Last night I was listening to Richie Havens, one of my favorite voices, and his cover of All Along the Watchtower came on. I knew that it originated with Bob Dylan– and then Hendrix owned it– but I truly didn’t know how many versions of it there are.
If you believe the Battlestar Galactica mythology, this song trickled through the ether 150,000 years before Dylan and saved the human race. If you watched the series finale of the reboot, you understand why that pervasive melody turned out to be key to the human and Cylon existence. According to what we know in the here and now, Dylan released it in 1967, and The Nashville Teens were close behind.
Curious about its chronology, I found this list of many different versions. Most of us know the Dylan, Hendrix, Dave Matthews, U2, Neil Young, Springsteen, and Eddie Vedder versions. But there are so many more! The BSG version was the first to use an electric sitar, harmonium, and an astoundingly loud party horn called a zurna. When Seattle-based artist Aaron English released his version, it had similar flavors– and it sounds amazing.
Is it best stripped down or embellished?
Is it best on a guitar? Or is it best with a sitar?
How is it most extraordinary? Is it best with Bryan Ferry?
Have you heard it in a casino? Did it rock hardest with Frank Marino?
Which artist performed this the snazziest? Was Humam Ammari’s version, overall, the jazziest?
Is it best with a string quartet? Which genre of music hasn’t attempted this yet?
The song is timeless and always relevant. There is endless debate over the meaning of the lyrics. They’re deep, profound, disturbing, incomplete. Is it about the music industry? Business? A conversation between Jesus and the tempter?
Ultimately, it’s Dylan. You’re not supposed to understand completely. Or you do, deep down in your soul, but you can’t quite articulate why.
But you and I, we’ve been through thatDylan
And this is not our fate
So let us stop talkin’ falsely now
The hour’s getting late
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