All Along the Watchtower

Album: John Wesley Harding (1967)
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  • Lyrics
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Jamie - Sydney, Australia
  • 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. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bert - Pueblo, NM, for above 3
  • 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."
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Comments: 50

  • Carmen from Seattle, UsaIn his lyrics to "American Pie," Don McLean refers to Dylan as "the Jester," not the Joker.
  • Mike from Berkeley, CaTo Oshi: I think you can go along the rim of a watchtower. You could have a watchtower that was huge, with princes keeping watch in many directions. But it could well be poetic license. If it's a mistake, not too many people catch it--and I think even fewer people care.
  • Oshi from UkDave Van Ronk has observed that you cannot go along a watchtower (The Mayor of Macdougal Street: A
    Memoir of the 60's Folk Revival). True, a tower is high not long. What does this mean? Dave thinks
    it's just a mistake, poetic license, sounds good.

    More interesting though if it were an intentional paradox, like a Zen koan, long and not long!

    It seem to me the lyrics do have a flavour of the Bhagavad Gita, a dialogue between Prince Arjuna and
    Lord Krishna, introduced to the Beatles and others in the 1960s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

    "There must be some kind of way outta here", namely, out of the dilemma of embodied existence.

    "Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth, None of them along the line know what any
    of it is worth". People go about their activities careless of what it all means.

    "But you and I, we've been through that...", we have acknowledged the dilemma. "So let us not talk
    falsely now...", let's not try to explain that which cannot be put into words.

    "All along the watchtower, princes kept the view", those seeking to resolve the dilemma kept their
    attention focused on it, "While all the women came and went...", while people went about their daily
    activities. "Outside in the distance...", phenomena continue in infinite variety while the princes'
    attention remained undistracted.
  • Dave from Vancouver, CanadaIn my humble opinion this song is a complete indictment of the music industry... and the crap that they put music artists through.
    Dylan's the Joker, the music industry is the thief. Dylan himself says that he sold his soul to the devil (The Music Industry) so he could be heard (Told Ed Bradley on a 60 Minutes interview) The confusion had to be the blood thirsty music industry vipers trying to bridle Dylan who could not be bridled "Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth None of them along the line know what any of it is worth." Dylan's made more money for the music business and they took everything he had to market and they're still taking.
    "No reason to get excited", the thief he kindly spoke... Don't worry Bob we're driving the bus like it or not
    "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke... Bob's take on what their mindset must have been.
    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... The music execs never lost sight of Dylan for their own personal gain
    While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too... They did it for the notoriety and as a drawing card to get the women
  • Kawa from Tokyo, JapanI think that the idea of this song came from the blues in 60s, which also was coverd and recorded by the Allman Brothers Band in 1971. I can tell you this because the lyrics of thes song was too difficult to understand for not only music fans but also Dylan himself. Also I think that Dave Mason's very famous song 'Feelin' Alright' in 1968 was written by the same idea. Because the lyrics of this song was too difficult to understand for the listeners.

    To be continued,

    Kawa,
  • Sadrak Kabir from AmsterdamDylan, the joker, was being fooled with real estate - a 'public' secret, everybody knew, accept himself, the joker, and decided to pay back another public joke about the former owner - mating all the women while his daughter supervised - optional menage a trois - full explanation at :
    http://sadrakkabir.blogspot.nl/2015/07/all-along-watchtower.html
  • Harry White from CaliforniaHendrix added his cosmic style and rendered the song into a mystical and apocalyptic take that reflected the hippie or New Age movement at the time he composed the song. The feeling during the 60s was getting rid of the old, rich and entrenched warmongers, like the castle's tower on the Tarot card that gets hit with lightening. The princess symbolizes the rich, while the joker and the thief espouse the sentiments of the 60s and the timeless dissatisfaction with society in general.
  • Robin from Bolton, United KingdomAs soon as I heard this song I pictured the crucifixion (even though I'm an atheist!) - it fits so well. Also, Dylan elsewhere clearly refers to Christ/God as the Joker in his lyrics. Perhaps because of this, Don MacLean called Dylan "The Joker" in American Pie.

    No-one will top the Hendrix version, but there is a very good cover by the Modfather, Paul Weller (once of the Jam).

    Dylan clearly sings "growl" and Hendrix does too I think.
  • Doug from Grand Rapids, Mi7/13/2011 - One of my favorite cover versions is from the "Cate Brothers Band - Live" CD. Their twist is to put in sax solos where other versions feature guitar -- very well done.
  • Bob from Southfield, MiI'm a fan of both the Dylan and Hendrix versions. The Dylan version is a little more ominous in its "quietness". It's like the danger within the song is slowly creeping up on you. In Hendrix's version, the danger is present from the first chord and it just keeps charging at you.
  • Ivy from Springfield, NeI've heard the song before, it's ok. jesus he sounds different. 6/10
  • Gary from Seattle, WaThis great song also featured Graham Nash, who happened to be staying with Mitch Mitchell. The track was shipped around the world to various recording studios and worked on for over a year, Dave Mason also on guitar. Dylan paid Jimi and the biggest compliment of all, when he said he preferred Jimi's version to his own! That all from Mitch on my show during his last live interview.
    Be safe,
    Crowski KZOK, Seattle, WA.


  • Billy from Nederland , TxThis song is amazing!I bought "Exerience Hendrix" and the 5th song on it was "All along the Watchtower" I was completely blown away by the guitar solo! I didn't know those sounds were possible. Very Groovy. Then I heard the Bob Dylan version and was blown away again!
  • Robin from Wausau, WiLike most of you it's probably best that there's no one definitive explanation for what this song's about. So it is with the best of mysteries. For me, the song's always been about a gathering of souls, thrown together for what reason and how, no one's exactly sure, but there are many theories among them. Then it becomes clear as two riders approach and the wind begins to howl . . . the riders who else: God and the Devil, it's judgment day my friend.
  • Steve from Agoura Hills, CaThe song was also featured in the greatest graphic novel of all time, "Watchmen" - recently movified. My favorite version was actually by a local Detroit band, Savage Grace, that almost attained much-deserved national prominence (Warner Bros Loss Leader album).
  • Chloe from St. Louis, Mogreat lyrics, with some really interesting imagery. i prefer the hendrix version though, it has that fantastic energy that only jimi could pull off. musically, the original is a bit tedious in comparison.
  • Jason from Salisbury, MdIn the Battlestar Galactica series finale All along the watchtower turned out to be the Jump Coordinates to our Earth.Kara assigned numbers to the notes and these are the coordinates. 112365365321.When kara punched in the numbers se said "There must be some way out of here" a line from the song. 150,000 years later the hendrix version was played on the radio by a homeless guy and they showed a montage of real world robotic advances.
  • Tommy from New Orleans, LaXTC also covered this song.
  • Jules from Negaunee, MiI agree regarding the references to Battlestar's final episode in Season 3....very fitting to the situation...not sure if I liked the version of it though...
  • Thomas from Somerville, AlThis is one of those songs that I constantly preach about in that it's best if not interpreted but just enjoyed. Who cares what it means it's just a damn good song no matter who does it.
  • Joel from Columbia, ScJimi Hendrix redid this song. It's funny that if you listen to the version done live at the Isle of Wyte (sp) you can tell he messes up a couuple of times.
  • Chris from Minneapolis, MnThe Song is referenced to the "Witches Hat" tower located in Prospect Park, Mn. Not far from the University of Minnesota campus. The legend says that Dylan used to go and sit and play guitar outside the tower in the 16 months he lived in Dinky town. You can see the whole city of Minneapolis easily from there. The Tower was built in 1913 and is a historic landmark. A bass player friend that lives in the neighborhood told me he heard Dylan talk of writing the song about the watchtower in a radio interview sometime in the 80's, so I think it was. Check out these links.
    http://www.mnweddingminister.com/vendors/steverouch.html
    http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3DE2
    If anyone has the audio or more information on this please post it. I just wrote a new version of "All Along the Watchtower". Since I'm from Mn I became very interested in the history of this song.
  • Sda from Austin, TxWhat I like the most about the lyrics is "There must some kind of way out of here." This was a great inspiration to me back in 1969 when I was searching for spiritual enlightenment, an escape route from the cycle of birth and death. With the encouragement of Dylan and Hendrix I pushed through in my search and I was finally blessed by a bona fide spiritual master with realization of the Highest Truth, which uproots all the miseries of material existence and which is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all.
  • Steve from Binghamton, NyI, too, have always beleived that this song is about the Crucifixion: the joker and the thief are the two crucified with him, the princes being the apostles, women and servants those milling around the cross, and the two riders the other two parts of the Trinity. At the time I first heard this interpretation, in high school, it was pointed out that it would be odd for a Jew to subscribe to the Trinity--then Dylan famously converted. There is also a song on the Basement Tapes called the "Sign on the Cross;" the only sign ON the cross was the one Pilate ordered to be put up saying "King of the Jews," and the song seems to asking, from a Jewish standpoint, "Was this guy really the Messiah?" That song is from the same general timeframe as this song, so it's fair to say the subject was on Dylan's mind at the time.
  • Mike from Coopersburg, PaThe Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower is a classic. I get goosebumps every time I hear it. Hendrix certaintly dug Dylan. Hendrix aspired to the have Dylans use of poethic prose.

    Another cover of the all Along the Watchtower was done by Dave Mason. Although I didn't care for this version when it first came out after hearing it live I have come to appreciated it. I was amazed how the audience responded during a Dave Mason concert to this classic. If I recall my Electriclady Land history Dave Mason laid down the origional bass tracks with Hendrix. However Hendrix elected to do the bass track himself.

    In any event Mason was inspired by the experiance and did his own cut.
  • Walker from Clackamas, OrI have the live Dave Matthews cover from the central park concert and it's awesome, even though he leaves out most of the lyrics...
  • Robert from Chicago, IlThis is just another song that shows that Dylan is and will always be the greatest songwriter that ever lived.
  • Allie from A Little Ol' Town In, MiThe song is soooo well written that its no wonder that soo many people decided to cover it. The Hendrix version is a little less scratchy and sounds more finished. If you get what i mean
  • Bruno from Lima, Perui have heard a cover of this song with lyrics sung in spanish in the 3rd or 4th season of the show prison break (the one where they're in guatemala) it is a cover by a band in spanish obviously could somebody find out the name?
  • Mark from Naperville, IlDidn't think of many of the comments, just the title, watchtower, thought it was about time, time passing
  • Gene from San Diego, CaGreat song. A classic, actually. I actually preferred this to the Jimi Hendrix cover. The Bob Dylan one held the feeling of someone who was telling the story to someone after the event, along with his three-chord solo. I also liked the Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) cover. I like the dark, melodic notes with the Eastern feel.
  • Tim from Washington, DcHey "mampoop"... Dylan actually converted to Christianity (for a while) back in the early 80's. Not that you have to be a Christian to write about the Crucifixion. And you don't have to be a complete idiot to know that Montreal isn't in the United States, but you're in the running.
  • Guy from Woodinville, WaWhat's so cool about this song, Dylan or Hendrix, is the overwhelming sense of forboding and impending doom. Something about the chords he chose plus those wonderful lyrics. What a wonderful snippet of a song that takes us so completely into another dream world! Of course, it IS Bob Dylan, the master of imagery.
  • Dylan from Mildura, AustraliaAm i the only person that thinks Jimmi Hendrix's verson is sh*t compared to Bob Dylans?? I think i am, although Jimmi Hendrix is a excellent singer Bob Dylan's Verson of All Along The Watchtower has got somthing about it that Handrix's verson is missing

    - Dylan (15) Mildura Australia
  • Steve from Perth, AustraliaReading these comments made me think it is maybe no coincidence that the last song in Life of Brian has the line:

    "Life's a joke and death's a laugh it's true"
  • Mampoop from Montreal, United StatesTimothy from NC : Why would Dylan, who is jewish, write a song about Jesus' crucifixion?
  • R from Montreal, Qc, CanadaHendrix version is fabulous. U2 cover is crap. I heard Dylan playing that one at the end of 2006 in Montreal; it was a mix of Hendrix style and a bit of influence of Modern Times mood. Very good. A lot of Dylan songs are better performed by other artists: Joe Cocker's version of I shall be released and Just like a woman are fabulous.
  • Brian from Portage, MiThey say Dylan covered Jimi's version, does anyone know if that was ever released?
  • Calvin from Kyle, TxJust for the sake of fact. Dylan Didn't take up Hendrix's version of the song untill after Jimi's death. Before Jimi died Dylan still played his own version. Both of which are fantastic.
  • Suzan from Rochester, NyI guess us Galactica fans have stormed Songfacts, seeing as this is on the top 10 songs... The version in Crossroads was amazing and it fit in perfectly with the episode.
  • Leah from Brooklyn, NyIn the final episode of the most recent season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2007), certain members of the crew begin to subliminally hear fragments of this song haunting them. Ultimately, a collective switch is thrown in their psyche, and they come to realize that the four of them are actually Cylons. The song's presence in the episode has to be a foreshadowing that the way to Earth has been discovered, since none of the humans in the story have ever been to that ancestral planet.
  • Timothy from Fayetteville, NcThere is also great religious significance to this song, The Joker and the Thief represent the two thiefs that where crucified along with Jesus. One thief was a cynicle sarcastic Joker, who did not believe in Christ, and the other thief believe humbley in Jesus, asking him for forgiveness. the first line of the song is the joker asking the thief if there is a way to get out of the situation they are in. There are other religious parts in this song, if you know the Bible look up facts in the book of Isaih.
  • Davorin from Laktasi, OtherI must say Jamie (Australia) did not notice a very important thing about composition of the song. Lyrics are in reverse order. In fact, approaching of two horsemen is first line...fable flows and ends with opening lines "There must be some kinda way out of here".
    Line "All along the watchtower" is that way accented (by Dilan s singing ) ,that indicates
    beginning of the event.
  • Julio Porto from Porto Alegre, BrazilNoel Redding, bassist from Jimi's Experience, didn't like the Hendrix version. So he left the recording studio, with anger. Jimi record the bass line, what explains how the bass is so good on this track. In a interview some years before die, Noel keep saying that he preferred Dylan's version.
  • Mark from Hummelstown, PaDylan has always considered the Hendrix version one of the best covers of his songs. The day after Hendrix died - a torn up photo of Hendrix was found in Dylan's trash. Mark
  • Leia from Buffalo, NyPrince begun to play this at the super bowl halftime show and played it into "The best of you" by the foo fighters.
  • Charles from Birmingham, EnglandThe biograph version of this song is perhaps one of the best recordings of all time. In the style of Hendrix but better
  • Matt from Los Angeles, CaThey should make a children's picture book of this song, because it has a fun story element. Then, when the children get older, they can realize how strange it was that a publishing company put so many hidden messages into their bedtime story.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScGood song. I like the Hendrix version better though.
  • Sled from St. Louis, Ne"A wild cat did PROWL"
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