“All Along The Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix (1968)
1968 was a turbulent year filled with events that changed the lives of Americans forever. America was in the middle of the Vietnam War, The Women’s Rights Movement and The Civil Rights Movement. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both tragically assassinated. The first spacecraft with men aboard, orbited the moon and successfully returned with Apollo 8, and Jimi Hendrix covered Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower,” one of the greatest cover songs of all time.
Even if you weren’t alive in 1968, the opening guitar riff constructs imagery of soldiers in muddy battlefields suffering through another rainy night in Vietnam, hanging on to what little energy they have left to keep on fighting. The rebellious riff seamlessly transitions into what is a second intro to the song and a miniature guitar solo in itself, setting the key to the verses that follow. The first lyric in the song, “There’s must be some kind of way out of here,” is like an invitation inside the singers mind, and Hendrix’s tone reflects that. Hendrix is not the best vocalist in the traditional sense, but the warm tone in his voice is the perfect pitch for the chords that he is playing and the rhythm of the song.
To this day, Jimi Hendrix is regarded as one of the most brilliant rock and roll guitarists of all time, and the guitar solo in this song is just one of the examples that help him keep that title so many years later. He teases us with little riffs throughout the song, riffs that any electric guitar player would pay big money to be able to compose on their own, let alone the main solo. The main guitar solo is so dynamic in pitch, tempo and style, as he mixes high pitched shredding, strumming, and pitch bending to create a hyper yet bluesy, awake yet sedated atmosphere. The solo in this song is ranked as being one of the best guitar solos of all time on many lists, and is said to have set the standards very high for what it means to artfully cover a song.
While most of Hendrix’s work delivers on the front of master guitar playing, the difference in this song is that he created an anthem with the way he uses his voice. The way he sings the lyrics at first sound like a narrative, but he noticeably places more emphasis and pronounces some phrases more clearly than others. This is a common practice in singing and song writing, but since Hendrix did not write this song, he successfully constructed a whole new meaning apart from what Bob Dylan originally sought out to do. Because of all this, the phrases that leave an impression on listeners are, “there must be some kind of way out of here,” “I can’t get no relief,” and “so let us not talk falsely now,” and the song is shaped into one that sounds more like a protest or an expression of frustration, which was perfect for the time period that Hendrix released this recording.