All Along the Watchtower

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"All Along the Watchtower"
Bob Dylan All Along the Watchtower single cover.jpg
Netherlands single picture sleeve
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album John Wesley Harding
B-side"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"
ReleasedNovember 22, 1968 (1968-11-22)
RecordedNovember 6, 1967
GenreFolk rock
Length2:30
LabelColumbia
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Bob Dylan singles chronology
"Drifter's Escape"
(1968)
"All Along the Watchtower"
(1968)
"I Threw It All Away"
(1969)
Audio sample

"All Along the Watchtower" is a song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The song initially appeared on his 1967 album, John Wesley Harding, and it has been included on most of Dylan's subsequent greatest hits compilations. Since the late 1970s, he has performed it in concert more than any of his other songs. Different versions appear on four of Dylan's live albums.[1]

Covered by numerous artists in various genres, "All Along the Watchtower" is strongly identified with the interpretation Jimi Hendrix recorded for the album Electric Ladyland with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.[2] The Hendrix version, released six months after Dylan's original recording, became a Top 20 single in 1968, received a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 2001, and was ranked 47th in Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.

Bob Dylan's original[edit]

Background[edit]

Following a motorcycle accident in July 1966, Dylan spent the next 18 months recuperating at his home in Woodstock and writing songs.[3] According to Clinton Heylin, all the songs for John Wesley Harding were written and recorded during a six-week period at the end of 1967.[4] With one child born in early 1966 and another in mid-1967, Dylan had settled into family life.

Recording[edit]

Dylan recorded "All Along the Watchtower" on November 6, 1967, at Columbia Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee, the same studio where he had completed Blonde on Blonde in the spring of the previous year.[citation needed] 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.[5]

The final version of "All Along the Watchtower" resulted from two different takes during the second of three John Wesley Harding sessions. The session opened with five takes of the song, the third and fifth of which were spliced to create the album track.[citation needed] 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.[1]

Analysis[edit]

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.[6][7]

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.[8]

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."[9]

Heylin described Dylan's narrative technique in "Watchtower" as setting the listener up for an epic ballad with the first two verses, but then, after a brief instrumental passage, the singer cuts "to the end of the song, leaving the listener to fill in his or her own (doom-laden) blanks."[4]

Critics have described Dylan's version as a masterpiece of understatement. Andy Gill said "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."[10]

Dave Van Ronk, an early supporter and mentor of Dylan, disagreed with the majority view when he made the following criticism:

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.[11]

Performances and subsequent releases[edit]

John Wesley Harding was released at the end of 1967, on December 27, less than two months after the recording sessions.[12] 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 adjacent to Los Angeles, both with Dylan backed by the Band.[citation needed]

Dylan first performed the song live on January 3, 1974, in Chicago on the opening night of his 'comeback tour'.[1] From this first live performance, Dylan has consistently performed the song closer to Hendrix's version than to his own original recording.[1] In The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia, critic Michael Gray wrote 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.[1] According to Dylan's own website, through 2015 he had performed the song 2,257 times.[13]

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 his 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')."[1]

Dylan possibly was following the lead of the Grateful Dead in concluding the song by repeating the first verse; the Dead covered the song in this fashion, both with and without Dylan.[14][full citation needed]

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, released in 1985, and Dylan, released in 2007. In addition, Dylan has released live recordings of the song on the following albums: Before the Flood (recorded February 1974); Bob Dylan at Budokan (recorded March 1978); Dylan & The Dead (recorded July 1987); and MTV Unplugged (recorded November 1994).[1][15]

The Jimi Hendrix Experience[edit]

"All Along the Watchtower"
All Along the Watchtower single cover.jpg
European single picture sleeve
Single by the Jimi Hendrix Experience
from the album Electric Ladyland
B-side
Released
  • September 21, 1968 (1968-09-21) (US)
  • October 18, 1968 (UK)
RecordedJanuary, June–August 1968
Studio
GenreHard rock
Length4:01
Label
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)Jimi Hendrix
Experience US singles chronology
"Up from the Skies"
(1968)
"All Along the Watchtower"
(1968)
"Crosstown Traffic"
(1968)
Experience UK singles chronology
"Burning of the Midnight Lamp"
(1967)
"All Along the Watchtower"
(1968)
"Crosstown Traffic"
(1968)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience began to record their version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" on January 21, 1968, at Olympic Studios in London.[16] 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.[17]

Recording[edit]

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 an additional twelve-string 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.[17] Hendrix's friend and Rolling Stones multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones played the various percussion instruments on the track. "That's him playing the thwack you hear at the end of each bar in the intro, on an instrument called a vibraslap."[18][full citation needed] Jones originally recorded a piano part that was later mixed out in place of the percussion instruments.

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 City.[19] 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.'"[20]

Release and charts[edit]

The completed version was released as a single in the US on September 21, 1968, almost a month prior to the album release on Electric Ladyland in October. The single reached number five in the British charts,[21] becoming the first UK stereo-only single to do so, and number 20 on the Billboard chart, Hendrix's highest ranking American single.[22]

Reception[edit]

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."[23] 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."

Hendrix's recording of the song appears at number 47 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,[24] and in 2000, British magazine Total Guitar named it top of the list of the greatest cover versions of all time.[25] Hendrix's guitar solo is included at number five on Guitar World's list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos.[26]


References[edit]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Gray 2006, p. 7
  2. ^ Bush, John. "All Along the Watchtower". AllMusic. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
  3. ^ Sounes 2001, pp. 215–8
  4. ^ a b Heylin, 2009, Revolution in the Air, The Songs of Bob Dylan: Volume One, pp. 364–369.
  5. ^ Gray 2006, pp. 356–7
  6. ^ Heylin 2003, p. 285
  7. ^ Gill 1999, pp. 130–1
  8. ^ Cott 2006, p. 122
  9. ^ Ricks 2003, p. 359
  10. ^ Gill 1999, p. 131
  11. ^ Van Ronk, Dave (2006). The Mayor of Macdougal Street. ISBN 978-0-306-81479-2.
  12. ^ Gray 2006, p. 350
  13. ^ "Bob Dylan Songs". bobdylan.com. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  14. ^ Cf. "Dylan and the Dead".
  15. ^ "Bob Dylan Albums". bobdylan.com. May 21, 2012. Archived from the original on May 25, 2012. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  16. ^ Kramer 1992, p. 135
  17. ^ a b Kramer 1992, p. 136
  18. ^ Padgett, Ray: The Story Behind Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower"
  19. ^ Kramer 1992, p. 174
  20. ^ Kramer 1992, p. 175
  21. ^ "JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE | full Official Chart History | Official Charts Company". Theofficialcharts.com. Archived from the original on November 25, 2011. Retrieved January 14, 2016.
  22. ^ Kramer 1992, p. 198
  23. ^ "A Midnight Chat with Bob Dylan". Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. September 29, 1995.
  24. ^ "#47, All Along the Watchtower". rollingstone.com. April 7, 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  25. ^ "The Best Cover Versions Ever". Total Guitar. Future Publishing. August 2000.
  26. ^ "100 Greatest Guitar Solos: 5) "All Along the Watchtower" (Jimi Hendrix)". Guitar World. October 14, 2008. Archived from the original on November 18, 2010. Retrieved August 13, 2011.

Bibliography[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]