Oct 112013

Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.

For students of cover songs, it’s a given: Jimi Hendrix’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” is one of the five greatest covers ever made. Many could, and do, make the argument that it’s number one. So why mess with perfection? Why bother covering it again?

Why indeed.

Here are five covers of “All Along the Watchtower” that are beholden to Dylan only because he wrote it, and which may respect Hendrix for perfecting it, but see no reason not to strike out on their own singular journeys to the heart of the song as they see it.

Michael Hedges – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)

The late Michael Hedges was on the new age label Windham Hill, but was revered by Pete Townshend, Bonnie Raitt, and others who were as far from that genre as can be imagined. They all deeply respected Hedges’ gifts as well as his humanity. Both are on display in his cover of “Watchtower,” from the album Live on the Double Planet.

Brewer & Shipley – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)

You know Brewer and Shipley for one song and, likely as not, one song only – they’re the fellows who took listeners “One Toke Over the Line.” Those who’d like to double their knowledge of the B&S sound by listening to a second song of theirs would do well to check out their cover of “Watchtower,” from their underrated second album Weeds. It’s a folk-rock version that doesn’t even pretend to be interested in aping what Dylan did on his recording – a rare thing indeed in the sixties.

Bear McCreary – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)

Bear McCreary made his name scoring the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. He arranged a version of “Watchtower” for the third season finale, with vocals by his younger brother Brendan. The song went on to become a recurring motif in the show, cropping up in other versions and even dialogue. The series finale closed with the Hendrix version, but McCreary’s take is just as revered in certain circles.

XTC – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)

If there’s any band that would seem less likely to cover Bob Dylan than XTC, it would be early XTC, the punk-pop band that hadn’t yet become studio perfectionists. But they give the lie to that statement on their first album White Music, which contains this take on “Watchtower,” which seems far more than a decade removed from its Dylan/Hendrix predecessors.

Lisa Gerrard – All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)

The world first met Lisa Gerrard as a member of Dead Can Dance, who along with the Cocteau Twins were the most 4ADesque of the 4AD label’s bands. She’s been no slouch on her own, either, winning a Golden Globe for her Gladiator score. She released this cover of “Watchtower” in 2009, becoming yet another artist who was able to create something remarkably new from a song that should no longer be looked at as unapproachable.

Bob Dylan’s original can be found on iTunes and Amazon. Jimi Hendrix’s cover can be found on iTunes and Amazon. Quelle coïncidence.

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  9 Responses to “Five Good Covers: All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan)”

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  1. Thank you for posting the Bear McCreary version, or I would have never never trusted your opinion on anything else ever again :p.

    As a huge cover freak, Hendrix’ cover is certainly up there (certainly one of the better examples of what tvtropes calls “covered up”, when a cover gains so much popularity that the original is basically forgotten about and everyone thinks the cover is the original)… but I actually have to say, McCreary’s cover is way better. One of my favorite covers of any song ever, in fact. Hendrix’ might be in my top hundred, meanwhile, but probably not my top 10.

  2. Can the Bobby Womack version get an honourable mention too please ? A funky loud version where Bobby seems to be concentrating more on his guitar than he is on his vocals…highly recommend that you play loud!

  3. Great to see the Michael Hedges version getting first listing – call me blasphemous, but I’ve always thought his cover was better than Dylan’s AND Hendrix’s!

  4. If you have never heard it, find and listen to the amazing cover by Tom Landa And The Paperboys.

  5. Dave Mason also did a cover of this


  7. Grateful Dead, Orchard Park, NY, 7/4/1989…killer solo by Jerry, their best performance of this song…the entire concert is on YT…Watch Tower near the end at 2:05:25…

  8. Little known is the Barbara Keith version, from the timeless self-titled album of 1973. Heartfelt vocals, the A-team of session musos (Sklar, Keltner, Oldham and Doerge), and a wonderfully atmospheric arrangement, it is up there with the very best.

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