Well, they'll stone ya when you're trying to be so good.
They'll stone ya just like they said they would.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to go home.
Then they'll stone ya when you're there all alone.
But I would not feel so all alone.
Everybody must get stoned.
Well, they'll stone ya when you're walkin' 'long the street.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to keep your seat.
They'll stone ya when you're walkin' on the floor.
They'll stone ya when you're walkin' to the door.
They'll stone ya when you're at the breakfast table.
They'll stone ya when you are young and able.
They'll stone ya when you're tryin' to make a buck.
They'll stone ya and then they'll say "good luck!"
[Refrain]Well, they'll stone you and say that it's the end.
[Refrain]Well, they'll stone you when you walk all alone.
Rainy Day Women is notable for its unusual instrumentation, being the only song on Blonde On Blonde to feature a brass band, what Dylan called "a Salvation Army sound". The song is essentially a simple blues chord progression. The parts played by the trombone, tuba, piano, bass, drums, and tambourine remain practically the same in all of the verses, but Dylan's harmonica playing and vocal performance are both wildly varied, and generally not in the same key as the other instruments. According to Howard Sounes, the chaotic effect was achieved by having all the accompanying musicians play instruments they were unfamiliar with. [Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (2002), p. 203] There's much laughter and shouting in the background, and Dylan himself laughs several times during his vocal delivery. The song sounds as if it is being played by musicians who are very high on marijuana, and that is possibly intentional.
This song is a revel without much content in its lyric, but a lot of attitude. At the time of its release "stoned" was beginning to be recognized across the nation as a term for being high on marijuana, not just alcohol. Even as a fourteen year old teenager in hicksville Montgomery, Alabama, I knew that marijuana was at least part of the message, even if I'd never seen the stuff myself. Maybe I became aware of this interpretation of "stoned" with this song; I don't recall it being used in such a manner before, and can't find when it was first used in this sense. The first published version of "stoned" in the sense of effects of marijuana is said to be 1952. My guess is that it first shows up among the Beat writers.
The still more prominent meaning of "stoned" at the time, meaning "drunk" was celebrated by Ray Charles' Let's Go Get Stoned which was released a couple of months after the Dylan song. But Charles' song was heard during the Summer of 1966 as if sung by someone from a previous generation, for drinking was becoming uncool. Dylan seemed to be proclaiming to the world that marijuana was his drug of choice. And he managed to make a big hit, far larger than that of Ray Charles, which only got so far as #31 on the U.S. singles chart. In fact, Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 was one of the two biggest selling singles Dylan made in the 1960s, the other being Like a Rolling Stone, released the previous Summer. Both of these Dylan singles made it to #2 in the U.S.
With the censors already beginning to remove from the airwaves any song that seemed to condone drug use (Eight Miles High was censored on radio for this reason), it seems that in Summer 1966 the term "stoned" in its drug related usage was still too much underground slang for the authorities to spot. Though the intoxicated sense of the word "stoned" is apparent by the song's raucous performance and woozy Salvation Army Band sound, the censors let it pass.
On the surface, the lyrics are about "stoned" in the sense of corporal punishment. The poet suggests an ironic attitude toward his suffering, a painful state which is shared at one time or another by nearly everybody just in the course of living. The Buddhist adage from the Dhammapada comes to mind that They blame you when you say too much; they blame you when you say too little, and they blame you when you say it just right. No one gets through life without blame.. Dylan may or may not have been thinking of the rejection of his folk audience when he started performing rock music with an electric guitar. At any rate, the two meanings of the word stoned continue throughout the song, and seem to imply that when people call you a freak, you should just light up and forget about it.
I have no idea what the title of the song is meant to convey, if it is meant to convey anything. I've read lots of theories, but none of them are convincing. I'm satisfied believing that the title is nothing more than a "gas", something to throw people off track. There was a lot of that sort of behavior during the psychedelic period, and Dylan was among the first to promote songs that had irrelevant (irreverent) titles, meant to tease the imagination more than provide meaning. Blonde on Blonde, the album collection that includes Rainy Day Women #12 & 35, is full of such antics: Temporary Like Achilles; 4th Time Around, and, of course, the album's title itself.