Hear XTC’s unique cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ on ‘So It Goes’, 1977
We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to bring you a special cover of Bob Dylan song ‘All Along the Watchtower’. No, not that one, XTC’s new wave rendition.
The story goes that when Bob Dylan heard Jimi Hendrix’s swirling cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’ he said that the track no longer belonged to him, that Jimi had provided the essential version of the song. He clearly hadn’t heard XTC’s fresh take of the track on ‘So It Goes’.
While punk rock was sweeping the globe and the need to destroy the past to create a new future was an ethos that many bands latched on to, a rejection of rock ‘n’ roll’s past was a fashionable thing and most punks spent their time describing the acts that came before them with a snotty snort of derision. However, one band was happy to take a look back to the sixties and find themselves a gem, that band was XTC.
The group formed in Swindon in 1972 and quickly merged into an impressive unit. Fronted by Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding, they were creating avant-garde rock before punk was a murmur in the streets of London. But with the rise of punk, the band found themselves a home on Virgin Records and released their debut album, White Music.
The album was full of fresh new sounds and, in a 2009 interview, Partridge said of the record which began with their song ‘Radios in Motion’: “We couldn’t think of any better way to start off our first album than with the ‘kick the door in’, breezy opener we used in our live set… the lyrics are very silly, picked for their sonic effect rather than meaning. The first refuge of an inexperienced songwriter, forgive me, but they do have a youthful scattergun energy.”
While the record was brimming with youthful exuberance, one moment on the album stands out among the rest though with their cover of Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’. The idea for a cover was a toss-up between the Dylan song and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Citadel’, as he explained: “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to cover one of these songs, because they’re both from people who represent the Old Guard,” remembered Patridge. “I think it would be mischievous to do either of these songs in a radically different way, and to show that we’re not in awe of the Old Guard, and that we can take something that they’ve done, smash it all up, and put it back together in our way.”
There was no better place to show of this newly smashed and glued back together track than Anthony Wilson’s ‘So It Goes’. The TV show was quickly becoming known for giving new punk talent a shot at a television spot, a coveted thing in the late seventies. XTC knew they had an opportunity to take and they certainly grabbed it with both hands.
Below you can watch that moment as XTC smash it all up and put it back together again with a smirk and a dubby rhythm which is truly intoxicating. It may not be Dylan’s favourite but it’s right up there as the most unique.