The most iconic intro of all time. The most iconic riff of all time. The two most iconic guitar solos of all time. Jimi Hendrix‘s 1968 version of Bob Dylan song ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is perhaps the best cover of all time. It retains all of Dylan’s Biblical inferences, but sonically, the song could not be further from the somewhat languid original.
This is not to say the original isn’t brilliant because it is. However, the way that Hendrix managed to supersede the principal version in making the song his own is remarkable. Even today, over 50 years since Hendrix’s release of it, people worldwide are still shocked to hear that one of his most iconic opus’ is, in fact, a cover.
Everything about the song is hallowed. Whether that be the story behind the recording sessions, including bassist Noel Redding’s angry departure, the appearances of Dave Mason and Brian Jones, or the way that Hendrix managed to augment the original’s mysticism, the song is rightly hailed as one of the best of all time.
The version is so good, in fact, that even Dylan himself loves it. In 1995, he recalled his reaction to first hearing Hendrix’s blistering redux: “It overwhelmed me, really,” Dylan commented. “He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day.”
Hendrix’s version had such a cultural impact that it left an indelible mark on Dylan. In the booklet of his 1985 record, Biograph, Dylan said: “I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way… Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.”
Just like the late guitar hero who made the song’s name, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ is a cultural institution. It is so iconic that it is one of those rare pieces of music that has actually been recorded as “overplayed” in the media. This is understandable, of course, given that it is such a visceral, cacophonous piece of music that as soon as the intro starts featuring the kick of the vibraslap, you know you’re in for a ride.
Duly, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to list the five best instances where Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ was used in the movies. Often as iconic as the song itself, there can be no surprise that it has been used in some of cinema’s best moments and one’s that often attempt to invoke the spirit of the ’60s.
Join us, then, as we list the five best uses of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ in cinema history.
The 5 best movie uses of ‘All Along The Watchtower’:
Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1995)
One of the most iconic uses of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ in the movies is undoubtedly its appearance in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 classic, Forrest Gump. Featured in the scene where our chocolate box-loving protagonist is walking through the paddy’s of Vietnam with his unit, the use of the song perfectly captures the essence of the era.
The song was released in 1968, during the height of the destructive Vietnam War, and the song’s lyrics featuring socio-political commentary perfectly account for the social upheaval of the 1960s and speak of the ills of the political decision making at the time.
A Bronx Tale (Robert De Niro, 1993)
Set in 1968, it would have been rude of Robert De Niro to not have used the song in his directorial debut.
The scene sees the 17-year-old protagonist Calogero running with his gang of Italian-American teenagers, who are on the way to throw some Molotov cocktails at the houses of their rival gang.
A flashback, again the song brilliantly captures the essence of the era, and also serves to support Calogero’s deep narration: “Someone pulled the chain and I was going down the fucking toilet.”
Rush (Lili Fini Zanuck, 1991)
Given that 1968 was when the counterculture was in full swing, ‘All Along The Watchtower’ also became one of the movement’s key drug anthems. A psychedelic masterpiece, it has been a timeless favourite of stoners and trippers since its release.
In 1991, it perfectly soundtracked the scene set in the early ’70s where Jason Patric is instructing Jennifer Jason Leigh to get high. She takes the drugs and then leaves, and we’re met with a trippy sequence where Leigh is driving along to the song, with the flashing lights indicating that she is now feeling the effects of the drugs.
Vegas Vacation (Stephen Kessler, 1997)
One of the weirder uses of the song came in Chevy Chase‘s 1997 comedy, Vegas Vacation.
The use of the song occurs when Chase’s character Clark Griswold is about to get payback on the misanthropic blackjack dealer, Marty, played by the unmistakable Wallace Shawn. The song plays as Griswold withdraws a stack of $100 bills from the cash machine.
The use of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ shows to the audience that Griswold is not going to lose to Marty again, regardless of the bizarre, unhinged smile Griswold gives.
Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009)
Without a doubt director Zack Snyder‘s best work, the film Watchmen often gets overlooked or wrongly criticised. It expertly mirrors the essence of the graphic novel whilst also clearly demonstrating the paranoia of The Cold War, even if it is set in an alternative reality.
The song is played as the titular group of superheroes reunite to take on the foe they’ve recently uncovered as the one who has been plotting their downfall across the film’s duration. Flawlessly speaking to the socio-economic strife of The Cold War, the film’s use of the song is perhaps the greatest in all of cinema.