The subject for Day 19 of my 30-day Song Challenge is “A song that’s a superior cover of the original“, and my pick is “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. The magnificent song was technically recorded by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, which consisted of Hendrix on guitar, Noel Redding on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums. For this song, however, Hendrix also played bass, as he felt that Redding “did not put his heart into the bass.”
“All Along the Watchtower” was written by Bob Dylan, who recorded it in 1967 for his album John Wesley Harding, but Hendrix’s cover became the most iconic. Hendrix took Dylan’s acoustic original and radically rearranged it into a more dynamic and dramatic song, befitting the lyrics that many have stated are an allegory about the entertainment business, with artists feeling exploited by their managers and record labels. His complex, multi-layered blend of blues and psychedelic guitars is positively jaw-dropping and nothing short of spectacular.
In choosing to cover the song, Hendrix stated: “All those people who don’t like Bob Dylan’s songs should read his lyrics. They are filled with the joys and sadness of life. I am as Dylan, none of us can sing normally. Sometimes, I play Dylan’s songs and they are so much like me that it seems to me that I wrote them. I have the feeling that Watchtower is a song I could have come up with, but I’m sure I would never have finished it. Thinking about Dylan, I often consider that I’d never be able to write the words he manages to come up with, but I’d like him to help me, because I have loads of songs I can’t finish. I just lay a few words on the paper, and I just can’t go forward.” (Songfacts)
In a 1995 interview with the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, Dylan 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 liked Hendrix’s [recording] 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.”
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 Business men, they drink my wine Plowmen dig my earth None will level on the line Nobody offered his word Hey, hey 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, uh, but you and I, we've been through that And this is not our fate So let us stop talkin' falsely now The hour's getting late, hey All along the watchtower Princes kept the view While all the women came and went Barefoot servants, too Well, uh, outside in the cold distance A wildcat did growl Two riders were approaching And the wind began to howl, hey All along the watchtower
“All Along the Watchtower” was released as a single in September 1968, with the B-side “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”. Both songs were included on the album Electric Ladyland. Shockingly, it was Hendrix’ only song to reach the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at #20.
And here’s Bob Dylan’s original version: