Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan

Who has never heard Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door? Who has never sung the refrain over and over again? Who doesn’t link the song to a particular moment in his...

Who has never heard Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door? Who has never sung the refrain over and over again? Who doesn’t link the song to a particular moment in his life? This is the great thing about music, everyone can relate to it over time, and Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door is one of those timeless songs that will always be at the top of the charts, especially for the tens of covers ever made by great artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, U2, Aretha Franklin, Bon Jovi, Bryan Ferry, just to mention some of them.

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door was originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1973 as the soundtrack of the movie ‘Pat Garret and Billy the Kid’ and it later became one of Dylan’s most famous songs, since it was then released as a single and reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

As it often happens, the glorious song has a very simple structure in its original version, only four chords, and it was  born as a conutry song, included in the Top 100 Western song of all time by the Western Writers of America. But it is also known for its several rock covers, one great example is by Guns ‘N Roses who started including the song in their live sets in 1987 and recorded it for the first time in the same year for the maxi single of Welcome to the Jungle. In 1990 it was released in the Days of Thunder Soundtrack and later included in the album Use your Illusion II reaching #2 in the UK Singles Chart, beocming one of the hallmarks of this band.

To fully understand the meaning if this song, it is crucial to know the scene of the movie in which it is played. The movie is about two hood friends who grow older apart, one becoming the sheriff and the other one a dangerous criminal, two sides, right and wrong, but the right side ends up killing the deputy sheriff who dies in the arms of his wife with a meaningful red sunset in the back and on the notes of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.

A lot of suppositions on the real interpretation to give to this song has been made. It can be considered a testament of the sheriff, the bridge is a symbol of the futility of life – Mama, takes this badge off of me, I can’t use it anymore – the sheriff has spent his whole life trying to deny his outlaw nature, and now it is forced to face the truth – It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see, I feel I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door .

Some others say it is an anti-war song from a dying soldier perspective who regrets killing people, even in the name of good – Mama, put my guns in the ground, I can’t shoot them anymore -. In the end one thing we know for sure, this is a song that Dylan wrote thinking about the mortality of life and the everlasting question that humans had always, and forever will, asked themselves: am I going to heaven or hell?

But enough with conjectures, let the song speak:

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can’t use it anymore.
It’s gettin’ dark, too dark for me to see
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can’t shoot them anymore.
That long black cloud is comin’ down
I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door.

Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door
Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
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Sounds from the Bucket
Francesca Aloisio

Francesca is both an International Relations graduate and a dancer living in Rome. She is particularly interested in international issues, intercultural learning and culture sharing, as well as music and arts. She is currently a consultant for the UN agency IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) in the communication division.
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