Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Wind Began To Howl

Since the first time I heard the U2 version, I've loved the song "All Along the Watchtower" . The lyrics, to me, are some of the most amazing ever. I love the "in medias res" concept of the lyrics, and how both lyrics and song structure (in the Dylan version) form this continuous loop of narrative.

It is, of course, just those aspects that Ron Moore and Bear McCreary wanted to emphasize when they used the song as a theme/motif in Battlestar Galactica: Season 3. Here is an entry by McCreary from blog back in March of 2007 about scoring the episode, "Crossroads Pt.2" (the season 3 finale).

A friend of mine is in the process of devouring the show to get caught up before the end of the series finale in about 4 weeks. We had a conversation about the song, and what it means yesterday, and so I wanted to make a big post like this to show the evolutions of the major versions of the song. Of course, it's a live staple, so just about any band worth their salt is going to have a version. However, most often, these are the versions that people talk about, it seems to me.* Each decade takes the song and makes it their own, which also very much fits with what Moore and McCreary intended.

Have a listen:

Bob Dylan's version from the album John Wesley Harding (1967)

-I do have to admit that, while I respect Dylan as the originator of the song, the screechy highnotes of the harmonica make the song grate on me like nails down a chalkboard. I'd love the song if it wasn't for that one unfortunate choice of his.

Jimi Hendrix performs his famous rearrangement of the song live at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.

--I love this version, though more for the vocal than the guitar, which is sometimes a bit surprising to me. Not that the guitarwork is bad, but it's Hendrix's vocals that always draw me to his songs...his very personal way of singing, and his little embellishments of a "hey" here or an "alright, now" there.

U2 does their version from the concert film/Album, "Rattle and Hum"(the movie dvd)

--That added verse is just dynamite, and really does elevate the song to a new level by implicating the audience...sort of a "what have you done today to improve your world?" moment.

Dave Mathews Band's reworking performed live at Woodstock '99.

--He nails the creepiness of the narrative here, I think. Emotionally? This is the version that most makes sense, and moves the song in a new direction by showing that the metrical dynamics of the piece can be arranged to emphasize the emotion; that we're not locked into that 4/4 of Dylan's original simply because it was the original.

The Bear McCreary version from BSG season 3 (the soundtrack album)

--For my money? Simply the best version. The non-Western construction, the heaviness of the guitar, those sudden breaks of guitar at the end to let the backbeat come through? I get goosebumps no matter how often I hear this one.

*= of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this version, but I don't see many musicians citing it as one of their influences. I love it, though:

This is Greek musician Dionysis Savvopoulos's version from his 1971 album, "Ballos".

--I love the idea of funking it up some, and the song just takes in that new meter without a single complaint. What a great version.


cfa said...

I'm also a fan of the Michael Hedges cover: I have to admit that the BSG version is probably also my favorite, however.

J. Campbell said...

HOLY CRAP! I'd never heard that one! It's amazing.