Skip

No Reason To Get Excited
December 28, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Written in 1967 by Bob Dylan, it was originally quiet, lowkey... and vaguely menacing. But when Jimi Hendrix redefined it the following year, even Dylan knew that the song had changed forever.

Since then, it's been covered (over and over again), praised almost as often, analyzed, referenced, and, of course, found to be encoded in the minds of Cylons.

Originally released 40 years ago, erm, yesterday: All Along the Watchtower.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher (41 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Was the name of the 10th chapter in Moore and Gibbon's Watchmen IIRC, with Rorschach and Nite-Owl as the two riders.
posted by Scoo at 7:24 PM on December 28, 2007


Despite the song's 40 years, hearing the final four sing it in BSG has ruined the song for me (and the show--wow that was lame). "All around the watchtower, we're jumping the shark mothafuckaz!"
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:30 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Along, that is. Although I think jumping the shark would be easier logistically if we could do it around the watchtower. You see, I've drawn this schematic...
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:39 PM on December 28, 2007


Awesome.

The Hype Machine has a nice selection of the original and some covers right now, including Ferry (the studio version of the live version YouTubed above), Prince, and The Fratellis. sadly, the XTC and Patti Smith links are expired.
posted by maudlin at 7:41 PM on December 28, 2007


Heh. Cyclons.

"They have a plan"

Do they fuck.
posted by Artw at 7:44 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


XTC's version is worth seeking out. It's a faithful arrangement yet sounds a bit more sinister.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:50 PM on December 28, 2007


XTC's version is worth seeking out. It's a faithful arrangement yet sounds a bit more sinister.

Man, that is awful: the staccato delivery, the barking vocals (3:00 - 3:40, say), the harmonica solo. I'm not getting any ominous apocalyptic vision from this. Sinister? Self-indulgent, maybe (4:43 - 5:09).
posted by A-Train at 7:58 PM on December 28, 2007


I bow down to the Watchtower Watcher Overlords: they are the Ones keeping Darth Cheney in check.
posted by kozad at 8:13 PM on December 28, 2007


Didn't I once see a guitar busker with a sign that read "please donate to keep me from playing AATW"?
posted by telstar at 8:21 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


A-Train - I'm not saying that the studio version is going to win you over, but it's much better (and tuneful) than the live version you linked to. There's a bit too much dicking around here, although the harmonica solo isn't probably any better on the studio version. But for some reason it works for me.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:22 PM on December 28, 2007


That was just an awful, awful idea for BSG. It didn't ruin the song for me though.
posted by smackfu at 8:24 PM on December 28, 2007


I love XTC, but that cover is of the worst from their early years.
posted by D.C. at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure it didn't ruin BSG for me, or at least not yet (come on, you know Razor was awesome!), but I think BSG may very well have ruined "All Along the Watchtower" for me. It's not fair, I know, but there you have it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:39 PM on December 28, 2007


I think it worked fine for BSG. It was unexpected, and, notably, the lyrics may have been those we know but the music was quite different. Clearly these people are far closer to our society than they "should" be. Phones, suits, idioms, etc.

If we accept specific phrases and metaphors, allusions to works they shouldn't know... why not song lyrics?

Plus, it fits into my theory. That when team Galactica gets to Earth, sure, it'll be our earth, but it won't be our Earth today. It'll be well in the past. And we today are partially or totally their descendants, and those aforementioned pieces will have floated in our collective cultural consciousness over the years and be "re" written.

All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:40 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


That when team Galactica gets to Earth, sure, it'll be our earth, but it won't be our Earth today. It'll be well in the past.

Like... 1980?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:00 PM on December 28, 2007


Like... 1980?

oh man. I sure hope not.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:06 PM on December 28, 2007


I like the Jimi Hendrix versions. I like the Neil Young cover. I can do the Eric Clapton and Lenny Kravitz covers. They're all rich and melodic. In a pinch, I could take Bryan Ferry. But U2 is just too poseur-vanilla for me.

Give me a rhythm section that can keep it going, guitars that wail, and a good voice on top.
posted by A-Train at 9:10 PM on December 28, 2007


Maybe their earth will have a monkey Jimi and Marky Mark.
posted by smackfu at 9:28 PM on December 28, 2007


Neil Young was feeling it that night, for sure. That guy's got a lot of heart. Nice guitar shredding, too.

Characteristically, U2 did their best to turn the song into just another embarrassing exercise in clownish overemoting, courtesy of that most anguished of rock stars, Bono. Then his little graffitti performance art bit ("rock stops the traffic"... whoa, deep...), then he adds some lame verse of his own to it? Man, I felt like throwing up. Jeezis, what a pompous prick that guy is... Not to mention that the rhythm section is so plodding and leaden on the tune. But that's not especially surprising, either.

It was fun to watch an older Bryan Ferry do the tune. A fairly lackluster interpretation, but refreshing after the aforementioned Bono debacle.

Pearl Jam... uh, Pearl Jam... whatever.

And the young Andy Partridge's version, well, it's just not an XTC kind of song, is it? But at least he was trying to bring something of his own to it, and even if it fell on its face, I still respect him for it. XTC's Watchtower is the only cover version (that I know of, anyway) that tried to bring something new to the song since Hendrix's version. And that's commendable. I think probably what Partridge had in mind with that cover was something like DEVO's cover of Satisfaction: to take a revered rock classic, by a revered rock icon, and turn it into a herky-jerky, angular New Wave statement. Unlike DEVO's masterstroke, however, XTC's didn't really work. But Partridge's talents and genius lay elsewhere, as he was to subsequently prove over and over again in the ensuing years.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:52 PM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


(In the real world, I'm usually early to the XTC parties... but not in MeFi-land.)
The YouTube of XTC is a treat. But check out the original recording if you want to hear the angularity without the embellishments. (For an interesting comparison, check out the Cure's cover of "Foxy Lady" off their first album.)

I spent years as a street musician and "All Along the Watchtower" was my opener -- it got my lungs and heavy strumming thrumming. (I still perform it in a descending minor -- Am, landing on E and F alternately [the same way I perform "Girlfriend is Better" if any mashup artists are listening].)

Dylan's version is classic -- even if it was a throw-away for him. The "found art" quality of Hendrix's version only enhances their different brilliances.
The lyrics to Watchtower are inspired. It might be interpreted as a grouse against capitalism or consumerism. But that's too thin. It's a cry about exploitation in general which drives the narrator to catastrophic thinking.
As one of the great songs of the 60's it matches up interestingly with a great song from the 80's: The Pretenders' "Back on the Chain Gang."

Maybe Dylan was right that all the songs had already been written -- perhaps because he wrote the most of the rest of them.
posted by McLir at 10:33 PM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Michael Hedges - All Along the Watchtower. It starts about 1:20 into the video.
posted by Sailormom at 12:12 AM on December 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


If we accept specific phrases and metaphors, allusions to works they shouldn't know... why not song lyrics?

I thought the implication was the music they were hearing was coming from Earth - because radio waves, once they leave our atmosphere, go on forever.

Which leads me to believe the Earth is full of Cylons, which is why they heard it and no one else did. [/crazy theory]
posted by crossoverman at 1:32 AM on December 29, 2007


Reading this just makes me feel so old. I have the Dylan and Hendrix versions on LP and love them both. They are original and bought as they were released.
posted by bjgeiger at 3:53 AM on December 29, 2007


Re: BSG:
Take any song I dig and give it a sitar or banjo twist and I am creeped out or turned on. I can deal with AATW as a homing signal and won't let an inexplicable, out-of-nowhere pop culture reference ruin it for me any more than the other stretches that science fiction can make. The edit/music video cited at the top doesn't do justice to the actual finale, IMO.

SETI@home should be so lucky to hear some Bob feedback.
posted by bonobo at 4:03 AM on December 29, 2007


Previously.
posted by TedW at 4:18 AM on December 29, 2007


Yeah, damn, that's one hell of a previously there...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 AM on December 29, 2007


The edit/music video cited at the top doesn't do justice to the actual finale , IMO.

I'd agree, but I wanted a clip that showed that the song had plot significance, and most non-edited clips on youtube were either way too long, or cut to the point where someone might simply assume that the song was strictly non-diegetic.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:43 AM on December 29, 2007


Re: BSG:
Take any song I dig and give it a sitar or banjo twist and I am creeped out or turned on.


I actually liked the sitar arrangement a lot -- sounded great and eerie and alien. What I did not like were the vocals. Those were just...bad.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:15 AM on December 29, 2007


Also used quite beautifully in Withnail and I, to capture the apocalyptic feel of the late 60s, when "Withnail" and "I" leave London to go on holiday ("by mistake").
posted by Skygazer at 2:36 PM on December 29, 2007


One other thing, the "joker" is an archetype for life or creation (an artist), the "thief" is death and destruction (a killer). They're opposite sides of the same coin and ride together carrying on a dialog that never ends heralded by nature (the tiger). All the other imagery is pretty obvious.
posted by Skygazer at 3:02 PM on December 29, 2007


I watched the Neil Young version on YouTube and said to my girlfriend, 'Based on how he's singing and his appearance, I'm going to guess this is from... 1993?' Then I googled the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert and she fell out of her chair.

Oh, Neil. I know you far too well.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2007


Previously.

Agreed. As a topic, and a very specific topic, at that, this is a double, even given the anniversary. One ought to always gives props to those who first broke the ground. The lack of one here is a minus.
posted by y2karl at 12:10 PM on December 30, 2007


On topic, it's worth noting that, in concert, at least these last few years, this is the last song Dylan sings, and he always ends with a reprise of the second verse, so that the last line he croaks at his audience is a read-between-the-lines None of them along the line know what any of it is worth .
posted by y2karl at 12:18 PM on December 30, 2007


Except y2karl. He knows what it's all worth. ;-)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:21 PM on December 30, 2007


Agreed. As a topic, and a very specific topic, at that, this is a double, even given the anniversary. One ought to always gives props to those who first broke the ground. The lack of one here is a minus.

Well, geez, none of the 16 links I used were the same, so it didn't trigger the automatic heads up, nor did the previously use the tags I checked, like bobdylan, jimihendrix, or, say, allalongthewatchtower. Though, now that i is brough tto my attention, yeah, absolutely, it's a quite good post focusing on the many covers the song has seen, which is indeed one of the things I also touched on in my post.

But let's not make it out as if I knew it well and told the Romans otherwise.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:36 PM on December 30, 2007


I hear you JKF, all your points are valid, and I wouldn't sweat it. y2karl has made a helluva lot of absolutely fabulous music posts at MeFi for years now (several of them focussing on Dylan), but he sometimes shows a propensity for a bit of the ol' *I got there first*, or the ol' *been there, done that* that can get a little tiresome. Well, anyway, that kind of thing is forgivable. But his implying that you already knew about the post but didn't credit it was a low blow. Unfair and uncalled-for. Especially in light of the fact that, as you mentioned, not a single one of your links was found in the earlier post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:55 PM on December 30, 2007


Agreed. As a topic, and a very specific topic, at that, this is a double

Well, geez, none of the 16 links I used were the same,...


I didn't mean to start a kerfluffle; I just thought it was a cool post about a cool song and there was more out there for those who were interested. Although in retrospect I did use the abbreviated double-post callout convention.
posted by TedW at 6:13 AM on December 31, 2007


Actually, TedW, I don't equate "previously" with "double", and I don't think people here generally do. Anyway, if they do, they're incorrect. "Previously" just means what it says, that the topic has been addressed before on MeFi. Now, y2karl said "as a topic this is a double", but there are plenty of topics that get returned to in post after post. "Double" means the very same link(s) have been posted before, and that therefore the FPP should probably be deleted.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on December 31, 2007


but he sometimes shows a propensity for a bit of the ol' *I got there first*, or the ol' *been there, done that* that can get a little tiresome.

As in "Hey, I already posted one of those videos by Roscoe Holcomb!", Mr. Sauce Goose Soup Gander Pot Kettle Black I-am-the King-of-the-Music-Tags MetaTalk posts at Midnite ?

Let alone, Ulrich Kreiger is a friend of mine...

You, of all people, have a lot of nerve calling out anyone for being either been there, done that or I got here first or any other drive by dissing. Take that beam out of thine own eye before you criticize the mote in another's, etc. etc.

And you know, that whole focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site has not been your strong suit here or there. I have not made a habit of making comments regarding your person or your personal character or nor have I offered freelance psychological profiles of you. The reverse is certainly not true.

But I do owe you, Mr. John Kenneth Fisher, an apology. Yes, this post is a perfectly nice and worthy post. An excellent one, to be sure. And, no, it wasn't a double in the sense of links. As to topic, well, yes, it sort of was.

And, no, I don't think saying that the previous post getting props would have been a nice touch was a low blow. You could have found that post by merely hitting the Dylan tag and giving props for a previous post on topic is a nice touch. But to be perfectly honest, it's not something I would expect the average bear to do, now that I think about it.

So, sorry for the fussiness. But my comments here, right or wrong, wack or dope, were meant to be on topic, and never were criticisms of your person or character. You did nothing wrong and this is a perfectly valid, well constructed and admirable post and I never meant to imply otherwise and I am sorry for the derail and all that ensued.
posted by y2karl at 8:33 AM on December 31, 2007


Accepted happily. Had I seen it, I would have propsed it.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2007


The cover by The Brothers and Sisters of Los Angeles (Dylan's Gospel, 1969) just rolls right along, a fine piece of work that I love every time.
posted by mdoar at 12:08 PM on January 2, 2008


« Older "Extracting Beauty From Chaos"   |   The Rat Patrol Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post