Saturday, July 19, 2014

34 Music from the Big Pink (1968) The Band



1. Tears of Rage
2. To Kingdom Come
3. In a Station
4. Caledonia Mission
5. The Weight
6. We Can Talk
7. Long Black Veil
8. Chest Fever
9. Lonesome Suzie
10. This Wheel's on Fire
11. I Shall Be Released

When you're trying to make it in the music business it helps to have friends in high places. Sometimes it's not what you know, it's who you know. Captain Beefheart could well have languished in total obscurity if it wasn't for his friendship with Frank Zappa; Roy Harper managed to launch an entire career thanks to his friendship with Jimmy Page and Yoko Ono would never have been anything more than an irritating visual artist if it wasn't for her marriage to John Lennon.

Canadian Rockers The Band have definitely benefited from the friendship of Dylan but it would be doing them a huge injustice to claim their entire career is due to the fact that they can use the phrase "I was chatting with Bob the other day..." at parties. Bob may have given their career a huge boost but before it did, they had to win the great man's respect. They've benefited from Dylan's friendship but they had to earn it in the first place.

The Band started their life as the backing band for Canadian rock legend Ronnie "The Hawk" Hawkins but split with him when they decided they could be more successful and independent on their own. They performed for a while without much success until they were recommended to Dylan who at the time was looking for a backing band to help him turn into a rock and roll star. Impressing Bob is a notoriously difficult feat and getting on with him personally is fairly tricky as well so the Band deserve credit for being a bunch of guys that Dylan would be prepared to hang with him onstage and off.

After touring with Bob, the group practically moved in with him when he retired from music for a while thanks to a motorbike accident which left him injured and reluctant to return to the road. The Band moved into a large pink house with a big basement which Dylan visited almost daily for a while with his guitar and a desire to just play music for the heck of it.

The recordings made during those sessions have been partly released as The Basement Tapes but the sessions inspired The Band to continue song-writing and they learnt how to craft songs at the feet of the master.

So when they came to release a solo album, the Dylan connection helped them get a record deal and gain some publicity but the reason this album is revered so much isn't because we can enjoy listening to the album knowing that these guy used to hang with Bob. It's fantastic stuff.

The three Dylan compositions were all originally recorded by Bob and The Band during their Basement sessions but not released officially for several years so this was the first chance that most had to enjoy Tears of Rage, This Wheels on Fire and I shall be Released all three of which are brilliant songs. Dylan's recorded output does tend to fall away in the late sixties but these three tracks are proof that he was still writing incredible music. And The Band are the perfect interpreters of his work turning in brilliant versions which are verging on the definitive.

Hanging around with his Bobness clearly helped the members of the Band to develop their own songwriting skills. His influence rubbed off on them and produced the very Dylanish The Weight which managed to compete with the Bob tracks to be the album's highlight. The Weight is a perfect narrative song and like all good Band songs sounds so traditional and seeped in Americana that most people think it's a cover.  It's a song that lots of people have taken to a lot of different places but nobody has done it quite as well as the guys who first came up with it.

There's a lot more to like on Big Pink. Long Black Veil is a beautiful song and The Band sing it like they wrote it and understand it and there are lots of other indications that Robertson, Manuel and Danko might have gone into the basement as side men but they emerged as songwriters. There isn't a weak song here and I can't recommend it enough.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I purched this cd for a friend, actually; who requested The band's greatest Hits. When I received the CD, Cripple Creek was not on it. That was one of their biggest hits. I also have to admit, that I purchased 3 CDs at the time; and I may have the confused the song title with the right cD."

-Yeah, is your own stuff up really reason to give this CD one star?

So do you like your music big and pink? Let me know below.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding "The Weight" -- more Bunuel than Bob. Check out the Wiki entry on the song.

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