The 5 Best Covers: “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan

All Along the Watchtower

Today, we’re going through the top five best covers of Bob Dylan’s seminal minimalist era song, “All Along the Watchtower.”Released as a single with the B-Side “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and on the great minimalist album of the 60s, John Wesley Harding (1967). This song represents the cyclical nature of humanity with its careful guitar work and its enigmatic lyrics surrounding the conversation between the “Joker” and the “Thief.”

This particular song was recorded by Bob Dylan on the 6th of November in 1967 whilst he was becoming more of a family man than a touring man. It was all done and dusted in the Columbia Studio in Nashville, Tennessee and the album was produced by the same man who had worked on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, Bob Johnston.

Several people have analysed the biblical references in the song, especially those to Isaiah, which seem to be to do with the “watchtower” and what it represents. Though, nobody yet has come to a clear conclusion on what the song itself is about—is has been more than fifty years since its release.

Here’s a fun fact: the chapter of the Bible where Bob Dylan supposedly got the name for this song is the same chapter of the Bible where Harper Lee got her second novel’s name from. Isaiah, Chapter 21, Verse 5-6:

“Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink: arise ye princes, and prepare the shield./For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”

Many have commented on the cyclical nature of the song, with the end making some sort of reference to going back to the beginning and the “riders” being the “joker” and the “thief” characters. I couldn’t tell you because I myself do not know.

There are some scholars who believe this song is apocalyptic or see it as some sort of apocalyptic prophecy. This is because of the way that Bob Dylan sets up the song, he makes you feel as if it is going to be a long ballad – but then by the last verse, he cuts it short with this ambiguous and dark ending which could signal the end of the world. This seems a bit far-fetched for me, but that’s what some people believe.

Now, let’s go and count down the five best cover versions of the seminal song “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan. You already know what’s going to be at number one so just sit around and enjoy the rest before it happens. Let’s go!

Personally I think this version is awful but it brings Bob Dylan’s song into the 21st Century. Ed Sheeran’s parts are pretty good, even though I don’t like him very much I do enjoy it when he sings Dylan.

This song is slightly confusing to me because it takes everything that was actually really good about the song, such as the steady storytelling aspect and the darkness away from the song and replaces it with—well, I don’t know what it is but I’m not too fond of it. I can understand why people like it though—it’s new and it’s more now than 1960s.

All in all, it has an alright sound—but I cannot give it points for stripping the song of what makes it essentially prophetic. I think it’s a good attempt to bring Bob Dylan’s songs into the 21st Century but that’s all.

I like this version because it adds to the song. Eddie Vedder’s voice is pretty raw but I would appreciate if the electric guitar wasn’t in the song because it kind of wrecks it for me. The strange guitar solos with that electric guitar in-between give the song too much. I think the faster pace of the song was enough to add to it.

I think that this version is pretty good at an attempt but the song with that electric guitar can contradict the nature of the song. The reason it’s so dark and haunting is because of how minimal it is. I like the sound otherwise, if you can block the electric guitar from your mind, it sounds alright.

Eddie Vedder’s voice is very well-suited to this song though—I like the way it is raw just like Bob Dylan sings it. But I think he sings it a bit too loud, again taking away slightly from that prophetic nature of the song.

Pearl Jam’s version is more interesting than it is actually any good. The song is made into an electric hard rock style song rather than the minimalistic style we are so used to. I think that Pearl Jam is the only band that really went all the way rather than shifting around in the middle like Eddie Vedder or Ed Sheeran and Devlin.

I think it was well done, again apart from the electric guitar solo that randomly appears in the middle for no reason whatsoever, it doesn’t add to the song. It makes the song sound pretentious and shouldn’t have really been there.

The way the electric guitar takes over the song, again takes away from the prophetic nature of the song. I think Pearl Jam’s version is pretty good for a change to the song—but I do think they overdid it ever so slightly with those pretentious guitar solos. The main thing about this song is the lyricism, which you can just about hear on this version. But at least they tried to do the song in their style instead of someone else’s.

I really like U2’s cover of the song because it has a really good sound to it, even though it’s still a bit in-the-middle ish for me. I like the constant sound it has, like the original song. The backing music doesn’t overtake the vocals and the whole song is very well-balanced. I don’t really like Bono’s singing that much but this song is very good because of the way it sounds closer to the original than the others, but then tries to change the way the song is portrayed.

It’s an electric sound, but there’s a familiarity in the background sound as it offers us that constant strumming feel that Bob Dylan’s original also does. I would say that U2’s version is closer to the version done by the Jimi Hendrix Experience than it is to Bob Dylan’s—but it is still pretty damn good. Especially for U2.

Quite possibly the most famous recording of “All Along the Watchtower” (and more famous than Bob Dylan’s unfortunately for us bobcats, but you have to admit it is very, very good). Recorded between the January and August of 1968, The Jimi Hendrix Experience version of this song is the absolute perfect change to the otherwise, minimalistic song released by Bob Dylan.

It offers some electricity without going overboard, it offers some timeless darkness with that guitar and Mitch Mitchell’s drumming offers that constant sound like a metronome that we get from the acoustic guitar in Bob Dylan’s original song.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience version was released on the 21st of September 1968 in the US and the 18th of October 1968 in the UK. It became a large success and, to this day, it is the version that Bob Dylan himself performs on stage when he does.


Obviously, the Jimi Hendrix Experience version was going to be at number one, there have been many other covers since and the song has been used for multiple film trailers and TV Shows. I don’t think though, anyone anywhere could really top the minimalistic and dark, brooding sound of the haunting version recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967. That version hits your soul like nothing else can—it has a timeless and pensive quality to it. It is almost frightening the way he sings:

“Two riders were approaching; the wind began to howl.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *