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Jimi Hendrix - All Along the Watchtower lyric meanings and song facts

All facts provided by Songfacts

This was written and originally recorded by Bob Dylan (also in 1968), but it was the Jimi Hendrix cover that made the song famous. Many other artists have covered it, including Eric Clapton, Neil Young, U2, The Dave Matthews Band and The Grateful Dead. Dylan was so impressed with Jimi's version that Dylan for years played it the way that Jimi had recorded it.
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. Suddenly "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. (thanks, Jamie - Sydney, Belgium, for above 2)
This was Jimi's only Top 40 hit in the US. He charted a few times in the UK, where he was popular before making a name for himself in America.
This was recorded while Hendrix played with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: Hendrix on guitar, Noel Redding on bass, and Mitch Mitchell on drums. For this song, however, Redding was not on bass; Hendrix did it. Redding was also the guitar player for his band Fat Mattress, which Hendrix referred to as Thin Pillow. Hendrix often felt that Redding did not put his heart into the bass and was concerned that Redding concentrated more on Fat Mattress than he did on the Experience. Things like these led to him being replaced by Billy Cox. (thanks, Ethan - Ridgely, MD)
The original version of this song is very slow. Jimi Hendrix' version had a large impact on Dylan which made him make his own version "heavier." (thanks, Ben - Manchester by the Sea, MA)
Hendrix: " All those people who don't like Bob Dylan's songs should read his lyrics. They are filled with the joys and sadness of life. I am as Dylan, none of us can sing normally. Sometimes, I play Dylan's songs and they are so much like me that it seems to me that I wrote them. I have the feeling that Watchtower is a song I could have come up with, but I'm sure I would never have finished it. Thinking about Dylan, I often consider that I'd never be able to write the words he manages to come up with, but I'd like him to help me, because I have loads of songs I can't finish. I just lay a few words on the paper, and I just can't go forward. But now things are getting better, I'm a bit more self-confident." (thanks, bertrand - Paris, France)
Hendrix had been working on and off with the members of the band Traffic as he recorded Electric Ladyland. Traffic guitarist Dave Mason caught Hendrix at a party and the two discussed Bob Dylan's newest album, John Wesley Harding, containing "All Along The Watchtower." Hendrix, long fascinated with Dylan, decided to cover the song on the album. On the resulting track, Mason plays rhythm on a 12-string acoustic guitar. (thanks, Joey - Athens, GA)

All facts provided by Songfacts


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