Happy Monday internet. We’re back with another week of songs to get you through the week. While last week we enjoyed switching things up in honor of April Fool’s Day, we’ll be going back to grouping our songs via genre. This week, we’ll be hitting those classic rock notes once again.
We’ll do our best never to post a song of the day twice, but won’t apologize for repeating the genres holding them together. And as much as we would love to have weeks of hyper-specific sub-genres, we’ll be keeping our scope wide for now.
Our first song this week comes from two of the biggest names in music of the past century: Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
All Along the Watchtower
“All Along the Watchtower” was first recorded by Bob Dylan on his 1967 “John Wesley Harding” LP. The track didn’t make any big waves when it was first released, and one could say it even went by unnoticed. To get the full picture of how impressive Hendrix’s changes were, you should really give it a listen if you haven’t already.
There was one person who did notice its potential, however. Jimi Hendrix was a huge Dylan fan, and found a way to create an arrangement that perfectly fit the melody and mood of the original. In doing so, Hendrix managed to record one of the greatest covers of all time, possibly the greatest.
Anyone can cover another artist’s song. We see it all the time on YouTube, with the next generation of budding musicians recording their practice. But what Hendrix did with “All Along the Watchtower” went above and beyond a simple cover. He made the song his own, and turned it into a true classic at the same time.
While Hendrix kept the same chord progression, lyrics, and overall melody, Hendrix completely transformed the song. In lieu of Dylan’s harmonica, he inserted wildly impressive riffs on electric guitar. But his biggest contribution to the song, was the amount of energy he infused it with.
You hear this on every level. Dylan’s arrangement incorporated one acoustic guitar, harmonica, and drums, and that was all. Hendrix used one six-string acoustic, one twelve-string, bass, electric guitar, drums, and auxiliary percussion including tambourines and wood-blocks. Then, of course, he also used effects pedals like the wah for the solo, and other techniques such as playing with a slide.
It’s this infusion of energy that (in my opinion) was the ultimate deciding factor in Hendrix’s successful cover. True, his virtuosity was masterful, but Jimi Hendrix was more than an amazing guitarist. He was also a skilled songwriter. You can see evidence of that through his adaptation of “All Along the Watchtower”, as well as all of the original songs he wrote.
And how did Bob Dylan feel about the cover?
“I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way,” he states in the liner notes to the ‘Biograph’ collection. “Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”