinds of meaning. Speech intonation is a deeply-rooted and powerfully meaningful aspect of human communication. This article argues that is plausible that a system so powerful in speech might have some bearing on the communication of meaning in sung performance.

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