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All Along the Watchtower

"All Along the Watchtower" is a song written and recorded by the 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. Over the past 35 years, 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 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 and was ranked 47th in Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


 [hide*1 Bob Dylan's original

Bob Dylan's original[edit]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.


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

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.[5] 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.[7]


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.[8][9]

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."[10]

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."[11]

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."[12]

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.[13]

Performances and subsequent releases[edit]Edit

John Wesley Harding came out at the end of 1967, on December 27, less than two months after the recording sessions.[14] 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 Forumoutside Los Angeles, both with Dylan backed by The Band.[5]

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, by 2012 he had performed the song 2,034 times.[15]

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.[16]

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 FloodBob Dylan at BudokanDylan & The Dead; and MTV Unplugged.[1][17]

The Jimi Hendrix Experience[edit]Edit

"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" EU+JP "Can You See Me"

Released September 21, 1968 (US)

October 18, 1968 (UK) October 1968 (EU+JP)

Recorded January 1968

Olympic StudiosLondon; June–August 1968 Record Plant StudiosNYC

Genre Psychedelic rockhard rockblues rock
Length 4:00
Label RepriseTrackPolydor
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer Jimi Hendrix
The Jimi Hendrix Experience singles chronology
"Up from the Skies"


"All Along the Watchtower"


"Crosstown Traffic"


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.[18] According to engineer Andy JohnsJimi 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.[19] 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.[19] Hendrix's friend, and Rolling Stones multi-instrumentalist, Brian Jonesplayed the various percussion instruments on the track. Jones originally recorded a piano part that was later mixed out in place of the percussion instruments. Kramer and Chas Chandlermixed 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.[20] 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.’”[21] The finished version was released on the album Electric Ladyland in September 1968. The single reached number five in the British charts,[22] 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."

Hendrix's recording of the song appears at number 47 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time,[26] and in 2000, British magazine Total Guitar named it top of the list of the greatest cover versions of all time.[27]

Other notable recordings[edit]Edit

Dave Matthews Band[edit]Edit

Dave Matthews Band has played the song since the band's inception in the early 1990s.[28] Their rendition maintains Dylan's three chord structure and key signature but differs in style. Dave Matthews typically begins the song slowly with just bass, 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,[28] and it has appeared on six of their officially released live albums, though the band has never released a studio version.

In addition, the band has had numerous musicians guest with them while playing Watchtower including Carlos SantanaNeil YoungWarren Haynes from Gov't Mule and The Allman Brothers BandTrey Anastasio from PhishZac BrownBela FleckRobert RandolphMarcus Mumford and Gary Clark Jr.

Dave Mason[edit]Edit

Dave Mason also covered "All Along the Watchtower".[29] As noted above, Mason also played on Jimi Hendrix's widely known version, playing the 12 string acoustic guitar on the track.


Irish rock band U2 first played a cover of "All Along the Watchtower" during their Boy Tour in 1981.[30] Years later, during the Joshua Tree Tour in 1987,[31] 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 47 live shows during the band's 1989 Lovetown Tour.[32]

Neil Young[edit]Edit

Neil Young performed a live version with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, which appeared on his album Road Rock Vol. 1: Friends & Relatives. He has also performed the song with Dave Matthews Band and with Booker T. and the M.G.'s at the Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden. The recording of the Dylan tribute was issued in 1993. In 2004, he performed a version with Bruce Springsteen.

Grateful Dead[edit]Edit

The Grateful Dead performed the song 124 times,[33] first on June 20, 1987. This adds to a lengthy repertoire of Bob Dylan covers by the Dead.

Bryan Ferry[edit]Edit

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.

Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam[edit]Edit

After performing the song live four times from 2004–2006 with Pearl Jam, lead singer Eddie Vedder was asked to record "All Along the Watchtower" with The Million Dollar Bashers for the soundtrack of the Dylan biopic I'm Not There. Named for Dylan's song "Million Dollar Bash", the group was formed by guitarist Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Its other members included Steve Shelley on drums; Television's Tom VerlaineWilco's Nels Cline, and Smokey Hormel on guitars; John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood on keyboards; and Dylan's bassist Tony Garnier.

In 2008, the song was played three times during Pearl Jam's US East Coast Summer Tour, including the Bonnaroo Music Festival. In 2009, the band was joined by Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones to perform the song at theShepherds Bush Empire in LondonEngland.[34]

Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica[edit]Edit

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", featuring his younger brother Brendan on vocals. A version with all the lyrics was included on the season 3 soundtrack. The lyrics had been written into the screenplay by Ronald D. Moore.[35] 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.

Steve Hackett Band[edit]Edit

Steve Hackett played a powerful live version of the song during a show at the Shepherd's Bush Empire[36] with John Wetton on lead Vocals (2010). Then he realized a studio version of the song (with also John Wetton on vocals) for the new remaster edition of the Tokyo Tapes live album (2013). Steve Hackett's studio version of the song develop a lots of his innovative guitars parts like tapping phrases and an extensive sustainer's using system on his Fernandes Les Paul Black. All Along the Watchtower's studio version involved: Steve Hackett on guitars and percussion, John Wetton on vocals, Roger King on keyboards, Lee Pomeroy on Bass and Garry O'Toole on drums. The initial live version include the same band except Nick Beggs on bass instead of Lee Pomeroy and Amanda Lehmann in a 2nd guitar part.


The song has been covered by many other artists,[37] including:

Cultural references[edit]Edit

The song as originally recorded by Dylan was used in the 1999 film American Beauty. Hendrix's version was featured in the movies Withnail and IRushLand of the Lost (without Hendrix's vocals), Private PartsForrest GumpA Bronx TaleBlue ChipsVegas VacationTupac: 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".

  • "All Along the Watchtower" is one of seven Dylan songs whose lyrics were reset for soprano and piano (or orchestra) by John Corigliano for his song cycle Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan.

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