Bob Dylan

All Along the Watchtower

Composed by Bob Dylan

Song Review by

Returning to the (somewhat) more straightforward narrative feel of his earlier songwriting, "All Along the Watchtower" was one of the highlights of Bob Dylan's long-awaited return to the music world, 1968's John Wesley Harding. Over a chugging, mid-tempo beat, Dylan recounts a short conversation between two men, one a joker despairing that the world is filled with robbers while the other, ironically a thief, reassures him with the words: "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke." This inversion of common roles and the obvious constraint felt by both ("There must be some way out of here" are the first words of the song) can be seen in the context of Dylan's own place in music. His year of seclusion -- following a mid-1966 motorcycle accident -- was seen by many as a way to slow down the rush of both industry and the media anointing him the voice of the decade. The Biblical imagery and apocalyptic words ("the hour is getting late") also point to an end-of-the-world tale, though Dylan is a notoriously difficult songwriter to pin down with the usual conventions.

As happens several times on John Wesley Harding, the song starts in media res, and ends just as the action appears to begin (with the approach of a pair on horseback). Dylan balances his vocal lines with a few plaintive wails from his harmonica, and trails off just barely two and a half minutes from the beginning. Although "All Along the Watchtower" has been performed many times by a variety of artists -- including Richie Havens, Jeff Healey, XTC, Buddy Miles, Indigo Girls, Bobby Womack, U2, John Mellencamp, Dave Mason, and TSOL -- it remains one of the few Dylan songs most commonly identified not with the songwriter himself. While at a party just a few weeks after John Wesley Harding was released, Jimi Hendrix remarked to Traffic's Dave Mason that he wanted to record "All Along the Watchtower." Within a few days, the pair were in London's Olympic Studios recording with drummer Mitch Mitchell. Raging and climactic where Dylan's had been soft-paced and relaxed, Hendrix's version became a rock standard. Perhaps the most glowing tribute to Hendrix came from Dylan himself, who began performing his own song in a version closer to Hendrix's than the original.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
John Wesley Harding 1967 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 2:34
Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 1971 Audio Fidelity 2:33
At Budokan 1979 Columbia 3:20
No Image 1983 Columbia 2:58
Biograph 1985 Legacy 3:04
MTV Unplugged 1995 Legacy / Sony Music Distribution 3:36
MTV Unplugged [Video] 1995 Sony Music / Sony Music Distribution 3:36
Woodstock '94 1995 Go Faster Records 5:24
The Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1996
Various Artists
Columbia 5:19
Nashville Skyline/New Morning/John Wesley Harding 1997 Legacy / Columbia 2:34
Masterpieces 1998 Columbia 2:28
The Essential Bob Dylan 2000 Sony Music
No Image 2000 Sony Music Distribution 2:32
Bob Dylan [Limited Edition Hybrid SACD Set] 2003 Legacy 2:34
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1-3 2003 Columbia
The Best of Bob Dylan [Sony/BMG 2005] 2005 Legacy 2:32
Nashville Skyline/John Wesley Harding 2006 Sony Music Distribution 2:34
Dylan 2007 Legacy 2:31
Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan '60s 2008 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Music Entertainment 2:32
The Original Mono Recordings 2010 Columbia / Legacy / Sony Music Distribution
No Image 2012 BMG / Sony Music Entertainment
The Very Best of Bob Dylan [2013] 2013 Sony Music 2:34
The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1 2013 Columbia / Sony Legacy 3:36
No Image 2014
Original Soundtrack
Sony Music
Across the Borderline 2016 Sonic Boom 4:13
Blame It on Rio 2016 Zip City 3:06
Beyond Here Lies Nothin': The Collection Camden / Sony Music 2:31
In the Garden 2001 Rattle Snake 5:20
No Image
Original Soundtrack
The  60s: Bob Dylan BMG / Sony Music / Sony Music Entertainment
The Real... Columbia 2:32
blue highlight denotes editor's pick