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Bob Dylan: All Along The Watchtower

Song Start: All Along The Watchtower

 

One of the most covered songs of all time – “All Along The Watchtower” – was made the most famous by someone who covered it. None other than Jimi Hendrix. His version of the song is ranked #47 in Rolling Stones’ Top 500 Greatest Songs list.

Recorded at Columbia Studio A in Nashville, “All Along The Watchtower” was written during a short six week window of time in late 1967 while Dylan was recuperating for 18 months from a motorcycle accident in July of 1966. In fact, all of the songs on ‘John Wesley Harding’ were written during this period.

Hendrix began recording his cover of the song in January 1968, only 6 months after it was released in November 1968.

SONG STATS

Genre:  Dyland Folk Rock     Hendrix  Psychedelic Rock

Recorded:  Dylan 1967 | Hendrix 1968

Time:  Dylan 2:31   |        Hendrix 4:00

BPM:  Dylan 129   |         Hendrix 114

Structure:  V | V | V

 

How Did Hendrix Hear It?

 

There are several stories surrounding how Hendrix heard about the song.

  • One is that Michael Goldstein, Hendrix’s publicist, got a cassette tape from Dylan’s manager. A week later at a party Hendrix was at he played the song for the guests. Hendrix asked for the cassette after the party.
  • Hendrix’s girlfriend at the time says that Hendrix heard it just like everyone else did – he bought the album.
  • Dave Mason of Traffic and Michael Fairchild who wrote the liner notes for Electric Ladyland also give different versions of how Hendrix first heard the song.

 

But Whose Version Is Better?

 

According to rock icon and Crawdaddy! founder Paul Williams when asked if there was a definitive version of the song, he replied:
“The original Hendrix single of ‘Watchtower’ is definitive in regard to the unique rhythmic figure he creates… Dylan acknowledges the power of this figure when he included it in his 1975 live performances of the song.”

“The inspiration for Hendrix’s rhythm of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ came from the original Dylan recording of the song played by Charlie McCoy. The power of particular live or recorded versions of a song is a tribute to the power of arrangement (planned or spontaneous) in making a song what it is. New (fresh) arrangements are the key to the power of certain cover versions of songs.”

 

Opinions About The Song

 

Cool little discussion on Songmeanings.com around the song’s meaning.

 

Do the lyrics echo the Book of Isaiah?

Some reviewers believe they do, here’s the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 21, verses 5-9:

Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield./For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth./And he saw a chariot with a couple of horsemen, a chariot of asses, and a chariot of camels; and he hearkened diligently with much heed./…And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground.

 

Christopher Ricks, English literature professor:

“‘All Along the Watchtower’ is an example of Dylan’s audacity at manipulating chronological time: at the conclusion of the last verse, it is as if the song bizarrely begins at last, and as if the myth began again.’

 

Dave Van Ronk, an early Dylan mentor and supporter:

“That whole artistic mystique is one of the great traps of this business, because down that road lies unintelligibility. . . . people would take whatever he wrote on faith. So he could do something like ‘All Along the Watchtower,’ which is simply a mistake from the title on down: a watchtower is not a road or a wall, and you can’t go along it.”

Bob Dylan’s thoughts on the song from an interview in Sing Out! music magazine in 1968:

“I haven’t fulfilled the balladeers’s job. A balladeer can sit down and sing three songs for an hour and a half… it can all unfold to you. These melodies on John Wesley Harding lack this traditional sense of time. As with the third verse of “The Wicked Messenger”, which opens it up, and then the time schedule takes a jump and soon the song becomes wider… The same thing is true of the song ‘All Along the Watchtower’, which opens up in a slightly different way, in a stranger way, for we have the cycle of events working in a rather reverse order.”

 

All Along The Watchtower

 

Hedges

 

Dylan (no video just audio of original track on John Wesley Harding)

Hendrix

 

“All Along The Watchtower” Lyrics

 

VERSE

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief.
“There’s too much confusion – I can’t get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth.
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”

VERSE

“No reason to get excited,” the thief he kindly spoke.
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

VERSE

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view.
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl.
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.

 







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