Sunday, September 14, 2008

Forty Years Ago Today: Jimi Hendrix charts with Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (9/14/1968)

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The Jimi Hendrix Experience “All Along the Watchtower”


Writer(s): Bob Dylan (see lyrics here)

Released: 9/2/1968, First charted: 9/14/1968

Peak: 20 US, 5 UK (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US and UK)

Radio Airplay (in millions): -- Video Airplay (in millions): --


Review: Jimi Hendrix is largely credited with reinventing the electric guitar and his prowess is never more apparent than on his take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” “Raging and climactic where Dylan’s had been soft-paced and relaxed,” AMG Hendrix’s version pulls off the rare feat of giving the world a cover that outdoes its original source. After hearing Hendrix tackle it, “you can’t imagine it...any other way.” BBC Dylan himself has admitted that in his subsequent performances of the song, he strove to emulate Hendrix’s version. RS500 “When I sing it,” Dylan said, “ I… feel like it’s a tribute to him.” LW-129

Dylan first recorded the song for 1968’s John Wesley Harding. Musically, the song is a perfect example of why Dylan songs lend themselves so easily to re-interpretation. “Aside from a few harmonica flourishes, it is a fairly basic affair,” BBC both “direct and unadorned.” LW-129

Lyrically, the song took the form of a conversation between a joker and a thief in “an allegorical tale about the sweeping away of society’s old guard.” BBC Peppered with “Biblical imagery and apocalyptic words,” AMG the original has “such an odd, abstract lyric that hardly anyone…could have held on long enough to spot the song hidden within,” MA-147 but Hendrix’s interpretation does so, “obliterating the lyric’s pretensions” MA-147 and giving the song an “urgency and edginess…far more in keeping with its apocalyptic message.” BBC

While at a party, Hendrix proclaimed to Traffic’s Dave Mason his interest in recording the song just a few weeks after its release. Just days later, the pair assembled with drummer Mitch Mitchell at London’s Olympic Studios to nail down their rendition AMG that has now become a rock standard.


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Note: Footnotes (raised letter codes) refer to sources frequently cited on the blog. Numbers following the letter code indicate page numbers. If the raised letter code is a link, it will go directly to the correct page instead of the home page of a website. You can find the sources and corresponding footnotes on the “Lists” page in the “Song Resources” section.


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