A.Song.A.Day – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

knockin on heavens doorIn 1973, Samuel “Bloody Sam” Peckinpah, prolific director of such great films at The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, came out with another of his Western films, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Riddled with conflicts and controversies right from its production stage, MGM released a truncated version of the movie in the theatres which was widely regarded as incoherent. Though some 15 years later critics changed their views on seeing the complete director’s cut version, hailing Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as a mistreated classic, in 1973 it was a complete box office failure. What it did succeed in, however, was in giving Bob Dylan his debut role in a feature film (Dylan played Billy’s right-hand man Alias in the movie) and debut feature film score, and thereby presenting the music world with one of rock music’s most enduring anthems, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.

Dylan as Alias in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Dylan as Alias in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

One of the most striking features of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is the simplicity of its lyrics. As can be easily discerned from them, the song is all about the feelings of a dying person, apparently a deputy, who believes he is knocking on heaven’s door. While the lyrics combined with the music and Dylan’s singing are evocative in themselves, the situation in the movie and the picturisation add to the effect, and hence listening to the song as part of the movie can be quite an emotional experience.

If I were to talk about all the cover versions that have been made for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door it would probably take me a whole book to do so, as there has been an insanely large number of those! Hence, I discuss two of the most prominent covers, namely those by Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses. Eric Clapton released his version of the song as a single in 1975. The song wasn’t made part of an album until 1982 when a compilation of Clapton songs titled Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton, was released. Clapton then recorded a more jazz version of the song with vocalist Randy Crawford and saxist David Sanborn for the 1989 Mel Gibson-starrer Lethal Weapon 2. Guns N’ Roses‘ famous cover version of the song happened first in 1990 for the soundtrack of Days of Thunder. It then appeared on their 1991 album Use Your Illusion II. They also played the track at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. The highlight of the GnR version is of course the breath-taking solo by Slash. Another very interesting tribute to the epic happened in October 2007 in India, when 1730 guitarists assembled at a stadium in Shillong during the Autumn festival playing a 5-minute long version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, creating one of the largest guitar ensembles in the world (Many people mistakenly believe this to be the largest guitar ensemble in the world, whereas according to the Guinness Book that record belongs to a June 2007 ensemble in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany, which involved 1802 guitarists playing Smoke on the Water)
We sign off with a few of the videos that have been spoken of above. Be back soon with more!

VIP says:

@chunni babu: true. 🙂

Chunni Babu says:

The lyrics is so simple and Dylan presents it beautifully with pretty much 3 chords and an occasional 4th chord all the way through….there is a reason why he is considered one of the greatest songwriters 🙂 You are right..I’d say just listening to the song itself is an emotional experience..