Monday, August 15, 2011
#27 The Band-Music From Big Pink
Artist: The Band
Album: Music From Big Pink
Oh man three weeks have gone by? Busy at work, my apologies. Today I will discuss album #27 on my list, Music From Big Pink the debut album by The Band. The group was originally known as The Hawks, and were a backing band to 1950s rock and roller Ronnie Hawkins. The original incarnation of the group changed dramatically between their inception and split from Hawkins in 1963. Eventually, the group wound up backing Bob Dylan, touring with him during his Blonde On Blonde tour, and shacked up with him to make what became known as The Basement Tapes in Woodstock, NY in the late-1960s. Perhaps being associated so closely with Dylan during these years helped add to and influence their mythology. The group adopted the moniker of The Band at least partially to counteract rock-stardom...wanting to remain anonymous as people and just be known as a band unit (as opposed to say, how each Beatle was unique: George the "Quiet One", etc. It's sincerely tragically ironic that the group's decline came with certain rock-star tendencies like drug-use among other things).
Though selling only modestly (the record has still, to this day, never reached platinum status), the album was a landmark upon its release. The story I know is that Dylan played it for Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton (among others) simultaneously, and it blew them all away. It's certainly one of the best-paced records, and achieves the rare feat of allowing each song to flow perfectly into the next but they also all stand out very well on their own. The album's songs exemplify everything that was great about the band. "Tears Of Rage" is a subtle, slow and incredibly subdued song...but at five and a half minutes, it's a bizarre choice for an opener. And for a song from 1968 to be played with such folk-y instrumentation...at the height of psychedelia...their music was truly radical. The songs never celebrated mind-expansion or rebellion, but a return to simpler time...not unlike being The Kinks, perhaps, of the North American musical landscape.
The rest of side one flows brilliantly, as three quiet and plaintive songs follow the opener, which leads to the colossal "The Weight" one of their and one of the most well-known songs of the era. It's fame and quality are without question at this point, and few songs are more well-justified as being so well revered. While the instrumentation and topicality of the song might not reflect the era, it really actually speaks to the generation in an elegant way, and it's lyrics exhibit a confusion and fear that only such veterans of the music scene like The Band would really be able to put into words so well.
Side two is just as strong, if not better than the first side. Opening with the relaxed "We Can Talk," which showcases the ensemble-type playing/singing that goes throughout the album (at any point, it feels like anybody could take the lead or take vocal duties), we get a superb cover of "Long Black Veil" and the downright rocking and evil "Chest Fever" with some of the best organ/keyboard playing the band would ever exhibit. The album ends with a similar note to how it began, and if "Tears of Rage" works as an overture, "I Shall Be Released" certainly feels and sounds like a perfect finale.
The group would make one more undisputed masterpiece before their 1970s output would be hit and miss. But this, their first record, is still an achievement and a sound unmatched by any of their peers then and any release since. A truly superb record that belongs in every household.