Suggest a Songfact / Artistfact
Album: John Wesley HardingReleased: 1967
This is about changing established society, starting in the middle of a conversation between two people (the Joker and the Thief). The Thief sympathizes with the Joker, who wants to escape his position in life and hates the values of society. The third verse suddenly shifts the scene, changing from a conversation to an almost unrelated verse filled with imagery of princes, women, and barefoot servants guarding a castle, establishing a place in the past. These figures are said to represent established society. "Somewhere in the distance, a wildcat does growl" suggests danger is approaching, then suddenly "Two riders are approaching" links us back to the first two verses. The riders are the Joker and the Thief, coming to establish a different set of values. The guarded castle suggests there will be confrontation.
While Bob Dylan did the original version of the song, it wasn't as popular until remade by Jimi Hendrix. Dylan liked Hendrix' version so much, he began playing the Hendrix version instead of his own. Jimi Hendrix had replaced the harmonica parts with guitar, and sped up the song.
In 2006, the Australian rock group Wolfmother had success with a song called "Joker & the Thief," which was inspired by lines from this song.
In addition to Hendrix, this song has also been covered by Lenny Kravitz, Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, U2, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead and Neil Young.
According to The Sun
November 1, 2013, this is the song Dylan has played live the most, having performed it 2,160 times. Runner up is "Like A Rolling Stone
" which has been rendered by the singer-songwriter 2,009 times in concert.
Bob Dylan got a good laugh out of hearing that the Village Voice's Richard Goldstein misinterpreted the line "two riders were approaching" as "two writers were approaching."