Quote and Credit

Quote and Credit

The Secret of All Along The Watchtower and Bob Dylan


The Greatest Rock song ever written is without a doubt "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan. Never mind that Jimi Hendrix did it better and Bob has been playing Jimi's version ever since. It has confounded critics for decades, but a simple trick makes the whole song and narrative make perfect sense. Read on.

For 40 years, when Bob Dylan plays "All Along the Watchtower" (as he is now in his tour of the States...travel on, Minstrel boy) It has become THE showcase for whoever has the honor of being Dylan's lead guitar player. Robbie Robertson was first and set the standard...well, maybe Mike Bloomfield. This year's model is again Charlie Sexton, and sexy he is...Handsome as any rock and roller can be, square-jawed, slim...and girls just drop their panties overboard for Charlie. I hope Papa Dylan gets him on the bus safe every night.


The song was written up in Woodstock in 1967-1968 when Bob and The Band were living together, basically taking advantage of a well-earned vacation and creating the Basement Tapes (No, not the sullied and tainted CD called the Basement Tapes for sale on Amazon) The 6 hours of songs Garth Hudson recorded which have only seen light through bootleggers. It looks like I have waited so long they will NEVER come out on a real disc now...since a sequence of bits and bytes suffices for music today. Digital dross wouldn't have scared Garth. He is a natural born tinkerer and could have recorded the songs on a pimped up Morse Code machine if they asked him to. For some reason, I think Garth Hudson knows ways to transmit music we haven't even discovered yet.

The point is that the greatest rock song was immediately transformed from a quiet, acoustic fairy tale into a raging howl of hell-fire and steam by Jimi Hendrix, and I can't think of a more effective cover, one which literally convinced the writer it was better, and so MUCH better he added the later version to his permanent repertoire. Let me tell you...to improve on anything Dylan does is no small feat.

But the post is about the song, Cribbed here from Bob Dylan.com and no, I am not selling ringtones. This, children, is a song.

All Along The Watchtower By Bob Dylan

“There must be some way out of 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 of them along the line know what any of it is 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 distance a wildcat did growl

Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

Copyright © 1968 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music


So the Secret? The mysterious secret of the greatest rock song ever written, a standard for the last 45 years? It is simple... Dylan reversed the paragraphs, or phrases. The "correct" lyrics, and the secret of the song's mystery is revealed when placed in proper order.
All Along The Watchtower By Bob Dylan (Reversed Phases)
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view

While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too

Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl

Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl

“There must be some way out of 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 of them along the line know what any of it is 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”

Remember, it was Dylan himself who said "the first one now will later be last"

So there you go....still plenty of room for guitar pyrotechnics, and we won't be as confused as the confused joker any longer. Simple as that. While listening to Hendrix, you might take a second to realize this is a trio...all the sounds are being created live by three musicians and only ONE of them from Mars.

Oh. one other thing...there should not be any confusion what the song is about in either version. It is about recording contracts, managers and an artist being taken advantage of. Again...Simple!

by Jim Linderman


7 comments:

  1. Interesting analysis. Yes, I, too, have always felt the order of the verses has been deliberately confused by Dylan - in the same way that those from 'Tangled Up In Blue' seem to be and time takes on the qualities of the infinite and the endless cycle. I do have to disagree with you regarding the Hendrix version, however. Of course, it is utterly fabulous but I do not feel it is in any way 'better' than Bob's original. The starkness and simplicity of the version on 'John Wesley Harding' says everything that needs to be said and anything else is window-dressing. Don't get me wrong, I love Jimi's version but, in certain respects, it's almost a different song. The chills that I get listening to the original are of a far higher order to the mainly visceral pleasures of the electrified Hendrix blast. Still, it's all a matter of taste. Cheers.

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  2. so first: "Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl"
    & after that the question: "There must be some way out of here"????
    that's confusing! because there must first be a way out of somewhere BEFORE you can approuch something else.
    so i think the original version is in good order ;-)

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  3. Excellent commentary. Of course singing bear is correct in pointing out Hendrix' version is not better, it's just different, almost to the point of it being a different song. Dylan did a great version od it on the Budokan album, and I think he moved it closer to Hendix' version on that take. I also believe Bob has said that Jimi did the "definitive" version of the song.

    The same can be said for Johnny Winter's version of "Highway 61". Johnny makes the song into a biting, howling statement, much different from Bob's melodically limited and somewhat droning vocal. Bob's version is also lightened by the comedic effect provided by the whistle, whereas Johnny's slide guitar provides a more eerie, siren like ominous quality. I would say Johnny, like Jimi with Watchtower, does the definitive version of Highway 61.

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  4. I'm getting lots of comments that the song came from the Bible (just like I do for many things I post...sigh) The word "watchtower" appears in the Bible 44 times.

    Guess what? The word "watchtower" appears in my POST over 10 times.

    I hate to say it, but if one STARTS with the Bible, you can find the "source" of virtually anything, but then Dylan isn't in the Bible (a Joker) nor is Albert Grossman (a Thief) metaphorically, of course.

    My only point is that the song is so great because of the broken narrative, and if you reverse the first and last stanza, the narrative is correct. It tells a whole and proper story which proceeds orderly and has only a slight bit less mystery. That is why I like the song...not only is it a mysterious, it has generated much scholarly debate, not all of it I will post here.

    As for Hendrix...I suspect, but am not sure, he played it at the Isle of Wight in the clip above because it was also Dylan's first major appearance (other than the Guthrie tribute) since he retreated to Upstate New York. As far as I know, he has never performed the song acoustically EVER...I think he actually played it live first on the 1974 tour, and it has been a guitar rave-up ever since, ala Hendrix. There are sources which one can check to see if he ever replicated the spare version on his LP release, but I do not think he has.

    As for the Basement tapes, Dylan was left with tons of contracts and commitments, (arranged by Grossman) some of which he was able to fulfill by churning out a dozen songs for others to cover (the Basement Tapes) Fortunately, they turned out to be some of his best work!

    Keep it up folks...that's what lyrics are for.

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  5. Just because Dylan has been playing the song with (mostly) electric guitars since 1974 does not mean he "has been playing Jimi's version". Loud electric guitars do not necessarily equal "Jimi Hendrix". Dylan has played the song using countless of different arrangments over the years. He only used the Jimi Hendrix arrangement in 1992. An acoustic version was played at the "MTV Unplugged" shows in late 1994.

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  6. Thanks! Was that "unplugged" acoustic performance the ONLY ONE? I think so. I once saw a list that the song was in his live song line-up for over 100 shows in a row or something like that. But will you agree with me that it has always been a guitar screamer showcase?

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  7. It's always been a guitar screamer for sure! I think "Unplugged" was the only acoustic performance ever and even that performance was not totally acoustic since it also featured Brendan O'Brien on Hammond organ. Other interesting versions: slow and brooding in Tacoma '86 and Tel Aviv '87, hard, short and fast in '88, then in Istanbul '89 they tried out the slow and dark intro that was perfected in 1991. The early- and mid-1993 versions sound like something Miles Davis could have recorded for "Bitches Brew". After that the song returned to shorter and very precise versions. Since the arrival of drummer George Receli in 2002 the song has been a rockin' monster – heavy, dark and mysterious. From 2003–2005 often with Thelonious Monk-like piano by Dylan himself. In recent years the song sometimes featured acoustic rhythm guitar by Stu Kimball. A personal highlight for me: Wantagh/Long Island, Sep. 10, 1993, when Dylan introduced the song with "Here's a song about pain ..." One of the greatest songs ever written. As far as I know it is also the one song from his ouevre that Dylan performed more often than any other song.

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