Recognizing A Legacy: Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Its Iconic Covers by Jimi Hendrix, Dave Matthews Band, and More

Recognizing A Legacy: Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" and Its Iconic Covers by Jimi Hendrix, Dave Matthews Band, and More

I have a suspicion that few people in the world are unfamiliar with the song, “All Along the Watchtower.” This sharp ballad has witnessed remarkable transformations and has reached unprecedented heights through a variety of notable covers.

            Bob Dylan first introduced “All Along the Watchtower” in his ‘67’ album, John Wesley Harding, and the song’s cryptic meaning and haunting melody quickly captured the essence of the turbulent era, resonating with listeners on a profound level. Essentially the song is a few lines of dialogue in a conversation between a “joker” and a “thief;” about the shared experience of a culture of charlatans and the reminder that the limitations of that reality are only as influencing as our devoted thoughts.

No more than six months after the album’s release Jimi Hendrix began recording his electrifying rendition of “All Along the Watchtower” which propelled the song to new dimensions. Hendrix’s masterful guitar work and raw energy infused “All Along the Watchtower” with a sense of urgency and rebellion, making it the anthem for a generation (or perhaps it was just recorded soon enough after the songs original release, and has one of the world’s most recognizable guitar riffs, that allowed Hendrix’s version to become more familiar). Although, Dylan, after hearing the Hendrix cover, described the cover as “overwhelming,” and when Dylan plays his song, he not only plays a more “Hendrixized” version, but feels as though playing it is a tribute to the late renowned guitarist.

But I don’t think I really heard the song until I came across the unforgettable cover of “All Along the Watchtower,” performed (and recorded) on December 19th, 1998, in Chicago, Illinois, by the Dave Matthews Band (when you listen to this version, find a comfortable position, because it’s a bit longer—sit through it). A reimagining of "...Watchtower" in their signature style, and although the song was written by Dylan, the Dave Matthews Band cover is in tribute to Hendrix (a detail I always thought fascinating).

 “All Along the Watchtower” has since been covered, although not always particularly well, by a handful of notable musicians, and has been covered by dozens of even less notable musicians. Here are links to several of my favorites, and one that I can’t really get behind but thought it was fascinating: U2Moon TaxiEddie VedderRichie HavensNeil YoungLenny Kravitz ft. Eric ClaptonJohn Mayer w/ Dead & Companythe Allman BrothersAmani Smith, and even some guy named Devlin ft. Ed Sheeran, they’ve explored their interpretation of the song that could also be considered an internal conflict of our own, individual struggle with the expectations of society, and the dangers of slipping into the overwhelming stupor of indifference, in ways that illustrate how relatable the song is.

            Through Dylan’s introspective original, Hendrix’s fiery interpretation, and the Dave Matthews Band’s unique exploration, “All Along the Watchtower” continues to captivate everyone worldwide. The timeless classic serves as a tenant to the power of music to unite, inspire, and endure through the ages. And there’s something inexpressible about the way the song envelops people and resonates with them in a very personal way.

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