All Along the Watchtower is the song you here in pretty much every montage about the sixties. Most of us immediately think of Jimi Hendrix wailing on his guitar when the song is brought up. I, for the longest time, even believed that Jimi Hendrix had written the song. I was dead wrong. And if you believe that Hendrix wrote Watchtower you are as dead wrong as I was. It’s lyrics appear to have their roots in Isaiah 21: 5-9 turned into basically an epic poem by master songwriter/storyteller Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan recorded All Along the Watchtower in November of 1967 and Hendrix began recording his cover less than three months later releasing it about nine months after Dylan released the original version of All Along the Watchtower. The rest is history.
Before we go any further here is a *short* list of some notable artists and groups who have also covered All Along the Watchtower:
Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica, Bobby Womack, Brewer and Shipley, Bryan Ferry, Calvin Russell, Chris de Burgh, Dave Mason, Dave Matthews Band, Dionysis Savvopoulos, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, Eric Clapton, Giant Sand, Grateful Dead, Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Jeff Healey, John Mellencamp, Josh Charles, June Tabor, Lisa Gerrard, Michael Hedges, Mountain, Neil Young, Paul Weller, Phil Lesh and Friends, Phish, Richie Havens, Sal Valentino, Spirit, Taj Mahal, The Allman Brothers Band, The Dream Syndicate, The Killers, The Persuasions, TSOL, Turtle Island String Quartet, U2, Van Morrison, Widespread Panic, XTC plus everyone ever who may have thought it nice to pay tribute to either Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix.
Without also listing the countless movie scenes etc. that All Along the Watchtower has graced with it’s presence, it is pretty easy to say that it is a very prolific song.
I personally enjoy Dylan’s voice and harmonica, some people though, are averse to “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. While I appreciate both, one of the major reasons Hendrix’s version of Watchtower blew up and Dylan’s didn’t might have been Dylan’s excessive use of both “Dylan voice” and also the harmonica. Another reason could be that the album on which the song appeared, John Wesley Harding was released in 1967: the same year that saw the debut of the Grateful Dead, the supergroup Cream, Hendrix’s rise in America, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Beatles’ Srgt. Pepper’s Lonley Hearts Club Band, and tons of other rockin’ psychedelic tunes which can often eclipse a low-key (although awesome) roots-country album by an artist who really prefered to stay on the down low.
Those who are curious about taking their appreciation of “Dylan voice” to the next level can check out his “Nashville” voice here at Selective Listening, though, I warn you in the same way the people at Chinese restaraunts warn you about how spicy your food is about to be… we know that’s what you ordered, but you don’t understand this is really freakin’ spicy… You are sure?…*sigh*…alright have it your way… click here
Hang on for a second though- Bob Dylan is a folk hero and song writing legend. He deserves as much respect for writing the song as I feel Jimi Hendrix does for enhancing it.
It’s like Bob made an awesome kid who would eventually go on to achieve great things. Jimi Hendrix just adopted him, took away his goofy harmonica and taught him how to play a mean electric guitar. Seriously, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in his cover of All Along the Watchtower is regarded by many to be one of the greatest guitar solos ever. From about 1:42 – 2:49 Hendrix executes a guitar solo, as artistic and beautiful and expressive as any piece of art laying around in any art museum ever.
Dylan even admitted to being overwhelmed by Hendrix’s talent and musical abilities and even went so far as to say:
“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.”
Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower was so unbelievably amazing, that now when Bob Dylan plays his own song, he plays Hendrix’s version as a tribute to Hendrix. Tell me that doesn’t sound like some kind of weird Chuck-Norris-type joke. At the end of the day though, it simply is Bob Dylan’s respect and admiration for Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower that makes this cover so great, perhaps even the greatest cover song of all time.