What does All Along the Watchtower mean?

Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower Meaning

Album cover for All Along the Watchtower album cover

Song Released: 1968

Covered By: Jimi Hendrix (1968)

All Along the Watchtower Lyrics

"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."



    #1 top rated interpretation:
    click a star to vote
    Nov 11th 2017 !⃝

    Dylan masterpiece lyrically, Hendrix masterpiece musically.

    Thanks be to God

    Jimi Hendrix fully understood the meaning of this song and exalted it into the position it deserves in the musical community.

    It must be frustrating to write as Dylan does and to have such straightforward lyrics so misunderstood; probably why he does not like to comment on them.

    Seems obvious if you read the Bible; old and new testament.

    The song is a conversation between Jesus and the devil.

    Jesus is the thief, the devil is the joker

    There must be some kind of way out of here said the joker to the thief, there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. business men they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth, all of them along the line don't know what any of it is worth.

    the devil is complaining to Jesus that there must be some way out of here, here being earth, he cannot get any relief, no satisfaction from the humans who use his earthly domain... all along the line refers to the human generational line since Noah, guess the devil expected more exaltation and credit than he has been getting..haha

    No reason to get excited, the thief he kindly spoke, there are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke, but you and I we've been through that, and this is not our fate. so let us stop talking falsely now, the hour's getting late.

    The thief is Jesus. Mark chapter 13, watch I shall come as a thief in the night, the Joker is the devil. It is a conversation between the devil and Jesus. Jesus tells the Devil... stop getting excited you are not gonna sway me or get any symapathy. many on earth think life is a joke, one big party not taking their life or what came before or after them serious. The devil thought he made a good deal getting domain of the earth and Jesus did not take him up on the deal when he rejected the devils offer to have all the earthly materials and domain if He rejected his Father when he was tempted on the mount. So Jesus reminds the devil that this is not our fate, you made your deal there is no way out of it or here, so stop talking falsely, the devil is the master of lies and the hour is getting late is reminding the devil that his time of earthly domain is not going to last too much longer before Christs return to take back the earth through the promise of the Lord.

    All along the watchtower princes kept the view, while all the woman came and went, barefoot servants too, outside in the cold distance a wildcat did growl, two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl

    This lyric refers to the watchers of Christs return, the Princes keep a vigil while the people come and go on their daily business protected by those who keep the Lords watch. barefoot servants represents a humbling due to an arrogant nation and people.

    Two riders represent the start of the Apocalypse as told In Revelations of the great battle against the anti Christ (the devil) and Christs return to take dominion of his people and the Earth and to fulfill his Father's the Lord's promise.

    the devil knows his time is short and Jesus is not letting him out of the deal.

    Nobody could have written this so simply and clearly in my opin as Mr. Dylan

    Thank you Mr.Dylan


    #2 top rated interpretation:
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    Sep 29th 2010 !⃝

    Biblical in origin (but not with religious intent), the song likely can be more applied to Dylan's view of the loss of humanity and a general societal statement about our need to dominate and not appreciate. Basically, the song pulls verses from the bible centering on the crucifixion of Christ, the tower of babel, and the end of times. The song jumps around but weaves a story similar to the Biblical verses:

    The Joker is Jesus, and the thief is one on the cross next to him. Businessmen (the disciples) drank Jesus's wine and "plowmen dug his earth," not understanding the value of what they'd been given. The thief then tells him that a lot of people take life for granted ("There are many here among us Who feel that life is but a joke"), but the joker and the thief have already been made to appreciate life (facing their mortality) that and they will not share the same fate as the "others".

    The "watchtower" is a reference to the Tower of Babel, a story of man building an arrogant society in which nothing was impossible, building a tower into the heavens, uniting under one language, and generally not appreciating God. God, resenting their arrogance, smote them by striking them across the land, confusing their language (also the origin of the phrase "to babble").

    The scene then shifts to a more apocalyptic relation. "Outside in the distance A wildcat did growl" is a foreshadowing and reference to a "wild beast." Two horses then appear in the distance ("I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! It's rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.") -- Death and Hades being the two riders.

    Dylan resented society's arrogance and often sang of us losing our innocence and lack of appreciation for life. While I don't think of him as too religious, I do not see him lost on the allegories in the bible...


    #3 top rated interpretation:
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    Apr 23rd 2012 !⃝

    So, Dylan (the Joker) and Albert Grossman (his manager, the Thief) are in a car heading to the Columbia business offices in Rockefeller Center for new contract talks. Dylan can't stand the situation. He feels unappreciated and misused by the CBS bureaucracy.

    "There must be someway out of here", said the Joker to the Thief. "There's too much confusion. I can't get no relief. Businessmen they drink my wine; plowmen dig my earth. None of them along the line know what any of it is worth."

    His manager calms him down: "No reason to get excited", the Thief he kindly spoke. "There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke. But you and I we've been through that and this is not OUR fate. So let us not speak falsely now, the hour is getting late."

    Then the scene shifts to the offices where they're expected, filled with junior execs, secretaries, etc. and the sirens of the city streets can be heard outside.

    All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, while all the women came and went, their foot-servants, too. Outside in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl. Two riders were approaching. The wind began to howl.

  4. ErskineCooney
    click a star to vote
    Nov 24th !⃝

    I think the song can also be about original sin. Dylan posits two people, both of whom represent humanity. Both the joker and the thief are sinners. The thief sins by lying and stealing from others. The joker lies to himself by making life “but a joke”, and by not confronting reality. Both seek redemption as they approach God in the watchtower on Judgment Day.

  5. anonymous
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    May 3rd 2022 !⃝

    The Joker is Satan (the deceiver). The Thief is Jesus (who will return like a thief in the night). The to look at the current state of humanity and agree the time is ripe to usher in the apocalypse. In this case, Jesus and Satan themselves become the horsemen, which is described as four riders, not two, in the Book of Revelations.

  6. anonymous
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    Apr 25th 2021 !⃝

    LIFE AND DEATH Death you can't get way from life is the resurrections The Cross us as He dies the wind begins to howl, The rich die and poor live in the truth, not a joke

  7. anonymous
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    Apr 2nd 2021 !⃝

    The song is all about the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was on the cross as two others were on crosses next to him, Whereas the Joker demanded that Jesus perform a miracle to save them, the joker “I can’t get no relief” because he was stuck on the cross, .and the thief accepts his faith stating
    he is to die for his sins, and states that Jesus has not sinned, Jesus tells the thief that he will join him in paradise on this day.
    The woman who came and went were followers of Christ who came to mourn his Cruxifixction as he hung from the Cross.
    “So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”mean to stop ignoring God the father and make amends as the hour of darkness is near.(for all mankind)
    “Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl” Thunder could be heard in the distance as a storm was headed towards Golgotha.
    “Two riders were approaching as the wind as the wind began to howl.” The two riders represent God coming (escort) for Jesus and the thief,(The joker did not believe and was not saved)
    “All along the watch tower”, represents the view Christ had from being raised up high on the cross and looking down at his mourners and his disciples.
    “None of them along the line know what any of it is worth” Meaning no one is up on gods word.
    There are other symbolic phases in the song describing the scene of the Cruxifixction. These are but a few.
    I inserted some biblical accounts to clarify my interpretation .

  8. anonymous
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    May 2nd 2020 !⃝

    It is a crucial moment for a seeker to realize: Nothing in this world can satisfy my deepest longing. I have reached the border - time to embark on a new path. Established institutions cannot provide the answers (s)he is desperately looking for. The watchtower may be a kind of landmark / boundary stone.


  9. anonymous
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    Nov 29th 2019 !⃝

    Nope. All wrong. It’s about the cloning centers in the underground DUMBS. Dylan was clear on a video that he had sold his soul to the devil for fame and fortune. Selling your soul means half of your life is spent at these horrifying underground places. The sleeping half. These centers are everywhere. The celebrities all go to a particular center where the royal family of England presides. What goes on there is horrible beyond your wildest dreams. This is the price for fame and fortune and no one—NO ONE—achieves success without signing up for this. Many celebrities ( especially rappers) have talked about it. How do I know? A relative got sucked into this nightmare and talked about it 25 years ago. He was dead shortly thereafter at age 40 of nothing.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  10. anonymous
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    Oct 18th 2019 !⃝

    Here's my take. …. The song I think is about a joker and a thief talking but also is a larger metaphor about birth and death.

    “There must be some way out of here” is a statement about the current predicament of being a part to a robbery and also is a greater statement relating to days before and to life in general. “Said the joker to the thief” both a joker and a thief are outsiders in a society. A joker takes in the society and pokes fun at it and a thief steps apart from society to form their own rules. “there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief” just going into what he's going to be talking about but also is a statement about the time, the sixties. “Business men – they drink my wine” business men are greedy and live the life they live. “plowmen dig my earth” poor people work away and have their own perspectives. “None of them along the line” “Know what it is worth” No body from the poorest person to the richest person has any idea of the true worth of things, of life, of ideals.

    “No reason to get excited” “The thief – he kindly spoke” The thief is responding by kindly saying that he doesn't need to worry, the situation of the robbery it well be OK and so well life in general. “There are many here among us” the other people of this world and of the robbery “who feel that life is but a joke” the idea that life is but a joke is a point of philosophy by people like Allen Watts, popular in the sixties. By making this statement the thief is responding to the jokers statement about all the confusion and of the state of things. “But you and I we've been through that” “And this is not our fate” The thief is making a statement of their shared level of realization. “So let us not talk falsely now” when you know a truth and recognize that another is not yet there often it is the case that it is more helpful to make small nudges as apposed to telling the full truth because often what happens if instead the full truth is shared then it in its totality well be rejected because the other person simply isn't ready for it; for this reason, quite often when someone is not at the same level of realization it can become helpful to talk in half truths. For the joker and the thief what is being said is that they are on the same level and the thief is suggesting that they go talk directly about the state of things. “The hour's getting late” they left the robbery, nothing happened, and they went to talk late into the night about deep thoughts that not all would understand.

    “All along the watchtower” I'm a bit uncertain about the last eight lines of the song but it may be a statement about it all. The watchtower could be heaven looking down. “Princess kept their view” princess could be like permanent (meaning they no longer reincarnate to earth) astral beings such as angels, and kept their view could refer to them not getting involved in the drama outside of heaven. “While all the women came and went” “Bare-foot servants too” similar to the beginning of the song it could be a contrast between two classes but each, as in the beginning of the song, still only possess an equivalent amount of knowledge/ignorance and so they came and went, where reincarnated back to earth again and again until one day they well reach higher levels of realization to break free of the cycle of Earthly birth and death. “Outside in the cold distance” outside of the watchtower/perhaps heaven, meaning earth; in the cold distance is a statement about life on earth. “A wild cat did growl” a statement about the wild nature of the world, rules of the jungle. “Two riders were approaching” painting a scene which involves the listener, tieing in the human element. “And the wind began to howl, hey” and the drama of Earthly life continues.

    Dillon says the women came and went instead of the men and women came and went simply because he doesn't have to because the first and final verse relate to one another in that they talk about the states of different classes of worldly people, and the first verse is all mescaline and the final verse is all feminine so he is really talking about men and women in both verses.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  11. anonymous
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    Feb 20th 2019 !⃝

    The two riders are Jesus and death. They have both “been through all that” and “this is not OUR fate.”
    They are the riders of the apocalypse (death rides a pale horse) Jesus laments the fate of mankind “there must be someway out of here” Death reminds, “there are many here among us who feel that LIFE is but a joke.” There are no other characters, there is no scene change. The narrative is just out of sequence like a Tarantino movie.
    The Joker (Jesus) speaks with death (the thief) as they ride toward the the watchtower (humanity).
    They are not on the wall of the watchtower they are the riders that are approaching.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  12. anonymous
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    Sep 16th 2018 !⃝

    You are all interpreting the song wrong. It's purpose is to ridicule Jesus for the glory of the synagogue of satan so they can rejoice.
    To the jews, Jesus is a bastard, product of a whore and a roman soldier. It's just like the american flag that 'must' be shown in every film but you brainwashed people do not realise yet WHY.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  13. anonymous
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    Jun 9th 2018 !⃝

    All of the previous are bullshit maan. EOS

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  14. anonymous
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    Jul 29th 2017 !⃝

    Let's get this out of the way right up front: anybody who thinks they can actually analyze Dylan lyrics with absolute certainty is either a liar or a fool. So, given that fact, I will now humbly take my shot at what I think this song is about.

    The song is from John Wesley Harding, Dylan's first album after the motorcycle crash in 1966 that nearly killed him. One would imagine that Bob, stuck in his hospital room, spent a lot of time thinking deep thoughts. Thought not necessarily a man of faith at that time, surely religious matters worked their way into the mix.

    The overall theme is Biblical in nature. I've read a lot of interpretations, and most agree that it has to do with Jesus and the two thieves hanging on the cross. But from there, they go off in all directions.

    Several say the verses are deliberately out of order. The third verse should begin the song, followed by the first and second. This nicely sets up the “Two Riders” as the Joker and Thief, who come into town and get crucified.

    Nice idea, but why would Dylan do that? No one has a good reason, instead resorting to the usual “Bob messing with our heads” excuse. He certainly was known to do that, but it's a cop out. With the right interpretation, the verses make perfect sense just as they are.

    The song collapses the story of Christianity, past present and future, into a single scene. Jesus has been crucified, man has forsaken God, and Judgment Day is coming.

    There must be some way out of here
    Said the Joker to the Thief

    The Joker is Jesus. Dylan was fond of card imagery, and the card usually represents a mysterious character (an image used again in Highway 61 Revisited)

    Speculation: Why the Joker? Is He the wild card? Does His role change depending on the game?

    Two thieves were crucified along with Jesus; one chose redemption and the other did not. We assume Jesus is talking to the "good" thief.

    Jesus wants to get off the cross. What's the reason? He's not satisfied with the job He did. He knows what's coming (see last verse), and He wants to save these poor sinners while there's still time. He can't rest until his job is done. Hence:
    There's too much confusion,
    I can't get no relief
    Businessmen they drink my wine
    Plowmen dig my earth
    But none of them along the line
    Know what any of it is worth

    The Catholic holy sacraments, His blood and body, are used for mundane purposes. The wine (blood) is just a refreshment for businessmen. Wheat, the ingredients for the wafer (body), is grown by simple farmers for their own sustenance. This is a nice contrast: from the rich (businessmen) to the poor (plowmen), all ignore His message.

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

    What an irony. Instead of the other way around, the Thief is telling Jesus to keep the faith. He admits that most of the population don't appreciate the holiness of life.

    Why do the words "Joker" and "joke" appear so close in the song? Is there a connection? Maybe, but it could just be Bob reaching for a rhyme.

    But you and I we've been through that
    And this is not our fate
    So let us not talk falsely now
    The hour is getting late

    The Thief, being a mere mortal, may not really "get" Jesus. He thinks Jesus is afraid he'll be branded a sinner and punished. He tries to reassure Jesus that they'll be ok, because they'll be saved. But Jesus had better hurry up and get Himself straightened out, because they know what's coming.

    All along the watchtower
    Princes kept their view
    While all the women came and went
    Barefoot servants too

    Man thinks he rules the world. The people should look to The Princes for protection, not God. The Princes control both the good and the evil. "All the women" are the prostitutes, who represent evil (sexist, but it was 1967, after all). The "barefoot servants", i.e. humble servants of The Lord, are the pious, and the Princes think they control them as well. Why, just look how they took care of that troublemaker Jesus.

    Outside in the distance
    A wildcat did growl
    Two riders were approaching
    And the wind began to howl

    But trouble, Big Trouble, is on the way. Jesus' Daddy is coming and boy, is He pissed.

    Things are getting ominous out there (the wildcat's growl). God's messengers, the Two Riders, come into view. The wind starts to howl. Judgment Day is at hand.

    A note: in The Bible, God is never seen. Because His presence can not truly be comprehended by Mortal Man, He represents Himself by unusual occurrences of natural phenomena. A classic example is Moses and the burning bush. I mention this because God's voice is commonly described as emerging from "out of a whirlwind". Ending the song with the wind is a very nice metaphor. You Know Who is coming.

    So that's about it. He packed quite a bit into those three little verses, didn't he?

    A final disclaimer: This is Bob Dylan we're talking about, so what do I know? Maybe it's about baseball.

  15. m320753
    click a star to vote
    Mar 21st 2016 !⃝

    A recent article claims that Dylan wrote this song about Isreal and the issues it had since becoming a State in 1948. It could be one more song he has written about his Religious Homeland

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  16. anonymous
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    Mar 20th 2016 !⃝

    It's a song about Victor Frankenstein and his creature...the joker and the theif. Theme: don't play God.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway
  17. anonymous
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    Jan 3rd 2015 !⃝

    I think it works well to consder Dylan, who many considered somewhat of a profit, was usIng some biblical references to foretell of coming social change the new generation was bringing to the established society and power structure.

  18. anonymous
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    Jul 20th 2014 !⃝

    The Joker is Dylan as an entertainer.The thief is time. Businessmen are the producers and all people who are making money off of his work. Common man are the fans who pay to see him entertain.The thief/time tells him stop talking falsely or stop complaining because he has becoming famous and immortalized. His songs will live for ever. But his time is running out the hour is getting late . Watchtower is the system. Princes is the government. Barefoot and pregnant are single or widowed women. Servants are the working poor. Wildcat roaring is the alarm
    For the end of everything.The 2 riders; Death is coming and Hell shall follow.

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