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In July 1966, a motorcycle accident forced Bob Dylan into a period of seclusion and recovery. For the next year and a half, he retreated to his Woodstock home and immersed himself in songwriting, emerging with a collection of new material that would shape his musical direction for years.

“All Along the Watchtower,” released in 1967 on the album John Wesley Harding, remains one of his most enduring and enigmatic creations. It has taken on numerous lives through countless interpretations and covers.

All Along The Watchtower” Lyrics

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

Business men they drink my wine
Plow men 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 fell 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 wild cat did growl
Two riders were approaching
The wind began to howl

Bob Dylan – “All Along The Watchtower

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Bob Dylan

All Along The Watchtower lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” Meaning

Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” lyrics present a surreal dialogue between a joker and a thief. They share their observations about a world teetering on the edge. The joker laments the exploitation of resources by the wealthy, while the thief offers a cynical perspective on life itself. Dylan seems to caution against blind consumerism and calls for a deeper understanding of life’s poetic essence.

Scholars have noted parallels between the lyrics and passages from the Book of Isaiah, specifically Chapter 21, verses 5-9. These verses depict watchmen observing approaching riders and the fall of Babylon. This connection adds another layer to the song’s apocalyptic imagery.

The song’s narrative structure is also unique. It ends abruptly with the arrival of two riders, leaving the fate of the joker and thief uncertain. This open-endedness has sparked debate among critics and fans alike. English literature professor Christopher Ricks even described the song as beginning where it ends, suggesting a cyclical nature to the events it describes.

Not all interpretations are glowing. Dave Van Ronk, a musician and Dylan associate, criticized the song’s title and overall meaning, claiming it falls into the trap of “unintelligibility.” However, the enduring appeal of “All Along the Watchtower” lies in its very ambiguity. Bob Dylan sparks our imagination and then leaves us to ponder the consequences, much like the watchmen observing the approaching riders.

Jimi Hendrix Cover of “All Along The Watchtower”

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While Bob Dylan’s original “All Along the Watchtower” is a haunting masterpiece, Jimi Hendrix’s electrifying cover, released months later in 1968, catapulted the song to new heights. Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation transformed Dylan’s folk-infused ballad into a psychedelic rock anthem.

Jimi Hendrix’s innovative use of guitar effects, wah-wah pedals, and feedback created a sonic landscape that mirrored the song’s apocalyptic themes. His iconic solo, a fiery blend of blues and rock, is considered among the greatest in music history. It’s a sonic representation of the approaching riders, their power and fury surging through the speakers.

Lyrically, Jimi Hendrix remained faithful to Dylan’s words, but his vocal delivery and the band’s intense performance injected the song with a raw emotional power. The result was a visceral listening experience that captured the zeitgeist of the late 1960s, a time of social unrest and political upheaval.

Dylan even admitted to incorporating elements of Hendrix’s arrangement into his live performances. In the liner notes for his 1985 Biograph album, he said, “I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way.

All Along The Watchtower” Video

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Bob Dylan – All Along The Watchtower (Music Video)
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