I have been very interested in musical mashups—the product of combining two or more songs in one piece of music—of late. Besides giving me an opportunity to learn more tunes, it is a great songwriting exercise, as it requires creativity to find common threads or write new ones in order to tie the concepts together.
Last week, I realized that I had forgotten what the original recording of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower sounded like; I automatically would think of Hendrix’s version. As I was listening to it online, boom! it hit me—I sensed similarities to Neil Young’s equally brilliant Ohio. At the time I did not know why, but I immediately downloaded the tabs for both songs to try them out. I was wonderfully surprised at my findings.
First off, Dylan’s music is basic enough that other chord progressions could be substituted as harmonizing compliments. In this case, only one was needed—Young’s D5. I noticed also that the syllable count for each lyrical passage was the same or similar. I had to re-work the cadence a bit, but Dylan’s lyrics fit over Young’s famous riff.
More significantly, the respective messages could be tied together. Ohio was based on a specific event—four unarmed Vietnam protesters were shot to death at Kent State University in 1970 by the National Guard as they set to stop the demonstration. I saw All Along the Watchtower as a theoretical dialogue and the ensuing doom at the folly of fighting for a principle that eventually led to that fateful day. Dylan’s joker and thief represent the crowd of students rising above the establishment—in this case, the invasion of Cambodia—to only be shot down by the wildcat that symbolized corporate society (and the National Guard). Young’s chorus could be woven into Dylan’s poetry as a possible solution to the joker and thief’s dilemma. How do we fight an entity that is bigger than us? I sang Dylan’s last line and the wind began to howl in a foreboding way that could segue to Young’s anthemic rant. No matter what we do, something akin to this happens: Four dead in Ohio.
This is a very rough demo. I did it with one track, multiple takes. I had to keep re-recording for many reasons beyond my control. It took several passes before I realized the ticking of the wall clock could be heard on the recording. Then, during one take, the lyric sheet inexplicably fell off the table and caused a rustling sound to accompany the tune. By the time this version came around, I was pretty fatigued overall, but already resolved that night to finish this. Recording is a laborious process, to say the least.