The Original vs. The Cover – “All Along the Watchtower”

For this month’s The Original vs. The Cover, we are tackling the classic song “All Along the Watchtower” written by Bob Dylan.  We are going to explore the Bob Dylan version and the Jimi Hendrix version.  The two versions of this song couldn’t be more different.  You have Bob Dylan’s version which is more Folk Rock and then the Hendrix version which is pure guitar rock.  Each version is a classic in its own right so how do you choose.  Let’s learn about each version first before we decide.

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote and recorded the song back in 1967.  It was on the album John Wesley Harding which was released in December 1967.  The song itself wasn’t released as a single until November 22, 1968 which was actually after The Jimi Hendrix Experience released it as they released it as a single on September 21, 1968.  If we base the original and the cover based off single release date, then Hendrix’s is the original…right?  No, it isn’t but one could make an argument if they so choose.

The song itself is a slow, almost ballad like for part of the song.  Instrumentally, the standout is the harmonica which is the main driver of the song.  The guitar and drum parts were background and their simplicity is what makes it work.  The folksy sound and Dylan’s gritty voice were magical and he sings with such emotion.  This is one of the few songs I actually could understand what he was saying.

I am not going to into the meaning of the song as it is irrelevant for the purpose of this article.  There are so many theories on what the song means that it could be an article all its own.

Sadly, there is not a Youtube video out there of the original song with the harmonica, so here is the audio of the song that you should enjoy.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

The Hendrix version is completely different.  It replaces that harmonica with an electric guitar. Not just any electric guitar, a guitar played by Jimi Hendrix.  What a difference it makes.  The slow, folk rock song becomes a straight-up hard rock song and one of Jimi’s most popular.  In fact, more people might think of it as a Hendrix song before they think of it as a Dylan song.

The psychedelic rock sound and the vibraslap used at the beginning of the song tell you that this is not Dylan.  It is a new animal all its own.  The tempo is definitely sped up and Hendrix sings it with a completely different attitude.  Where I think Dylan is singing the song with feeling and emotion, Hendrix is just singing it with power.  The guitar and musical stylings is the star of Hendrix’s version.

Dylan was so impressed with this version that going forward he played it more like Hendrix then even his own version which is why you can’t find a harmonica version on Youtube.  Dylan has even mentioned that when he plays it, it feels more like a tribute to Jimi than anything else.  That is quite a compliment.

Okay, I guess I need to pick my favorite.  It is a really tough choice, but I am actually going to go with the Jimi Hendrix version.  It was the version I first discovered and I am a guitar nut.  I was a Jimi fan long before I became a Bob Dylan fan.  Now I am a fan of both and can appreciate each artist for different reasons.  Let me know which version you like and maybe I won’t be alone in my thinking.  I hope you enjoyed.

“All Along The Watchtower”

“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.

Written by Bob Dylan


Have there been other versions?  Yes, quite a few.  Below are some artists that have covered this song:
  • The Nashville Teens
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Dave Mason
  • U2
  • Neil Young
  • Grateful Dead
  • Bryan Ferry
  • Pearl Jam
  • Bear McCreary/Battlestar Galactica
  • Steve Hackett Band
  • Affinity
  • Brewer and Shipley
  • Chris de Burgh
  • Randy California
  • Eric Clapton
  • The Dream Syndicate
  • Richie Havens
  • Jeff Healy
  • Micheal Hedges
  • Indigo Girls
  • Van Morrison
  • Supertramp
  • The Persuasions
  • June Tabor
  • T.S.O.L.
  • Klopjag
  • Turtle Island String Quartet
  • Paul Weller
  • Bobby Womack
  • XTC
  • Envy on the Coast
  • Francis Cabrel
  • Delvlin ft. Ed Sheeran
  • John Waite
  • Widespread Panic
  • Dissipated Eight
  • Frank Marino

24 thoughts on “The Original vs. The Cover – “All Along the Watchtower”

  1. I think Prince may have covered it too (or at least as part of a medley when he played the Superbowl) – but I too arrived at the Dylan original through Jimi, so I have to vote Hendrix.
    I like that line about Dylan feeling like he’s paying tribute to Hendrix when he plays it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When Michael Hedges sings and plays this great song by Dylan on harpguitar or his steel 6, the lyrics jump out as they did with Hendrix. The guitar mastery of both Hedges & Hendrix are unmatched in my opinion of all the covers. The meaning of the song is even more understood in Hedges version……… “nobody knows what any of it is worth”. If Jimmy was doing acid sometime while playing the song, it might have had something to do with his leaving us far too early. There are depths of human desperation in Dylan’s lyrics! (Just a possible insight I had thanks to a reaction to steroids from a knee injection……. always thought amphetamines in any form weren’t good for me!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am not familiar with him, but a harpguitar doing that song…yeah…I will need to check that out. Thanks for mentioning him and thanks for stopping by.
      And yes, the drugs are a big part of Jimi leaving us so soon, sadly. Dylan’s lyrics are always so much more in depth than the average artist. An amazing poet.


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