All Along the Watchtower

All Along the Watchtower

Infobox Song
Name = All Along the Watchtower
SorA =
Artist = Bob Dylan
Album = John Wesley Harding
Released = December 27, 1967
track_no = 4
Recorded = November 6, 1967
Genre = Folk rock
Length = 2:31
Writer = Bob Dylan
Composer =
Label = Columbia
Producer = Bob Johnston
prev = I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
prev_no = 3
next = The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest
next_no = 5

"All Along the Watchtower" is a folk song written and recorded by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. Dylan has performed this song more often in concert than any of his other compositions. It has been covered by other artists in different genres, most notably by Jimi Hendrix on his album Electric Ladyland.

Bob Dylan's version

Commenting on the songs on his recently released 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:

Christopher Ricks has commented on "All Along the Watchtower": " the conclusion of the last verse, it is as if the song bizarrely begins at last, and as if the myth began again." [Christopher Ricks, "Dylan's Visions of Sin", p. 359] The song was recorded by the artist as a quiet, menacing three-chord Folk song on November 6, 1967, at Columbia Studio A, Nashville, Tennessee. Accompanying Dylan, who played acoustic guitar and harmonica, were Charlie McCoy on bass guitar and Kenneth Buttrey on drums. [cite news
url =
title = Log of every Dylan Recording Session
publisher = Bjorner's Still on the Road
date = 2006-08-20
] The producer was Bob Johnston, who had been Dylan's producer since the album "Highway 61 Revisited" in 1965. The song was released on Dylan's equally quiet and sparse album "John Wesley Harding", on December 27, 1967.

title=Bob Dylan "All Along the Watchtower" (1967)
description=Sample from Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". From the album "John Wesley Harding".

Dylan, recovering from a motorcycle accident which had marked a shift in his career, had been seen reading the Bible on a daily basis. [Heylin,C: Bob Dylan Behind the Shades, page 285] As with many of the lyrics to the songs on this album, the words to "Watchtower" contain biblical and apocalyptic references.

The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 21, verses 5-9, contains the following: "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 such 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."

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." The joker suggests that time is running out. In the last verse, the viewpoint of the song switches abruptly. The ruling princess stand guard in a watchtower over their women and servants as an unnamed pair of riders approach amidst ominous sounds. [cite web
url =
title = Lyrics of "All Along The Watchtower"
publisher = "Bob"
date = 2007-10-07

In recent years, Dylan in live performance has taken to singing the first verse again at the end of the song. As Michael 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')." [Michael Gray, "The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia", p. 7]

In addition to his original recording, 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".

Cover versions

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Infobox Single
Name = All Along the Watchtower
Artist = The Jimi Hendrix Experience
from Album = Electric Ladyland
A-side =
B-side = US "Burning of the Midnight Lamp", UK "Long Hot Summer Night"
Released = US September 21, 1968, UK October 18
Format =
Recorded = Record Plant Studios, New York, July 1967, December 1967, January 1968, April–August 1968
Genre = Psychedelic rock
Length = 4:00
Label = Reprise Records, Track Records, Polydor, Barclay Records
Writer = Bob Dylan
Producer = Jimi Hendrix
Certification =
Last single = "Burning of the Midnight Lamp"
This single = "All Along the Watchtower"
Next single = "Crosstown Traffic"
Misc =
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. [Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight", p. 135] 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. [Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight", p. 136] 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 turned up 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. [Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight", p. 136] 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. [Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight", p. 174] 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.’” [Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight", p. 175] The finished version was released on the album "Electric Ladyland" in September 1968. Hendrix’s obsessive re-working of the song transformed it from a quiet acoustic ballad to a pyrotechnic display of Hendrix’s guitar virtuosity. The single reached number five in the British charts, and number 20 on the "Billboard" chart. [Eddie Kramer, 'Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight", p. 198]

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." [cite web
url =
title = Interview with Dylan: 09/29/95
publisher = "Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel"
date = 1995-09-29
] Listen
title=The Jimi Hendrix Experience "All Along the Watchtower" (1968)
description=Sample from Jimi Hendrix's cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". From the album Electric Ladyland.
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 version was featured in the movies "Withnail and I", "Rush", "Private Parts", "Forrest Gump", "A Bronx Tale", "Vegas Vacation", "" and the 2001 remake of "Brian's Song" 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.

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 ever. [citation | newspaper = Total Guitar | date = August 2000 | title = The Best Cover Versions Ever | publisher = Future Publishing]


title=U2 "All Along the Watchtower" (1988)
description=Sample from U2's cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", from the album Rattle and Hum

Irish rock band U2 first played a cover of the song during the Boy Tour in 1981. Years later during the Joshua Tree Tour in 1987, the cover was played for a second time, in San Francisco, CA, with an additional verse added by Bono. This special performance was later included as a scene in U2's 1988 rockumentary film, "Rattle and Hum", and also as a track on the album of the same name. The performance was impromptu, with the band literally learning the chords and lyrics within minutes of taking the stage, and thus had problems which were edited in the soundtrack. The song was played as a homage to both Bob Dylan and The Jimi Hendrix Experience,Fact|date=February 2007 and was later followed up by making its way into almost 50 live shows during the band's 1989 Lovetown Tour. The song has since faded from the band's live performances, but has made brief comebacks as it was snippeted by the band at two shows during the Zoo TV Tour and Elevation Tour.

In the "Rattle and Hum" performance, Bono added the lyrics"All I got is a red guitar /Three chords and the truth /All I got is a red guitar /The rest is up to you."

Dave Matthews Band

title=Dave Matthews Band "All Along the Watchtower" (1995)
description=Sample from Dave Matthews Band's cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower", from the album Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95
sample box end

Dave Matthews Band has played the song since the band's inception in the early 1990s.cite web|url=|] Their rendition of the song maintains Dylan's three chord structure and key signature but differs in style. Vocalist and guitarist, 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" and the song tempo and intensity picks up. This is then followed by extended solos taken by the band members culminating with the line that the band chooses to highlight, "No reason to get excited." The song is often chosen to feature a guest performer since it is a well known rock standard. "Watchtower", as it is often referred to by fans, is a concert staple, often performed as a concert closer or encore. Performances of the song, including those played and sung solo by Matthews or with guitarist Tim Reynolds, have totaled more than 500 to date. The group has released the song on more than a half-dozen live albums but has never released a studio recording of the song. Both Pat McGee and Howie Day have performed the song in the style of Dave Matthews.


During the halftime show for the National Football League's Super Bowl XLI (2007) game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Chicago Bears, Prince performed a cover of "All Along the Watchtower".

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 "". 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 "Watchtower" 123 times [ [ DeadBase - Searchable Grateful Dead Setlists ] ] , first on June 20, 1987. This adds to a lengthy repertoire of Bob Dylan covers by the Dead.

Bear McCreary

Television composer Bear McCreary wrote a version of "All Along the Watchtower" for use in the final scene of the "Battlestar Galactica" season three finale "Crossroads, Part II". The lyrics had been written into the screenplay by Ronald D. Moore. [Moore, Ronald D. Podcast commentary for "Crossroads, Part 2". Available at]

Bryan Ferry

Bryan Ferry recorded this song as a demo with Robin Trower in the mid 1990's. 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.


The song has been covered by many other artists [Allmusic lists about 250 versions as of Jan. 2008] , including:

* Klopjag
* Affinity
* The Allman Brothers Band w/ Bob Weir
* Tori Amos
* B-Real
* Michael Angelo Batio
* Brygada Kryzys
* Pat Boone
* Bradley Fish
* Brewer & Shipley
* Elkie Brooks
* Thomas Brun
* Hiram Bullock
* Eric Clapton
* Dave Matthews Band
* Howie Day
* Dream Syndicate
* Eat A Peach
* Rik Emmett
* Everlast
* The Fratellis
* Funkstar De Luxe
* Giant Sand
* David Gilmour
* Good Question
* Gov't Mule
* The Hamsters
* Richie Havens
* Jeff Healey
* Heart
* Michael Hedges
* Monte Montgomery
* The Indigo Girls
* Elton John
* Keziah Jones
* Kanedn
* Lenny Kravitz
* Kronos Quartet
* Shawn Lane
* London Symphony Orchestra
* Frank Marino
* Dave Mason
* John Mellencamp
* Mooney Suzuki
* Van Morrison
* The Nashville Teens
* Nine Days
* P.O.S.
* The Paperboys
* Pat McGee Band
* Pearl Jam
* Phish
* The Presidents of the United States of America
* The Republicans
* Damien Rice
* Rusted Root
* Calvin Russell
* Sand Rubies
* Savage Grace
* Kenny Wayne Shepherd
* Spirit
* Bruce Springsteen
* Taj Mahal
* Ten Years After
* Tiny Tim
* Träd, Gräs och Stenar
* Robin Trower
* Waterdeep (band)
* Paul Weller
* Wide Mouth Mason
* Widespread Panic
* Keller Williams
* Bobby Womack
* Pidżama Porno

ee also

* Joker & the Thief - Wolfmother
* The hard rock/metal 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.
* Crossroads (Battlestar Galactica) - the song is used several times in the episode as a diegetic source of music that only four characters can hear with full rendition in the last act of the episode. Some of the lyrics were also written into the episode's script.
*Alan Moore wrote the lyrics into his graphic novel "Watchmen", where they reflect the development of the comic's plot.
*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.




Further reading

*Marqusee, M (2003). "", New Press

External links

* [ Lyrics to the song]
* [ "Reason to Rock" - The lyrics explained]

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