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All along the watchtower - Barbara Keith vs Jimi Hendrix vs Bob Dylan

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All along the watchtower is a song written and recorded in 1967 by Bob Dylan when he was spending 18 months recovering from a motorcycle accident. The song has been covered numerous times and the most memorable of these covers is probably the one by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 68.

This is a simple 3 verses song narrating a very brief slice of life. A joker and a thief are discussing as they approach a castle of some kind. The first two verses relate the desperation of the joker who can't tell what is right in life and how the thief answers him with as much confusion but more hope: The life indeed is a joke but their fate is to get something better. In the last verse while our two characters are approaching the watchtower princes are looking at them coming, women and servants are getting busy... Something is coming.

While Dylan's version is very straightforward with a simple guitar and an harmonica break between the second and third verse, Hendrix version is much more explicit. The guitar breaks and the increasingly excited drums take a more violent take on the unexplained event which is coming. The quick short beats of the drums illustrate a battle or a revolution of some kind.

Barbara Keith's version is closer to Hendrix's one because it borrows more to the codes of the psychedelic rock from the 60s than to the folk songs of Dylan. I love how the very regular and calm drums of the first two verses illustrate the peaceful walk of our characters heading towards the castle, one can almost picture them on horses calmly walking to an agitated destiny. At the beginning of the third verse the tension grows in a psychedelic explosion worth of the best 60s songs and picturing the agitation in the castle.

In the third verse the lyrics says "Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl" and a guitar with a wahwah pedal mimics this growl, this is the kind of usage of this pedal which I really like. After this cool third verse a beautiful guitar solo reminds the end of the Hendrix version and the song could have ended right there leaving us with a beautiful rock cover of a classical folk song... But Barbara Keith decided to repeat the third verse again. Was it necessary for the song? No. But that let us appreciate her charming voice for a bit longer and we can't blame her for that.

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