Knockin' on Heaven's Door

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"Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
Bob Dylan - Knockin on Heavens Door.jpg
Single by Bob Dylan
from the album Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
B-side "Turkey Chase"
Released July 13, 1973
Recorded February 1973
Genre Folk rock, gospel
Length 2:32
Label Columbia
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) Gordon Carroll
Bob Dylan singles chronology
"George Jackson"
(1971)
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
(1973)
"A Fool Such as I"
(1973)

"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" is a song written and sung by Bob Dylan, for the soundtrack of the 1973 film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Released as a single, it reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. Described by Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin as "an exercise in splendid simplicity,"[1] the song, measured simply in terms of the number of other artists who have covered it, is one of Dylan's most popular post-1960s compositions.

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.[2]

Storyline and song structure[edit]

The song describes the collapse of a deputy sheriff; dying from a bullet wound, he tells his wife "Mama, take this badge off of me; I can't use it anymore." The song consists of four chords in the key of G major: G, D, Am7, and C. The basic pattern throughout the song is G-D-Am7-Am7 and then G-D-C-C, and this is repeated. Over the years, Dylan has changed the lyrics, as have others who have performed this song.

Cover versions[edit]

Eric Clapton version[edit]

In January 1975 Eric Clapton played on Jamaican singer Arthur Louis' recording of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" arranged in a reggae style. Subsequently, Clapton recorded his own reggae-style version of the song which was released in August 1975, two weeks after Louis's version was released as a single in July 1975.[3] Clapton's single peaked at No. 38 in the UK Singles Chart. The single was less successful in the US, only reaching No. 109 in Cash Box. Clapton's 1996 boxed set Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies features a performance recorded in London in April 1977. The song was also performed during the Journeyman and One More Car, One More Rider world tours in 1990 and 2003. Additionally, the song has been included on several Clapton compilation albums, such as Time Pieces: The Best of Eric Clapton, Backtrackin', The Cream of Clapton and Complete Clapton.[4]

Guns N' Roses version[edit]

"Knockin' on Heaven's Door"
GNR Heaven.jpg
1992 UK picture sleeve
Song by Guns N' Roses from the album Days of Thunder
Released June 26, 1990 (1990-06-26)
Recorded 1990
Genre Hard rock, blues rock
Length 05:30
Label Geffen
Writer(s) Bob Dylan
Producer(s) Mike Clink

In 1987, Guns N' Roses started including the song in their live sets. A live version of the song was released on the maxi-single of "Welcome to the Jungle" the same year. They recorded a studio version in 1990 for the soundtrack of the film Days of Thunder which reached No. 18 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart in 1990. This version was later slightly modified for the 1991 album Use Your Illusion II (basically discarding the responses in the second verse). Released as the fourth single from the album, it reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart as well as No. 12 in Australia and No. 1 in Ireland. Their performance of the song at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 was used as the B-side for the single release and was also included on their Live Era: '87–'93 album, released in 1999.[5] The music video for this version of the song was directed by Andy Morahan.[6]

Dunblane tribute[edit]

In 1996 and with the consent of Bob Dylan, Scottish musician Ted Christopher wrote a new verse for "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" in memory of the schoolchildren and teacher killed in the Dunblane school massacre. This has been, according to some sources, one of the few times Dylan has officially authorized anybody to add or change the lyrics to one of his songs.[7][8] This version of the song, including children from the village singing the chorus with guitarist and producer of Dylan's album Infidels (1983), Mark Knopfler, was released on December 9 in the UK and reached No. 1 in the UK Singles Chart.[9] The proceeds went to charities for children.[10] The song was featured on the compilation album Hits 97, where all royalties from the song were given to three separate charities.

Other cover versions[edit]

  • Danny & Dusty released a version of the song on their 1985 album The Lost Weekend.
  • Heaven released a version of the song on the group's 1985 album, Knockin' On Heaven's Door.[13]
  • Vlado Kreslin released his live version on his album Pikapolonica in 1996. It was performed by Beltinška banda.
  • The Brazilian singer Zé Ramalho released a Portuguese version of Dylan's song called "Batendo na Porta do Céu" in his 1997 album Antologia Acústica (Acoustic Anthology).
  • Warren Zevon released a version of the song on his 2003 album The Wind, shortly before his death from cancer in September of that year.
  • Larry Norman released his cover on his 2004 album Sessions. With the exception of the chorus line, the song has completely original lyrics.[14]
  • Wyclef Jean recorded a version of the song, which was used in the 2004 documentary Ghosts of Cité Soleil.

Sampled version[edit]

Gabrielle's single "Rise" (2000) sampled from this song.

Soundtrack inclusions[edit]

Film/TV show Year Performer
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid 1973 Bob Dylan
Renaldo & Clara 1978 Bob Dylan & Roger McGuinn
Lethal Weapon 2 1989 Randy Crawford, Eric Clapton & David Sanborn
Days of Thunder 1990 Guns N' Roses
Shake Rattle & Roll 2 (segment "Aswang") 1990 Guns N' Roses
Rush 1991 Bob Dylan
Total Balalaika Show 1994 Leningrad Cowboys and Alexandrov Ensemble
Lawn Dogs 1997 Bob Dylan
The Dybbuk of the Holy Apple Field 1997 Roger Waters
Knockin' on Heaven's Door 1997 Selig
Treasure Planet 2002 Bob Dylan
Windstruck 2004 Youme
Be Cool 2005 Bob Dylan
Las Vegas (episode 45, "Letters, Lawyers and Loose Women") 2005 Bob Dylan
Six Feet Under (episode 61, "All Alone") 2005 Bob Dylan
ER (episode 260, "Darfur") 2006 Scoob Serious
Salvador (Puig Antich) 2006 Bob Dylan
I'm Not There 2007 Antony & the Johnsons
Supernatural (episode 35, "Houses of the Holy") 2007 Bob Dylan
Cold Case (episode 84, "Blood on the Tracks") 2007 Bob Dylan
Big Love (episode 2-08, "Kingdom Come") 2007 Bob Dylan
My Name is Earl 2008 Bob Dylan
Come Dio Comanda 2008 Antony & the Johnsons
Heaven's Door 2009 Angela Aki
Supernatural (episode 98, "Dark Side of the Moon") 2010 Bob Dylan
Lifted 2011 Uriah Shelton
Blue Bloods (Season 4, Episode 7, "Drawing Dead") 2013 Rick Devin[15]
The 100 2015 RAIGN
Sense8 (episode 9, "Death Doesn't Let You Say Goodbye") 2015 Antony & the Johnsons
Containment, episode 5, "Like a Sheep Among Wolves" 2016 RAIGN

In popular culture[edit]

Nick Talevski used the title for his book, Knocking On Heaven's Door: Rock Obituaries.[16] A version of this song was performed by Raign for the TV show "The 100"

References[edit]

  1. ^ Heylin, Clinton (2009). Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan, 1957-1973. Chicago Review Press. p. 434. 
  2. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. 
  3. ^ Schumacher, Michael. Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton. Hyperion Press. p. 373. 
  4. ^ "Eric Clapton discography". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-05-10. 
  5. ^ "Gun N' Roses discography". allmusic.com. Retrieved 2010-05-10. 
  6. ^ Garcia, Alex S. "mvdbase.com - Guns 'n' Roses - "Knockin' on Heaven's door [live]"". Music Video DataBase. Retrieved November 2, 2015. 
  7. ^ "Dunblane Knockin' on Heaven's Door". bannockburnband.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  8. ^ "Dunblane against Guns". 1997-01-01. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 601. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  10. ^ "Knockin' On Heaven's Door CD". BBC. Retrieved 2010-08-25. 
  11. ^ "Fairport Convention: Knockin' on Heaven's Door". Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music. Retrieved 29 July 2015. 
  12. ^ Adrian Zupp. "Swingshift - Cold Chisel". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 2015-02-03. 
  13. ^ "Heaven". Australian Music History. Retrieved 2016-10-08. 
  14. ^ "DONATIONS - The Solid Rock Shop". Solid Rock. Retrieved 2013-09-04. 
  15. ^ "Blue Bloods Music - S4E7: "Drawing Dead"". TuneFind. Retrieved 2016-09-07. 
  16. ^ Televski, Nick, Knocking On Heaven’s Door: Rock Obituaries, Omnibus Press, London 2006