Saturday, July 16, 2011

291. The Basement Tapes- Eavesdropping on greatness.

Album: The Basement Tapes
Artist: Bob Dylan and the Band
Genre: Folk
Year: Released in 1975 but recorded in 1967


  1. Odds and Ends
  2. Orange Juice Blues (Blues for Breakfast)
  3. Million Dollar Bash
  4. Yazoo Street Scandal
  5. Goin' to Acapulco
  6. Katie's Been Gone
  7. Lo and Behold
  8. Bessie Smith
  9. Clothes Line Saga
  10. Apple Suckling Tree
  11. Please Mrs. Henry
  12. Tears of Rage
  13. Too Much of Nothing
  14. Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread
  15. Ain't No More Cane
  16. Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)
  17. Ruben Remus
  18. Tiny Montgomery
  19. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
  20. Don't Ya Tell Henry
  21. Nothing Was Delivered
  22. Open the Door, Homer
  23. Long Distance Operator
  24. This Wheel's on Fire
In 1967 the music world was obsessed with making things huge. Sergeant Peppers was an idea bigger than  anyone had thought of before and every band was trying to record with as many musicians and instruments as their budget and studio floorspace would allow. Rock was no longer bass, drums and guitars it was orchestra's, choirs, sound effects, studio wizardry, wild animals, gardening implements, field recordings, bodily functions and instruments from the most exotic countries possible. Meanwhile in a basement in Woodstock, Bob Dylan sat around with a few friends and thought small.

For a few months in 1967 Dylan wasn't recording an album or preparing a concert tour, he was just bumming around with some other guys. He was writing songs with no real purpose and recording them with no intent to release an album. They were just fooling around in a basement because they all loved playing music. Bob and The Band recorded over 100 songs including modern covers, American standards and amazing new originals.

So once these "sessions" ended what did Bob do with the new songs he'd produced? The answer is: nothing. He let other artists record some of them but rather than put together a new album he just left them there in the basement and went on to other things. No other songwriter in the world would write songs as good as Quinn the Eskimo, Tears of Rage, You aint going nowhere and This Wheels on Fire and then not bother to release them.

But like all good recordings (and wrongly imprisoned movie heroes), the tracks eventually escaped. A selection of recordings were released by a bootleg company as The Great White Wonder, widely held up as the first ever bootleg recording (a music release by someone who has no right to own the music in the first place). Sales of The Great White Wonder were so impressive the record label finaly acquired Bob's permission to release the Basement tapes in 1975.

And so almost a decade after they were recorded the playful, intimate and stripped bare songs that Bob wrote and recorded with a few friends were finally released to the world... with some mysterious omissions... and equally mysterious additions.

For some reason a few of the best songs weren't released on The Basement Tapes (Quinn and I shall Be Released) and for another reason some tracks that The Band recorded without Dylan were included instead. All the songs were cleaned up and some overdubs were added. The end result is best described as unsatisfying. While there are some fantastic moments (Million Dollar Bash, Lo and Behold) there is too much missing.

Thankfully bootleggers (and now the internet) have stepped up to fill in the gaps. A 4 CD compilation called A Tree With Roots exits which compiles all the known recordings from the Basement tapes in their original form with no overdubs. A Tree with Roots may be too complete for the casual listener (who probably doesn't need multiple takes and incomplete exerpts that clock in at well under a minute) but it does have all the great moments and make you appreciate Dylan's talents even more.

If you can't find A Tree With Roots then The Basement tapes is definitely worth having. It's the sound of  Modern Music's greatest songwriter and some talented friends making music for the sheer joy of it.

Highlight: Million Dollar Bash
Lowlight: Long Distance Operator

Influenced by: A nice basement and American songwriting
Influenced: Lots of low key recordings ever since.

Favourite Amazon Customer review Quote: "If you don't have it, buy it."

-That's the whole review. Amazingly succinct.

So does this record have pride of place in your Pool Room or have you confined it to the basement? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. I searched like a lunatic to get a copy of the original Basement Tapes. I bought the official release, which at the time I thought was the bees, until I heard the wonder of the original.
    It was like finding a 'Turner'. Dylan, relaxed
    and having fun, at the same time producing fantastic recordings. Apart from the new stuff which went on to become popular, there are wonderful old English ballads,'Roisin the Beau' and such like and I almost wet myself when I heard 'The Banks of the Royal Canal' a song I'd heard somewhere in the past and never dreamed of hearing Dylan's rendition, I was in the clouds. The whole 4 are full of surprising and wonderful insights. The Band and Dylan are just so simpatico, both straight and funny. I have nearly all Dylan's recordings but if I could only keep one set it would be hard to let these out of my sticky fingers.