30 Day Song Challenge, Day 19 – “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix

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:

18 thoughts on “30 Day Song Challenge, Day 19 – “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix

  1. I really enjoy both versions. Bob’s is spare, to be sure, but still powerful. Jimi’s, however, imbues it with this grandeur. Nice to see them each tip his hat to the other one.

    Liked by 1 person

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