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Watching Watchtower
July 2, 2007 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Aside from the usual crap, YouTube has a great selection of one the most covered song of all time: All Along the Watchtower. Classics like Hendrix (live and studio), Neil Young (at DailyMotion with better sound) and U2--and some great contemporary versions like Keziah Jones' blazingly-fast version, Bradley Fish's 12-instrument (including Chinese Zither) version, Michael Hedges’ reason-to-be-excited cover, and even a quite good version of DMB's much-maligned cover. What doesn't really rank: Dylan's original.
posted by FeldBum (43 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oops - thanks for fixing up the spacing...
posted by FeldBum at 10:18 AM on July 2, 2007


And, for BSG fans, Bear McCreary.
posted by googly at 10:21 AM on July 2, 2007


That's one of those songs that I didn't really get as a kid, then really got when I was in college taking Bong 101 lessons, then didn't again get after college when the sober reality of life in the "real world" hit, then began to understand again as I got older in an entirely new way as a representation of a possible inner condition poised on an awakening.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:25 AM on July 2, 2007


Bob's versions of his songs are always preferable to me because of his deft command of phrasing. Seriously, his voice may grate on some nerves, but it's always best to go back to the source material, IMO.
posted by chuckdarwin at 10:31 AM on July 2, 2007


googly, the BSG version is by far my favorite. When's that season 3 soundtrack coming out, anyway?
posted by Saellys at 10:40 AM on July 2, 2007




I always heard it said that Witchita Lineman was the most covered song of all time. At least, that's what I've always heard everyone say. And I always thought it was interesting that I had never actually heard a cover of Wichita Lineman...

For that matter, the only other cover (besides Jimi's) that I've ever heard of "...Watchtower" is XTC's. Which is interesting in an over-caffeinated kind of way, but not really something I'd seek out.

And I don't think I've ever actually heard Dylan's version all the way through, strangely enough. Though I have heard Richard Berry's of "Louie, Louie."
posted by lodurr at 11:10 AM on July 2, 2007


jinx.
posted by lodurr at 11:10 AM on July 2, 2007


Dylan's live version on his mtv unplugged cd is pretty good. I think it just needs to be live.
posted by RMD at 11:12 AM on July 2, 2007


There is also this version from the Concert for Change in St Paul in 2004 (poster has it in Minneapolis but that's wrong). Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and the E St. Band. Clarence Clemons facing off against Neil!
posted by Ber at 11:16 AM on July 2, 2007


I don't really mind the Edge so much because even though he's barely competent as a guitar player (inexplicable for someone who has played as long as he has), he's mostly a guy just doing his own thing.

But playing "All Along the Watchtower"? That's where I draw the line.
posted by psmealey at 11:16 AM on July 2, 2007


Itunes alone lists 130 (with some repeats) for AATW,
posted by RMD at 11:17 AM on July 2, 2007


Dylan has said that he preferred the Hendrix version to his own, and when he plays it now he pretends that he is covering a Hendrix song instead of playing his own.
posted by flarbuse at 11:36 AM on July 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Another version, by a US soldier in Iraq. (via)
posted by knave at 11:40 AM on July 2, 2007


I always thought that "Yesterday" was the most covered song ever.
posted by afx114 at 11:40 AM on July 2, 2007


Dylan has said that he preferred the Hendrix version to his own, and when he plays it now he pretends that he is covering a Hendrix song instead of playing his own.

Good thing Mr. Zimmerman is always so straightforward and clear when it comes to discussing himself and his art.
posted by docgonzo at 11:40 AM on July 2, 2007


SPOILER: FeldBum is a cylon.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:41 AM on July 2, 2007


I read that too, flarbuse, and it always amuses me when that happens. Robert Smith said pretty much the same thing upon hearing Dinosaur Jr.'s version of "Just Like Heaven". He said not only did the band prefer it, but it actually influenced them to change the live arrangement of the tune (particularly in the chorus).
posted by psmealey at 11:41 AM on July 2, 2007


The Grateful Dead always did a good job with this tune. At David Lemieux' Taper's Section (a treasure trove if there ever was one), you can hear The Wheel> All Along the Watchtower> Stella Blue from 5/3/91.
posted by muckster at 11:43 AM on July 2, 2007


No, no. I Fought The Law is the most covered song. Or maybe The Boots Were Made For Walkin'.

I think it's really hard to cover a Dylan song and end up with something *worse* than the original.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:54 AM on July 2, 2007


googly, the BSG version is by far my favorite. When's that season 3 soundtrack coming out, anyway?

Last I saw, it's coming out in August.
posted by brain_drain at 11:59 AM on July 2, 2007


One of my favorites is a real scorcher from last summer's Phil Lesh & Friends tour, with Joan Osborne on vocals, Trey Anastasio on guitar, and Greg Osby on sax. You can hear an audience recording at Internet Archives, but the entire show is worth purchasing.
posted by muckster at 12:13 PM on July 2, 2007



I always thought that "Yesterday" was the most covered song ever.


As did I. Guess we've been proven wrong.
posted by champthom at 12:13 PM on July 2, 2007


I can't believe no one , even Wikipedia, has mentioned Frank Marino's version
posted by TedW at 12:13 PM on July 2, 2007


Most covered songs; if you include live performances my vote for most covered would go to "Happy Birthday to You", although most versions of that song aren't all that good.
posted by TedW at 12:17 PM on July 2, 2007


Deciding to double check it, Wikipedia says that "Yesterday" holds the Guinness record for most covered song.

The article on cover songs also says:

Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" is often called the most covered song in popular music history; some allege there are over three thousand different versions, although no evidence has been provided. An online cover song database lists a little over a hundred covers for the song[3], but places Eleanor Rigby as being more covered than it.[4] The Beatles' "Come Together" has also been covered numerous times. George Gershwin's "Summertime" (from Porgy and Bess) is considered a standard, see jazz standard, so has been performed in enough versions that an accurate number might be difficult to ascertain. Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" (from the film Holiday Inn) is well known for having been covered numerous times. According to one estimate "Cry Me a River", written by Arthur Hamilton, had 115 cover versions.[5]

I don't mean to quibble but now I'm rather curious.
posted by champthom at 12:19 PM on July 2, 2007


Surely "Louie, Louie" is the most covered song of all time. Everyone who has ever been in a band has played it. That's a lot of bands and a lot of covers. I bet hundreds of people reading this post have covered it. Come on, fess up.
posted by MarshallPoe at 12:39 PM on July 2, 2007


I'm no big DMB fan at all, but I've always felt that their version of this is the most powerful. Jimi's guitar work is better, but Tim Reynolds's is far more suitable for what the song is doing.

I love the BSG version, but I just wish Bear hadn't hired his brther to do the vocals. It just sounds too alterna-rock compared to the rest of the music. Like I can actually hear his frosted tips and goatee.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:40 PM on July 2, 2007


Agreed, Navelgazer. I would have preferred some more restrained female vocals.
posted by googly at 12:49 PM on July 2, 2007


Robert did a fine job emulating (eventually personifying) the "cool voice" of his time (45 years ago). That it fell out of fashion is one of the ironies of his switch to electric.

It's enough to be a singular composer, performers come and go.
posted by Twang at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2007


I really, really detest the U2 version of the song (and I don't mind U2) because they add a whole extra verse that's stupid and very literal.

But I do love this song... Jimi's version in particular.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:20 PM on July 2, 2007


> But I do love this song... Jimi's version in particular.

Jimi had to hear it to me. I got John Wesley Harding when it came out, and played it through several times, and failed to notice that "Watchtower" was even a good song, let alone a great one. Then later I heard Jimi's cover and I was like Oh.My.Fucking.Ghod, that can't be the same song. But it was. I wonder what else i've missed, that didn't happen to benefit from a sublime cover version.
posted by jfuller at 2:39 PM on July 2, 2007


Too right, Navelgazer. I was more interested in the instrumentation on the McCreary version, and thankfully the studio-smooth vocals were only a small portion of the song. Plus, the first time around I was too overwhelmed with the whole "Holy shit it's Starbuck!" thing to pay much attention to the singing. I dunno, I really liked the fact that the song was basically unrecognizable up until the supposed Final Five started singing it. Not an easy feat with that song.

Oh yeah, spoilers.
posted by Saellys at 2:40 PM on July 2, 2007


Good thing Mr. Zimmerman is always so straightforward and clear when it comes to discussing himself and his art.

....For he was always known
To lend a helping hand.


I think it's really hard to cover a Dylan song and end up with something *worse* than the original.

Like A Rolling Stone, for instance ?
posted by y2karl at 3:15 PM on July 2, 2007


Anybody know what show the Kezia Jones clip came from?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:49 PM on July 2, 2007


No, no. I Fought The Law is the most covered song. Or maybe The Boots Were Made For Walkin'.

You don't listen to music much, do you?

Actually, it's probably "Yesterday," "Louie Louie" "Baby Please Don't Go," "Tobacco Road" and "Whiter Shade Of Pale."
posted by jonmc at 3:57 PM on July 2, 2007


My Old Kentucky Blog recently did this in the mp3 format, and incidentally has put together a number of great collections of covers including old favorites Suspicious Minds and Sympathy for the Devil and contemporary classics like Crazy and In the Aeroplane over the Sea.
posted by pokermonk at 5:58 PM on July 2, 2007


I'd always believed, on little actual evidence, that the most covered song was "Yesterday."
posted by cccorlew at 7:01 PM on July 2, 2007


I never heard of Bradly Fish but his cover is definitely interesting.
posted by Avromi at 2:53 AM on July 3, 2007


Actually, it's probably "Yesterday," "Louie Louie" "Baby Please Don't Go," "Tobacco Road" and "Whiter Shade Of Pale."

I actually would have thought anything from the Cole Porter songbook or Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein, just given that those tunes have been around a lot longer than rock 'n' roll.
posted by psmealey at 3:36 AM on July 3, 2007


I've always felt about this song, and the Dylan and Hendrix versions, as jfuller does.
posted by OmieWise at 8:01 AM on July 3, 2007


A factor in Hendrix version of the song that is not as obvious as the guitar pyrotechnics is his vocal phrasing. Dylan had a big influence on his writing and vocals, as in the "Like a Rolling Stone" cover at Monterey.

And if you ever get a chance to hear Larry McCray play "Watchtower", don't miss it.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 8:52 AM on July 3, 2007


brian ferry
posted by vronsky at 8:45 PM on July 4, 2007


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