Saturday, June 23, 2007

All Along the Watchtower

"All Along the Watchtower," originally written by Bob Dylan, has been covered a numerous amount of times by various artists. The most popular versions have been covered by Jimi Hendrix and Dave Matthews Band, but U2, Prince, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Everlast, Gov't Mule, Lenny Kravitz, Pearl Jam, Phish, Rusted Root, etc. Obviously there are many others.

Dylan initially recorded it as a folk song, his traditional and popular style of music. Different versions have adapted this song to many styles from rock to R&B. When Dylan first wrote the song, it was not as big of a hit as when Jimi Hendrix re-recorded it with a new electric sound.

Recently, I read an interview in Rolling Stone in their 40th anniversary issue. Bob Dylan spoke of the success of Jimi Hendrix's song which inspired him to play it more. He was not upset with the new version, but it made him rethink the song and encouraged him to play it more. He never thought that the song was that much of a hit until he heard other versions which gave the song new life.

Jimi's version includes solos with his electric guitar, while Bob jams out on his harmonica. Wikipedia's entry on "All Along the Watchtower" informed me that Jimi used a cigarette lighter for solos in the song to make the erratic, electric noise. Cool fact to know.

Wikipedia also explains the lyrics, which I will paste at the bottom of the blog:

"As with many of the lyrics to the songs on this album, the words to 'Watchtower' contain biblical and apocalyptic references. The Watchtower is a term used several times in Old Testament and is the name of the official magazine of Jehovah's Witnesses. In Minneapolis, where Dylan spent time in his younger years, it is often claimed that the inspiration for 'The Watchtower' is a famous local landmark in Prospect Park, Minneapolis.

The song depicts a conversation between two people, a 'joker' and a 'thief', about the difficulties of getting by in life ('There's too much confusion'). The joker is concerned about losing his property, while the thief observes that some individuals among them aren't taking life as seriously as they should: 'There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.' It has been said that Dylan was complaining about record company executives cheating him out of royalties and making themselves rich[citation needed] with the lines 'Businessmen they drink my wine/Plowmen dig my earth'. The joker then suggests that time is running out, which may hint of their own mortality or foreshadow a change in society. In the last verse the viewpoint of the song switches abruptly. The ruling princes stand guard in a watchtower over their women and servants as an unnamed pair approach amid ominous sounds."

I don't think some people think that Bob Dylan wrote the initial song because Jimi Hendrix's version is more popular and sounds more similar to popular music of our time. In fact, Jimi Hendrix was a HUGE Bob Dylan fan. Today I watched Classic Albums on VHI on Electric Ladyland, and his band members were commenting that Jimi always carried a small book of Bob Dylan's lyrics with him that he would consult daily. When anyone would mention Dylan, Hendrix's posture would change, for he had total respect for the man. Hence, he covered "All Along the Watchtower" almost as a tribute to Dylan, although many people prefer Hendrix's electric version versus Dylan's folk, acoustic original track. In an online poll, 76.3% of participants prefer Jimi's version, while 23.7% prefer Dylan's original.

What do you think? Who has the best version you've heard so far?

Lyrics to "All Along the Watchtower:"

"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."

"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."

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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