A long line stretched along the fence and up to the main gate of the drab and melancholy cemetery where legions of pines kept out the sun. Uniformed policemen guided the flow of visitors to the grave of Vladimir Vysotsky, the king of Soviet underground minstrels.

As many as 20,000 persons from all walks of life have filed past the grave in the past two days, waiting two hours in 90-degree weather to lay flowers or wreaths next to their hero's guitar on the first anniversary of his death.

On the streets outside the cemetery, under the watchful eyes of the police, large groups gathered to listen to Vysotsky's voice from portable cassette recordings. For someone who first heard Vysotsky's clandestine recordings a decade ago at a furtive meeting in a friend's apartment, the sight of a Soviet policeman carrying a bullhorn at the edge of one of these groups and listening attentively to the protest songs seemed like the most illuminating symbol of changes in Soviet society.

First came tunes about the miseries of prison life and the trauma of a sane man placed in a mental hospital with real lunatics. Then there was Vysotsky imitating the grotesquely illiterate talk of a factory director and poking fun at the rank arbitrariness of officialdom.

Then he sang a bitterly critical song about anti-Semitism. Its refrain: "Jew, Jews. We are surrounded by the Jews." Later came the "Ballad of the Hard Currency Store," in which he mocked privileged Soviets who can buy things that are not available to ordinary citizens.

There was an official show at the Taganka Theater on Saturday commemorating the first anniversary of Vysotsky's death. Taking no chances, the police cordoned off an entire section of the city around the theater to prevent possible demonstrations.

It requires a leap of imagination for a Westerner to grasp these ambiguities. Vysotsky was neither a dissident nor a Jew. Rather, he was a member of the elite. His father, Col. Semyon V. Vysotsky, is a senior official of the Interior Ministry.

Moreover, the balladeer's cry for freedom has found an echo in millions of Soviet homes -- not only among the young and disgruntled but also among the technocrats and Communist Party officials.

Above all, he developed a large audience among the workers because he sang to them in the jargon of truck drivers and commented on the problems and their daily lives. Among the floral tributes that came from as far as Siberia, the largest was from a worker of the "1st Moscow Watch Factory."

The sandy-haired, jaunty actor was featured in many movies and was a national figure by the time he died at the age of 42. But it was the songs -- which he wrote himself and sang to his own guitar accompaniment -- that made him appear larger than life.

"Yes," said a young intellectual, "I like all his songs," adding: "But what we want to hear is the song that includes the toast 'Let's drink that there be no more prisons in Russia, no more camps."

The extent of his popularity among the working people was illustrated by Yuri Lyubimov, director of the Taganka Company, of which Vysotsky was a member. On a visit to a new city being built in the Urals last year, Lyubimov said, the company was greeted by Vysotsky's songs blaring from loudspeakers the entire length of the main street.

This is not to suggest that the popularity of the rebellious minstrel marks the onset of social troubles. It seems rather to symbolize that Vysotsky's desolate view of Soviet society and his barbed satire are widely shared here and that they provide an inkling of the internal debates and pressures ordinarily far from public view.

His death, for example, provoked spontaneous mass demonstration in the Soviet Union. The emergence of a new cult around him may have political implications. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is a new willingness on the part of ordinary people to criticize the government, at least by implication.

"In his songs," said a Soviet student interviewed by a Western television crew, "Vysotsky told the truth about our lives, which we do not get from the sources available to us -- the press, television, film."

Establishment novelist Yuri Trifonov, who died recently from a heart attack, went on the record as saying that "Vysotsky told more about the goings on in Russia than anyone I know of. He touched on the painful points in our lives."

"I love him," said a middle-aged woman, "because he wrote openly and courageously about it."

The authorities had tried to contain the damage by releasing five records of Vysotsky's songs that include more innocuous tunes about the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung of China; Bobby Fischer, the chess master, and the Canadian hockey team. But the electronic age and its portable tape recorders have made the job of ideological watchdogs infinitely more complex.