At number 5 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 10 best Bob Dylan songs is his 1967 masterpiece “All Along the Watchtower”.
This song appears on Dylan’s 1967 album “John Wesley Harding”, his follow-up album to his 1966 double album “Blonde on Blonde”. In stark contrast to its predecessor, “John Wesley Harding” is stark and bare in its musical arrangements, and this song “All Along the Watchtower” is typical of the minimalistic style of most of the songs on the album. Not only is “John Wesley Harding” musically very different from “Blonde on Blonde”, but Dylan had also radically changed his physical appearance. Gone was the crazy hair and sunglasses, and instead we see Dylan with close-cropped hair and a thin beard. He has gone from looking like a crazed rock-star to looking like a demure family man, which is essentially what he had become.
I have blogged before about this song, and as I’ve previously mentioned I am familiar with three versions of this song. There is Dylan’s original, Jimi Hendrix’s version which he first played live within days of the release of “John Wesley Harding”, and U2’s live version in the movie “Rattle and Hum”.
The lyrics are a masterpiece of Dylan’s ability to create a story and vivid imagery, and ends with the listener wondering what is going to happen next after the two riders arrive.
“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.
Here is a YouTube link to Dylan’s original version of this song, although how long the link will remain I am not sure. Enjoy!