Annie (canadanne) wrote in u2,

Song Of The Day

What's this... could it be? An album track that hasn't yet been featured in Song Of The Day? OK, so it's a live track, but it's from an album just the same...

All Along The Watchtower

Appearing on Rattle & Hum (and in the film itself), this rockin' Dylan cover was performed at a spontaneous free outdoor concert in San Francisco during the Joshua Tree tour. Energetic, passionate and - in my opinion - highly underrated!

All Along The Watchtower originally featured on Bob Dylan's 1967 album John Wesley Harding, but it was Jimi Hendrix's cover the following year which made the song a hit - in fact it seems to be widely regarded as the definitive version. I may be verging on blasphemy here, but personally, I've never really understood what's so great about the Hendrix version. I appreciate that he was an amazing guitarist and all, but I don't find his version of the song to be particularly interesting... whereas U2's performance utterly rocks my socks!  (I can't comment on Dylan's original, as I don't think I've ever heard it.)

The background story:
Towards the end of the Joshua Tree tour, on 11th November 1987, U2 decided to hold a free concert in San Francisco in the spirit of the 60s "Summer of Love". Being a completely last-minute impulse, they didn't actually have any of their own equipment handy, as it was already on the way to Vancouver for the next show (along with most of the roadcrew!). Not letting themselves be put off by this minor problem, U2 simply borrowed a sound system from The Grateful Dead (as you do), and the gig went ahead on the back of a truck at the Justin Herman Plaza, on the edge of the city's financial district. Coming soon after a major stock market crash, Bono dubbed the concert a "Save The Yuppies" benefit and invited donations of briefcases!  Despite the show not being announced until two hours before it was due to start, it attracted a crowd of around 20,000 people and brought traffic on the nearby overpass to a standstill. (The movie shows scenes of Bono during 'Pride' later in the gig, infamously climbing the huge Vaillancourt fountain sculpture and spray-painting "ROCK N ROLL STOPS THE TRAFFIC" onto it. The graffiti was cleaned off by the following day, but the mayor still tried to have Bono arrested for this act of vandalism. Luckily for the singer, the charges were eventually dropped after the sculptor said Bono's actions were in keeping with the spirit of his work, and funnily enough the mayor's successor actually set up a fund to sponsor the work of graffiti artists in the city!  Bono also gave the sculptor a chance to get his own back, inviting him onstage three days after the incident and allowing him to spray "Stop The Madness!" onto U2's set. *g*)

The band opened this controversial gig with All Along The Watchtower, which was a bold move considering they didn't actually know how to play it. They'd only ever performed it live once before, at a gig on the Boy tour, and it's evident when you watch the film that they really didn't have it worked out properly in advance - they're literally moments from being brought out on stage when Bono decides they'd better figure out the chords!  I don't think the lack of preparation shows, though... Niall Stokes (in his book Into The Heart) remarks on "some startlingly odd moments of musical disjointedness", but I can't say I've ever noticed anything wrong with it myself. It's kind of fitting that they kicked off with a Dylan cover, as Bono has cited the legendary songwriter as being "the one that sent us on this journey into the past that ended up with Rattle & Hum", after Dylan pointed him in the direction of the American blues singers as well as advising him to embrace his own Irish roots. There's even a subtle nod to Jimi Hendrix in the performance, with Edge imitating his famous version of The Star Spangled Banner as the song draws to a close.

The only way to describe this song - at least in U2's hands - is that it just plain and simple ROCKS. It's one of my favourite tracks on Rattle & Hum, although that's not really saying much, as I have about twelve favourite tracks on Rattle & Hum. ;p  It's impossible to listen to it without stomping along and really getting into it - the bassline is fantastic, and Bono screams each line as if his life depends upon it. I love the way he sings "thief-uhh!" (especially during the rehearsal scene in the film), and his little grunts in the middle, and the way he varies the second verse when he repeats it at the end ("And that is not our fate... at least today"). But by far my favourite section is the explosive finale. Bono is almost singing in a whisper until he gets to "Because the hour... is getting... late... late... YEAAAHHH!", at which point he launches into a thrillingly drawn-out series of impassioned yeahhh's. I absolutely LOVE singing along with this part, it's such a great release, especially the "Uhhhh huh! Uhhhh huh!" bit. :D

I won't delve too deeply into the lyrics as U2 of course didn't write them, but some analysis can be found here - I found it particularly interesting that Dylan suggests the song is written in reverse, with the ominous scene-setting at the end and the response to it at the beginning. Which doesn't really work in the U2 version, as Bono omitted the final lines ("Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl / Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl"). However, Bono did improvise some additional lyrics of his own, which many people seem to like best of all - "All I got is a red guitar, three chords and the truth / All I got is a red guitar, the rest is up to you". That's a pretty awesome line, alright. Niall Stokes observes that it's the second time the red guitar shows up on the album, having been on fire in 'Desire'!  More subtle is the lyrical change Bono makes in the third verse. Originally written as "All along the watchtower, princes kept the view / While all the women came and went, barefoot servants too", Bono changes the princes to "empresses" and the women to "horsemen". It's yet another example of Bono putting women on a pedestal, a tendency that bonoffee referred to in several of her SOTDs.

U2 must have enjoyed playing the song live, as it went on to become a regular feature of the setlist for the Lovetown Tour in 1989-1990.


There must be some way out of here
Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion here
I can't get no relief

Businessmen they drink my wine
Ploughmen dig my earth
None of them know along the line
What any of this is worth

No reason to get excited
The thief he kindly spoke
There are many among us
Who think that life is but a joke

But you and I, we've been through that
And that is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
Because the hour is getting late
Hey, hey, hey!

(Ooh - ooh - ooh)

All along the watchtower
Empresses kept the view
While horsemen came and went
Barefoot servants too

All I got is a red guitar
Three chords and the truth
All I got is a red guitar
The rest is up to you

There's no reason to get excited
The thief he kindly spoke
Some among us here say that life is
Just a joke

You and I, we've been through that
And that is not our fate (at least today)
So let us not talk falsely now
Because the hour is getting late... late...

Yeeeaaaaahhh hea-ea-eaa yeah
Yeee-eeeahh, yea-ea-ea-e-ea-ea-eah
Yeeee-ea-ea-eah ea-e-ea-ea-ea-eah
Uhhh huh, uhhh huh
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