This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #105: All Along the Watch Tower by Bob Dylan and covered famously by Jimi Hendrix.
For those of you who are well-acquainted with the Bible, you will know that there is a lot of symbolic importance to the image of a Watch Tower. In the Book of Ezekiel, there is much talk about preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord. As part of those preparations, a Watch Tower is to be constructed and manned with followers in order to be ready to receive the Lord when that Second Coming happened. If you require further proof that a “Watch Tower’ holds religious significance, note that the Jehovah Witness organization publishes a newsletter/magazine that they have christened as “The Watch Tower”, too.
This brings us to Bob Dylan. Dylan is universally regarded as being one of the most influential and important figures in all of music history. There are many reasons this is so but, foremost among them, is the impact he had on how songs were written. Prior to Bob Dylan appearing on the scene, many hit songs were written in a fairly simplistic manner. For example, think of “Peggy Sue” by Buddy Holly, “Wake up, Little Susie!” by The Everly Brothers and, of course, that old chestnut, “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?” When Bob Dylan appeared, he did so with a poet’s sensibility. It was because of Bob Dylan’s storytelling that songs were permitted to extend beyond the three minute mark that was the benchmark for songs prior to that. Dylan is also credited with bringing a sense of complexity to his lyrics; creating songs that read like novels, with verses that contained fully-developed characters and scenarios that unfolded at a more leisurely pace. More than anything, Dylan wrote like someone who was a perfect marriage of a poet and a musician; he created songs with beautiful language that, also, contained excellent musical structure.
There are many who claim that when Bob Dylan write “All Along the Watch Tower” for his eighth studio album, “John Wesley Harding”, he was actually using the song as a ploy during contract re-negotiation. That he dressed up his lyrics in Biblical imagery doesn’t change the fact that Dylan, at the time, thought his reputation had grown to the point where he deserved a greater share of the revenue he was bringing in. Read the first two verses and see if you agree:
“There must be some kind of way outta 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 will level on the line
Nobody offered his word.”
That Dylan borrowed language from the Bible seems fitting in that there is much in the way of beautiful langauge in the Bible. But, more than that, what Dylan did was create a new standard for songwriting. One bit of evidence for this can be seen in the fact that, not only did he write songs that sold well for him but, he also wrote songs that were so lyrically-poetic and so structurally-sound that they were admired by others who were able to cover them well and turn them into something uniquely their own. The Byrds did that with “Mr. Tambourine Man”, for instance, and so did a young guitar prodigy known as Jimi Hendrix, with “All Along the Watch Tower”.
How Jimi Hendrix came to record “All Along the Watch Tower” remains open to question but, the general consensus is that he was given a cassette of songs that Dylan had been working on that were recorded as demos. One of the songs was “All Along the Watch Tower”. Hendrix was already a huge admirer of Bob Dylan and was excited to listen to new work of his. So, as the story goes, Hendrix took the cassette tape back home, listened to it on repeat and, as midnight gave way to dawn, he began seeing the song through his own eyes. Consequently, Hendrix began to see where he could add in his own signature guitar licks (which were the guitar-version of Dylan’s poetic lyrics). Jimi Hendrix is regarded as highly for his guitar playing as Bob Dylan is for his songwriting. So, in covering “All Along the Watch Tower”, Hendrix is matching Dylan’s genius, note by note and, in the end, he created a cover song that, even Bob Dylan, himself, declared as being the best version of the song.
All in all, “All Along the Watch Tower” is a song that spawned two enormously strong versions of itself as gifts to the world. The genius of a songwriter, matched with the genius of the world’s greatest guitar player, gives us all one of the greatest single songs of all time. So, without further delay, here is “All Along the Watch Tower” by, both, Bob Dylan and by Jimi Hendrix. Enjoy them, both.
The link to the video for the song, “All Along the Watch Tower” by Bob Dylan, can be found here.
The link to the video for the song, “All Along the Watch Tower”, as covered by Jimi Hendrix, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Bob Dylan, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Jimi Hendrix, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.