“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,” 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.
Storyline and song structure
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.