You can argue all you want about when "rock and roll" was created. However, there’s no question when the next phase of music, "rock" (now referred to as "classic rock"), came into being: July 25, 1965.
On that day, the Newport Folk Festival was headlined by a dorky 24-year-old named named Bobby Dylan, then known as the guy with the new single "Like A Rolling Stone," then making a baffling and steady climb to the top of Cashbox, becoming the first six-minute-long chart hit.
When Dylan took the stage at Newport, he was expected to present recent favorites like "Blowin’" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." He was not, under any circumstances, expected to play an electric guitar and break out the brilliant pop songs he’d begun releasing earlier in the year. On Sunday the 24th, Dylan got together with some friends like Michael Bloomfield to rehearse for Dylan’s headline performance the next day.
They ended up working out "Maggie’s Farm," "Phantom Engineer" (later "It Takes A Train…") and, of course, "Like A Rolling Stone." When Dylan took the stage the next night, Pete Seeger and other festival coordinators were expecting a repeat of his 1964 performance — more topical protest songs, with a few tongue-in-cheek romantic tales thrown in to amuse. Instead, they were greeted with an onslaught of sound that instantaneously changed the direction of the entire music industry.
The day Dylan "plugged in" (as it’s now commonly known), the American top 10 consisted mainly of pop songs like "What The World Needs Now Is Love" and some forgettable "Herman’s Hermits" songs. When Dylan launched into a merciless and almost unintelligible rendition of "Maggie’s Farm," the reaction was instantaneous: boo, what is this, ugh, make it stop!
It took decades and several eyewitness interviews to figure out, but the famous "booing" was actually directed toward the sound engineer, who could not handle the uncontainable blast of electric music. For years, everyone assumed the first rock concert was a disaster, but the audience loved "Rolling Stone" and only seemed to mind the runaway acoustics.
Even Dylan believed he’d blown it at the time — he retreated from the stage after the three songs, then came back with an acoustic guitar to do "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue" (take that, you purists) and "Tambourine Man." You can hear the humbleness in his voice in both of these performances, which are conciliatory and also practically lifeless, indicating that he didn’t want to work on folk music’s farm no more.
After that, bands figured out how to amplify sound in a live setting in an appropriate way, Dylan kept ratcheting it up a notch until 1967’s "John Wesley Harding," with the original, all-acoustic "All Along the Watchtower," and soon stadium rock took over and ruined everything.
But it all started 45 years ago today, with this song: