Home > Verse > Poets & Troubadours: Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower

Poets & Troubadours: Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower

Though the song was written solely by Bob Dylan and first appeared on his John Wesley Harding album, I’m giving Jimi co-authorship credit. Hendrix’s powerful rendition is the definitive version and easily the most recognized.

Inspired by Old testament verse that alludes to the Four horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Day of Reckoning, All Along the Watchtower takes the wealthy and powerful to task for their usury ways. It chastises the establishment for knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Only outsiders, those on the fringe, truly value life and take it seriously.

In the song, outsiders are arriving to wreck the old order with the Joker serving as a symbol for the Artist whose role is to entertain but also to mock and provoke the powers that be.

In the same way that Hendrix used his guitar to portray the chaos and destruction of the Vietnam War in his version of The Star Spangled Banner (the only official version, in my mind), he uses it to build suspense for the conflict to come in All Along the Watchtower. When Dylan performs The Watchtower live, he is truer to Hendrix’s interpretation than his own folksy original.

The Watchtower is Dylan’s the most minimalist, expressionist and symbolic of his lyrics. It is one of my favorite rock and roll poems.


All Along the Watchtower

By Bob Dylan

“There must be some kinda way out of here”
Said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief”

“Businessmen, they, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it’s worth

“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 you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too

Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl

All along the watchtower
All along the watchtower

Categories: Verse
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