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"All Along the Watchtower"
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album John Wesley Harding
B-side "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"
Released November 22, 1968
Recorded November 6, 1967
Genre Folk rock
Length 2:31
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer Bob Johnston
Bob Dylan singles chronology
"Drifter's Escape"
(1968)
"All Along the Watchtower"
(1968)
"I Threw It All Away"
(1969)
John Wesley Harding track listing
"I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine"
(3)
"All Along the Watchtower"
(4)
"The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"
(5)

"All Along the Watchtower" is a song written and recorded by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. It initially appeared on his album John Wesley Harding. It has been covered by other artists in different genres, most notably by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. There exists much speculation as to what the song is actually about.

Contents

Bob Dylan's original

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Background

Dylan wrote "All Along the Watchtower" along with the other songs on John Wesley Harding over the year or so following his motorcycle accident in the summer of 1966.[1] His recuperation from the accident, which occurred near his home in Woodstock, New York, enabled Dylan to escape the excesses of touring and make a dramatic turnaround in his lifestyle.[2][3] With one child born in early 1966 and another in mid-1967, he settled into family life and even took a growing interest in the Bible, as reflected in the album's Biblical allusions, particularly in songs such as "All Along the Watchtower", "Dear Landlord", "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine" and "The Wicked Messenger".[4][5]

Recording

Dylan recorded the song on November 6, 1967, at Columbia Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee, the same studio where he completed Blonde on Blonde in the spring of the previous year.[6] Accompanying Dylan, who played acoustic guitar and harmonica, were two Nashville veterans from the Blonde on Blonde sessions, Charlie McCoy on bass guitar and Kenneth Buttrey on drums. The producer was Bob Johnston, who produced Dylan's two previous albums, Highway 61 Revisited in 1965 and Blonde on Blonde in 1966.[7]

The session of the beginning was the second of three in the recording of John Wesley Harding. "All Along the Watchtower", the session's first song, was done in five takes, the third and fifth of which were spliced to create the album track.[6] As with most of the album's selections, the song is a dark, sparse work that stands in stark contrast with Dylan's previous recordings of the mid-1960s.[8]

Analysis

Several reviewers have pointed out that the lyrics in "All Along the Watchtower" echo lines in 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.[9][10]

Commenting on the songs on his album John Wesley Harding, in an interview published in the folk music magazine Sing Out! in October 1968, Dylan told John Cohen and Happy Traum:

"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."[11]

The unusual structure of the narrative was remarked on by English Literature professor Christopher Ricks, who commented that "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."[12]

Critics have described Dylan's version as a masterpiece of understatement. In Andy Gill's words: "In Dylan's version of the song, it's the barrenness of the scenario which grips, the high haunting harmonica and simple forward motion of the riff carrying understated implications of cataclysm; as subsequently recorded by Jimi Hendrix, ... that cataclysm is rendered scarily palpable through the dervish whirls of guitar."[13]

Others have been more critical of Dylan's achievement. Dave Van Ronk, an early supporter and mentor of Dylan, made the following criticism of the song:

That whole artistic mystique is one of the great traps of this business, because down that road lies unintelligibility. Dylan has a lot to answer for there, because after a while he discovered that he could get away with anything—he was Bob Dylan and 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.[14]

Performances and subsequent releases

John Wesley Harding came out at the end of the 1967, on December 27, less than two months after the recording sessions.[15] The song was the second single from the album, released on November 22 1968, but did not chart. A live recording of "All Along the Watchtower" from the album Before the Flood appeared as the B side of "Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)" in 1974. The recordings came from separate concerts earlier that year at the Forum outside Los Angeles, both with Dylan backed by The Band.[6]

Dylan first performed the song live on January 3, 1974, in Chicago on the opening night of his 'comeback tour'.[16] From this first live performance, Dylan has consistently performed the song closer to Hendrix's version than to his own original recording.[16] Michael Gray writes that this is the most often performed of all of Dylan's songs. By Gray's count, Dylan had performed the song in concert 1,393 times by the end of 2003.[16]

In recent years, Dylan in live performances has taken to singing the first verse again at the end of the song. As Gray notes in The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, "Dylan chooses to end in a way that at once reduces the song's apocalyptic impact and cranks up its emphasis on the artist's own centrality. Repeating the first stanza as the last means Dylan now ends with the words 'None of them along the line/Know what any of it is worth' (and this is sung with a prolonged, dark linger on that word 'worth')."[17] Dylan may have followed the Grateful Dead in concluding the song by repeating the first verse; the Dead covered the song in this fashion, with and without Dylan.[18]

The original recording of "All Along the Watchtower" appears on most of Dylan's "greatest hits" albums, as well as his two box set compilations, Biograph in 1985 and Dylan in 2007. In addition, Dylan has released four different live recordings of the song on the following albums: Before the Flood, Bob Dylan at Budokan, Dylan & The Dead and MTV Unplugged.

Selective list of notable recordings

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

"All Along the Watchtower"

European single cover
Single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
from the album Electric Ladyland
B-side US "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", UK "Long Hot Summer Night"
Released US September 21, 1968, UK October 18
Recorded Olympic Studios, London, January 1968; Record Plant Studios, New York, June–August 1968
Genre Rock, psychedelic rock
Length 4:00
Label Reprise, Track, Polydor, Barclay
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer Jimi Hendrix
The Jimi Hendrix Experience singles chronology
"Up from the Skies"
(1968)
"All Along the Watchtower"
(1968)
"Crosstown Traffic"
(1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience began to record their cover version of Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower" on January 21, 1968, at Olympic Studios in London.[19] According to engineer Andy Johns, Jimi Hendrix had been given a tape of Dylan’s recording by publicist Michael Goldstein, who worked for Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman. "(Hendrix) came in with these Dylan tapes and we all heard them for the first time in the studio”, recalled Johns.[20] According to Hendrix’s regular engineer Eddie Kramer, the guitarist cut a large number of takes on the first day, shouting chord changes at Dave Mason who had appeared at the session and played guitar. Halfway through the session, bass player Noel Redding became dissatisfied with the proceedings and left. Mason then took over on bass. According to Kramer, the final bass part was played by Hendrix himself.[20] Kramer and Chas Chandler mixed the first version of "All Along The Watchtower" on January 26, but Hendrix was quickly dissatisfied with the result and went on re-recording and overdubbing guitar parts during June, July, and August at the Record Plant studio in New York.[21] Engineer Tony Bongiovi has described Hendrix becoming increasingly dissatisfied as the song progressed, overdubbing more and more guitar parts, moving the master tape from a four-track to a twelve-track to a sixteen-track machine. Bongiovi recalled, "Recording these new ideas meant he would have to erase something. In the weeks prior to the mixing, we had already recorded a number of overdubs, wiping track after track. [Hendrix] kept saying, ‘I think I hear it a little bit differently.’”[22] The finished version was released on the album Electric Ladyland in September 1968. The single reached number five in the British charts, and number 20 on the Billboard chart, Hendrix's only top 20 / top 40 entry there.[23] The song also had the #5 spot on Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.[24]

Dylan has described his reaction to hearing Hendrix's version: "It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn't think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day."[25] In the booklet accompanying his Biograph album, Dylan said: "I liked Jimi Hendrix's record of this and ever since he died I've been doing it that way... Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it's a tribute to him in some kind of way."

This version of the song appears at number 48 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs ever, and in 2000, British magazine Total Guitar named it top of the list of the greatest cover versions of all time.[26]

U2

Irish rock band U2 first played a cover of "All Along the Watchtower" during their Boy Tour in 1981. Years later, during the Joshua Tree Tour in 1987, the cover was played for a second time, in San Francisco, California, with an additional verse added by Bono. This performance was later included as a scene in U2's 1988 rockumentary film, Rattle and Hum, and also appeared on the album of the same name. The performance was impromptu, with the band learning the chords and lyrics within minutes of taking the stage, and as a result, there were problems in editing the soundtrack. The song made its way into almost 50 live shows during the band's 1989 Lovetown Tour.

Dave Matthews Band

Dave Matthews Band has played the song since the band's inception in the early 1990s.[27] Their rendition maintains Dylan's three chord structure and key signature but differs in style. Dave Matthews typically begins the song slowly with just vocals and acoustic guitar. The band members come in after the line "the hour is getting late", picking up the tempo and intensity. The band's members then take extended solos, culminating with the line, "No reason to get excited." "Watchtower", as it is referred to by the band's fans, is a concert staple, often performed as either a closer or encore. In all, they have covered the song live more than 600 times, including solo performances by Matthews[27], and it has appeared on six of their officially released live albums, though the band has never released a studio version.

Dionysis Savvopoulos

Greek singer and composer Dionysis Savvopoulos's album Ballos (released in 1970) included a version of this song. The lyrics are adapted into Greek. The Greek name of the song is "Paliatsos kai listis", which is a Greek translation for the phrase "the joker and the thief".

Neil Young

Neil Young performed a version live, and was joined onstage by The Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde. This version later appeared on Young's live album Road Rock Vol. 1: Friends & Relatives. He has also played this song with the above mentioned Dave Matthews Band and performed it with Booker T. and the M.G.'s at the Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration (aka "Bobfest") at Madison Square Garden. The subsequent recording of the Dylan tribute was issued in 1993.

Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead performed the song 124 times[28], first on June 20, 1987. This adds to a lengthy repertoire of Bob Dylan covers by the Dead.

Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry recorded this song as a demo with Robin Trower in the mid 1990s. He completed the track during sessions in August 2006 for his Dylan tribute album Dylanesque released March 2007.

Pearl Jam

After playing the song four different times from 2004–2006, lead singer Eddie Vedder was asked to play the song with The Million Dollar Bashers for the I'm Not There soundtrack. In 2008, it was played 3 times during the band's US East Coast Summer Tour, including the 2008 Bonnaroo Music Festival. In 2009, the band were joined by Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones to perform the song at the Shepherds Bush Empire.[29]

Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica

Television composer Bear McCreary arranged a version of "All Along the Watchtower" for use in the final scene of the Battlestar Galactica season three finale "Crossroads, Part II". The song was also played in various adaptations in the fourth season, including the series finale. A version with all the lyrics was included on the Battlestar Galactica Season 3 Soundtrack. The lyrics had been written into the screenplay by Ronald D. Moore.[30] Versions of the song are used again throughout the fourth season, including a piano version. The song became a thematic motif as well as a plot element of the show, with lyrics frequently referenced in dialog during many episodes, and with the final scene of the series' last episode playing out to the Jimi Hendrix version of the song. ("The Music")

Others

The song has been covered by many other artists[31], including:

Cultural references

Hendrix's version was featured in the movies Withnail and I, Rush, Land of the Lost (without Hendrix's vocals), Private Parts, Forrest Gump, A Bronx Tale, Vegas Vacation, Tupac: Resurrection, the 2001 remake of Brian's Song and Watchmen (among others) and also in television shows such as The Simpsons, in episodes "Mother Simpson" and "My Mother the Carjacker". The History Channel series Ax Men uses a portion of the song in its opening credits. The song was also mentioned by Fox Mulder in The X-Files season one episode "Beyond the Sea".

  • In the film American Beauty, Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is listening to the original version while lifting weights and smoking a joint in his garage.
  • The title of Australian hard rock band Wolfmother's's song Joker & the Thief is a reference to the characters in All Along the Watchtower
  • The hard rock version performed by Everlast and others under the alias 'Killing Zone' is featured in the helicopter scenes in the Xbox 360 game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and during the credits.
  • Chapter X in the limited series Watchmen is titled "Two Riders Were Approaching" with a brief excerpt of the lyrics at the end of the chapter, attributed to Bob Dylan. In the film adaptation, Hendrix's cover plays during the same scene.
  • Cheap Trick's 'Auf Wiedersehen' includes a line, 'There are many here among us/who feel that life is a joke,' which echo the lyrics of the Dylan song.
  • Abakus's song 'Nightwalker' features a keyboard line which is taken from Jimi Hendrix's guitar solo from his version of 'All Along the Watchtower'.
  • The song Strawberry Swisher Part 1 by the Post-Hardcore band Dance Gavin Dance contains lyrics in the chorus "All along the watchtower.
  • In the 2000 version of Hamlet, the grave digger can be heard softly singing a few lines of the song shortly before Ophelia's funeral.
  • In the 1997 German music roadmovie Bandits the song is covered by the movie band in the opening film credits.
  • The song is an important part of a multi-season story arc in the reimagined "Battlestar Galactica" TV series, being heard by the "final five" Cylons and bringing them together. The opening line helps Starbuck to find Earth, and in the closing scene of the final episode, the Jimi Hendrix version is heard.
  • Deceased UFC fighter Evan Tanner used the Jimi Hendrix version as his entrance theme.
  • The Bob Dylan version of this song is featured in the video game Guitar Hero 5.
  • The band "Ten Man Push" also perform a cover of this song

Notes

  1. ^ "The Bob Dylan Motorcycle-Crash Mystery". American Heritage. 2006-07-29. http://www.americanheritage.com/email/articles/web/20060729-bob-dylan-motorcycle-woodstock-methamphetamine-robert-shelton-howard-sounes-ed-thaler.shtml. Retrieved 2009-02-08. 
  2. ^ Clark p. 108 and 112
  3. ^ Sounes p. 215-8
  4. ^ Clark p. 108
  5. ^ Sounes p. 227-8
  6. ^ a b c Bjorner, Olof (May 7, 2000). "Still on the Road: Bob Dylan Recording Sessions". Olof Bjorner. http://www.bjorner.com/DSN01620%201967.htm#DSN01641. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  7. ^ Gray p. 356-7
  8. ^ Gray p. 7
  9. ^ Heylin p. 285
  10. ^ Gill p. 130–1
  11. ^ Cott p. 122
  12. ^ Ricks p. 359
  13. ^ Gill p. 131
  14. ^ Dave Van Ronk, The Mayor of Macdougal Street, ISBN 9780306814792
  15. ^ Gray p. 350
  16. ^ a b c Gray, 2006, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, p. 7.
  17. ^ Michael Gray, The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, p. 7
  18. ^ Cf. "Dylan and the Dead."
  19. ^ Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, p. 135
  20. ^ a b Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, p. 136
  21. ^ Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, p. 174
  22. ^ Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, p. 175
  23. ^ Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight, p. 198
  24. ^ http://www.guitarworld.com/article/100_greatest_guitar_solos_5_quotall_along_the_watchtowerquot_jimi_hendrix
  25. ^ "Interview with Dylan: 09/29/95". Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. 1995-09-29. http://www.interferenza.net/bcs/interw/florida.htm. 
  26. ^ "The Best Cover Versions Ever", Total Guitar (Future Publishing), August 2000 
  27. ^ a b "DMBAlmanac.com". http://www.dmbalmanac.com/SongStats.aspx?sid=96. 
  28. ^ DeadBase - Searchable Grateful Dead Setlists
  29. ^ "NME.com: Pearl Jam and Rolling Stones star unite onstage at intimate gig". NME.com. http://www.nme.com/news/pearl-jam/46641. Retrieved 2009-08-12. 
  30. ^ Moore, Ronald D. Podcast commentary for Crossroads, Part 2.
  31. ^ Allmusic lists about 1 version as of Nov. 2008

References

  • Blake (ed.), Mark (2005). Dylan: Visions, Portraits, and Back Pages. Mojo/DK Publishing, Inc.. ISBN 978-0-7566-3725-5. 
  • Cott (ed.), Jonathan (2006). Dylan on Dylan: The Essential Interviews. Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0340923121. 
  • Gill, Andy (1999). Classic Bob Dylan: My Back Pages. Carlton. ISBN 1-85868-599-0. 
  • Gray, Michael (2006). The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. Continuum International. ISBN 0-8264-6933-7. 
  • Heylin, Clinton (2003). Bob Dylan: Behind the Shades Revisited. Perennial Currents. ISBN 0-06-052569-X. 
  • Kramer, Eddie (1992). Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight. Warner Books. ISBN 0751511293. 
  • Ricks, Christopher (2003). Dylan's Visions of Sin. Penguin/Viking. ISBN 0-670-80133-X. 
  • Sounes, Howard (2001). Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. Grove Press. ISBN 0-0821-1686-8. 

Further reading

  • Marqusee, M (2003). Chimes of Freedom: The Politics of Bob Dylan's Art, New Press

External links


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