How Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” Came to Soundtrack the Vietnam War

The story of how a simple cover turned into a song synonymous with the war itself

Jimi Hendrix at Newport Pop Festival

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s 1968 double album, Electric Ladyland, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a new box set featuring previously unreleased demos, alternate takes, and a live bootleg. Pick up a copy here or stream the album in full below.

As our Opus podcast delves deeper into the story behind Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland and its lasting impact on music and pop culture, we pause to take a closer look at how one of the album’s songs — a cover, no less — took on a unexpected life of its own.

By the time Hendrix covered Bob Dylan’s apocalyptic folktale “All Along the Watchtower” for Electric Ladyland, the United States was in the thick of the Vietnam War. It was a conflict waged not only in the jungles of Southeast Asia but at home in universities, in the streets, and through the popular culture of the time.

Hendrix’s version could be interpreted as a howling reckoning by those who protested the war, welcomed as a companion by troops spending lonely nights thousands of miles from home, or used as a signpost by future filmmakers who understood the close connection between the feelings surrounding the war and the dizzying confusion of the guitarist’s playing. No matter how you understand the song, it can’t help but take you back to that confused, divisive moment in America’s history.

Here’s the story of how Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” came to be inextricably linked to the Vietnam War.


Follow Consequence