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The Basement Tapes is a studio album by Bob Dylan and The Band, released in 1975 by Columbia Records.

As Dylan recovered from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in July 1966, he summoned the Band and began to record both new compositions and traditional material with them. All of the sixteen Dylan compositions are thought to have been recorded in 1967 in the basement of Big Pink,Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 293-303. a house shared by three of the members of the Band, while the eight Band songs were recorded at various times and locations between 1967 and 1975; overdubs were also added in 1975 to some of the Dylan songs.

The sleeve notes of the album were written by Greil Marcus; in these notes, Marcus compared Dylan's compositions to what he termed "the most mysterious songs" in American culture, Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train" and Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain". In his subsequent book Invisible Republic (later reissued as The Old, Weird America) Marcus expanded his interpretation of The Basement Tapes songs in order to link them to the world of pre-war traditional music which Harry Smith compiled on his Anthology of American Folk Music.

The basement recording sessions laid the foundation both for the approach of Dylan's 1967 album John Wesley Harding, and for the Band finding their own voice on 1968's Music from Big Pink. The Dylan LP, a critically-acclaimed departure from the surrealist rock and roll he had recently pioneered on his milestone trio of albums from 1965 and 1966, was as much of a shock to his fans as were those records to his earlier folk audience. Both it and Music From Big Pink would greatly influence the turn, by many contemporary popular musicians, away from the psychedelic music that reached its height in 1967, toward an embrace of country-influenced folk styles.

Material from the sessions had been heavily bootlegged since 1968, with the most famous being 1969's Great White Wonder.

The Basement Tapes peaked at #7 in 1975 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart and reached #8 in the UK. In 2003, the album was ranked number 291 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The story of The Basement Tapes

In the mid-1960s, Bob Dylan was at the peak of his creativity, having broken into the mainstream with his popular and acclaimed albums Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. In the latter half of 1965, during the interim between those two albums, Dylan began touring with The Hawks (later known as The Band). Their live collaboration would continue into the first half of 1966, culminating in a legendary world tour documented in The Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Bob Dylan Live 1966, The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert. Dylan returned exhausted from the hectic schedule of the world tour. His manager, Albert Grossman, scheduled another sixty-three concerts across the USA for that year, with more concerts overseas rumored after that.

After the crash

On July 29 that year, Dylan suffered a mild concussion and cracked vertebrae when he crashed his Triumph motorcycle near Woodstock, New Yorkmarker. The concerts he was scheduled to perform had to be cancelled.

While he was recovering, Dylan reviewed a preliminary cut of D. A. Pennebaker's documentary of the 1966 world tour. "They had made another Dont Look Back, only this time it was for television," recalled Dylan in 1978. "I had nothing better to do than to see the film. All of it, including unused footage. And it was obvious from looking at the film that it was garbage. It was miles and miles of garbage." Dissatisfied with Pennebaker's results, Dylan re-edited the footage into a surrealistic film, titled Eat the Document. (Howard Alk, who shot much of the footage, and Robbie Robertson also accepted Dylan's invitation to help him edit the film.)

Dylan spent this time thinking a lot about the direction he had been going, in which he felt exhausted from non-stop touring. He was thinking that "there must be another way of life for the pop star in which he is in control, not they" and also had to sort out his relationship with his manager Albert Grossman. Dylan later recalled, "The turning point was back in Woodstock. A little after the accident. Sitting around one night under a full moon, I looked out into the bleak woods and I said, 'Something's gotta change.'"

Killing time with The Hawks

According to the late Rick Danko, he, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson joined Robbie Robertson in West Saugerties in February 1967, and the three of them moved into a house nicknamed Big Pink, with Robertson living nearby with his future wife Dominique. Danko and Manuel had been invited to Woodstock to shoot additional scenes that Dylan was thinking of adding to Eat the Document.

Sometime between March and June (the date is uncertain) Dylan and the Hawks began a series of informal recording sessions. Originally taking place in the so-called Red Room in Dylan's house, these sessions eventually moved to the basement of Big Pink.

Garth Hudson set up a recording unit, using two stereo mixers and a tape recorder borrowed from Grossman, as well as a set of microphones from Peter, Paul and Mary. Dylan would later tell Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner: "That's really the way to do a recording—in a peaceful, relaxed setting—in somebody's basement. With the windows open . . . and a dog lying on the floor."

For the first couple of months, they were just "killing time," according to Robertson. Apparently, much of the early months was spent on covers. "With the covers Bob was educating us a little," recalls Roberston. "The whole folkie thing was still very questionable to us—it wasn't the train we came in on . . . He'd come up with something like 'Royal Canal,' and you'd say, 'This is so beautiful! The expression!' . . . he remembered too much, remembered too many songs too well. He'd come over to Big Pink, or wherever we were, and pull out some old song—and he'd prepped for this. He'd practiced this, and then come out here, to show us." Circulating tapes from these sessions reveal a large, diverse number of popular songs, including compositions written or made popular by Johnny Cash, Ian Tyson, John Lee Hooker, Hank Williams, Hank Snow and Eric Von Schmidt, as well as many traditional songs.

New compositions

Dylan was soon writing and recording new compositions at these informal sessions. "We were doing seven, eight, ten, sometimes fifteen songs a day," recalls Hudson. "Some were old ballads and traditional songs . . . but others Bob would make up as he went along . . . We'd play the melody, he'd sing a few words he'd written, and then make up some more, or else just mouth sounds or even syllables as he went along. It's a pretty good way to write songs."

In a matter of months, Dylan would record at least thirty new compositions with the Hawks, including some of the most celebrated songs of his career: "I Shall Be Released," "This Wheel's On Fire," "Quinn the Eskimo ," "Million Dollar Bash," "Tears of Rage," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," "Going To Acapulco," "I'm Not There (1956)," "All You Have To Do Is Dream," "Apple Suckling Tree" and others. At least two songs were co-written with members of the Hawks: "This Wheel's On Fire" with Rick Danko and "Tears Of Rage" with Richard Manuel. Manuel recalled: "He came down to the basement with a piece of typewritten paper . . . and he just said, 'Have you got any music for this?' . . . I had a couple of musical movements that fit . . . so I just elaborated a bit, because I wasn't sure what the lyrics meant. I couldn't run upstairs and say, 'What's this mean, Bob: "Now the heart is filled with gold as if it was a purse"?'"

In May 1967, Dylan gave his first interview in roughly a year. He told Michael Iachetta that "What I've been doing mostly is seeing only a few close friends, reading little 'bout the outside world, poring over books by people you never heard of, thinking about where I'm going, and why am I running, and am I mixed up too much, and what am I knowing, and what am I giving and what am I taking. And mainly what I've been doing is working on getting better and making better music, which is what my life is all about."

Dwarf Music demos

Dylan still owed Columbia one more album, or fourteen new songs. In fact, Dylan's original intentions for those songs remain unclear, although it should be noted he copyrighted fourteen of the songs, the same number that he owed Columbia. The songs copyrighted were: "Million Dollar Bash," "Yea Heavy and a Bottle of Bread," "Please Mrs. Henry," "Crash on the Levee ," "Lo and Behold," "Tiny Montgomery," "This Wheel's On Fire," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere", "I Shall Be Released," "Tears of Rage," "Too Much of Nothing," "Quinn the Eskimo ," "Open the Door, Homer" and "Nothing Was Delivered."

At the end of August, ten of them were dubbed down from their original stereo recordings to mono and copyrighted by Dwarf Music; in January 1968, Dylan copyrighted another batch of songs including "Tears of Rage," "Quinn the Eskimo ," "Nothing Was Delivered," and "Open the Door Homer." Jointly formed by Dylan and Grossman, Dwarf Music was established in 1965 in order to copyright demos intended for other artists. In an interview taken in 1978, Dylan admitted that the songs written and recorded at Big Pink "were written vaguely for other people . . . I don't remember anybody specifically those songs were ever written for . . . At that time psychedelic rock was overtaking the universe and we were singing these homespun ballads."

Peter, Paul and Mary were the first to chart with a Big Pink composition when they issued their single of "Too Much of Nothing" in late 1967. Ian & Sylvia, who like Peter, Paul and Mary were managed by Grossman, also had early access to the Basement Tape songs, and they recorded "Tears of Rage," "Quinn the Eskimo" and "This Wheel's on Fire." Manfred Mann had a hit with "Mighty Quinn" in the US and the UK in early 1968. The Byrds released "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "Nothing Was Delivered" on their country-rock album Sweetheart of the Rodeo in 1968. In the UK, "This Wheel's on Fire" was a hit for Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity; the song was also covered by The Byrds for their Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde album, while the Hawks—reunited with Levon Helm and rechristened The Band—recorded their own version on their debut, Music from Big Pink, an album that also featured "I Shall Be Released" and "Tears of Rage." Fairport Convention would also record "Million Dollar Bash" on their 1969 album Unhalfbricking.

Eventually, rumors of Dylan and The Band's enormous stash of unreleased recordings began to circulate. Rolling Stone Magazine even ran a cover story in June 1968 demanding that they be released. The fourteen songs copyrighted by Dwarf Music brought those particular songs into private circulation, as demo acetates were soon cut for those songs. With no planned release in sight, these demo acetates became the source material for a number of bootlegs, the first of which was titled Great White Wonder, which came out in July 1969.

Columbia's release of The Basement Tapes compilation

On June 26, 1975, Columbia officially released a 24-song, double-album titled The Basement Tapes. Compiled by Robbie Robertson, eight of the twenty-four songs did not feature Dylan, and a number of these eight were not actually recorded at the Big Pink sessions. All of the tracks were 'remixed' to mono while Robertson and other members of The Band overdubbed new piano, guitar, and/or drum parts over some of the original Dylan-Band recordings.

The Basement Tapes was hailed by critics, with John Rockwell of The New York Times calling it "one of the greatest albums in the history of American popular music." Robert Christgau gave it a rare A+ in his "Consumer Guide" column. Likewise, The Basement Tapes topped The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1975, beating out Patti Smith's Horses, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, Dylan's own Blood on the Tracks, and Neil Young's Tonight's the Night, the #2, 3, 4 and 5 ranking albums, respectively.

In 1997, the critic Greil Marcus published an influential study of The Basement Tapes, entitled Invisible Republic. Marcus quoted Robbie Robertson’s memories of recording the songs: “(Dylan) would pull these songs out of nowhere. We didn’t know if he wrote them or if he remembered them. When he sang them, you couldn’t tell.” Marcus called these songs “palavers with a community of ghosts” He suggests that “these ghosts were not abstractions. As native sons and daughters they were a community. And they were once gathered in a single place: on the Anthology of American Folk Music, a work produced by a 29-year-old of no fixed address named Harry Smith.” Marcus argued Dylan’s basement songs were a resurrection of the spirit of Smith’s Anthology, originally published by Folkways Records in 1952, a collection of blues and country songs recorded in the 1920s and 1930s, which proved very influential in the folk music revival of the 1950s and the 1960s. (The book was re-published in 2001 under the title The Old, Weird America.)

Columbia has issued only four more Dylan Big Pink recordings since The Basement Tapes: take 2 of "Quinn the Eskimo " on Biograph in 1985, "I Shall Be Released" and "Santa Fe" on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1-3 1961-1991 in 1991, and "I'm Not There (1956)" on the I'm Not There soundtrack in 2007. Versions of every one of the eight Band tracks released on the 1975 Columbia LP appeared on A Musical History in 2005, alternates previously issued on the Music From Big Pink and Cahoots reissues of 2000.

A nearly-complete collection of the known Dylan recordings has been bootlegged as the 5-CD set The Genuine Basement Tapes, which was later remastered and re-released on the 4-CD bootleg A Tree With Roots. This collection contains 107 songs and alternate takes. On March 31, 2009, Legacy Records issued a remastered version of the original 1975 Basement Tapes double-album, two compact discs in digipak packaging, reproducing the original liner notes by Marcus but adding no bonus tracks. Neither were there additional essays given the books written on the music contained within, nor corrected instrumental credits for the participants given the additional research in the ensuing decades.

Personnel and track listing

Personnel credits from Sid Griffin's Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes, as referenced below. Some of this conflicts with other sources, such as the liner notes to The Band: A Musical History, but this is the latest research effort as of 2008. The compact disc release places sides one and two on disc one, and sides three and four on disc two, in the original order. Produced by Bob Dylan and the Band.

Side one

  1. "Odds and Ends" (Dylan) (take 2) – 1:46
  2. "Orange Juice Blues (Blues for Breakfast)" (Manuel) – 3:37
  3. "Million Dollar Bash" (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:31
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal
  4. "Yazoo Street Scandal" (Robertson) – 3:27
    • Helm - mandolin, vocal; Robertson - guitar; Hudson - organ; Danko - bass; Manuel - drums. Recorded at A&R Studio, New York Citymarker, January 10, 1968
  5. "Goin' to Acapulco" (Dylan) – 5:26
    • Dylan - vocal; Robertson - guitar; Hudson - organ; Danko - bass, backing vocal; Manuel - drums, backing vocal
  6. "Katie's Been Gone" (Manuel, Robertson) – 2:43
    • Manuel - piano, vocal; Robertson - guitar; Hudson - organ; Danko - bass, backing vocal. Overdubbed 1975: Hudson - additional keyboards; Helm - drums.


Side two

  1. "Lo and Behold!" (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:45
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal
  2. "Bessie Smith" (Danko, Robertson) – 4:17
    • Danko - vocal, bass; Robertson - vocal, guitar; Manuel - piano; Hudson - organ; Helm - drums, backing vocal. Recorded at Shangri-La Studio, 1975
  3. "Clothesline Saga" (Dylan) (take 1) – 2:56
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Robertson - electric guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano; Danko - bass
  4. "Apple Suckling Tree" (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:48
    • Dylan - vocal, piano; Hudson - organ; Manuel - tambourine, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal; Robertson - drums
  5. "Please, Mrs. Henry" (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:31
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal
  6. "Tears of Rage" (Dylan, Manuel) (take 3) – 4:11
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Robertson - electric guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal


Side three

  1. "Too Much of Nothing" (Dylan) (take 1) – 3:01
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Robertson - electric guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal. Overdubbed 1975: Hudson - additional keyboards; Helm - drums, backing vocal
  2. "Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread" (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:13
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal
  3. "Ain't No More Cane" (Traditional) – 3:56
    • Helm - mandolin, vocal; Robertson - guitar, vocal; Hudson - accordion; Danko - bass, vocal; Manuel - drums, vocal. Recorded at Shangri-La Studio, 1975
  4. "Crash on the Levee " (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:03
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano; Danko - bass
  5. "Ruben Remus" (Manuel, Robertson) – 3:13
    • Manuel - vocal, piano; Robertson - guitar; Hudson - organ; Danko - bass, backing vocal; Helm - drums. Recorded at Music From Big Pink sessions, 1968
  6. "Tiny Montgomery" (Dylan) – 2:45
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Robertson - electric guitar, backing vocal; Hudson - organ; Manuel - backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal


Side four

  1. "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" (Dylan) (take 2) – 2:42
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano; Danko - bass; Robertson - drums. Overdubbed 1975: Robertson - electric guitar
  2. "Don't Ya Tell Henry" (Dylan) – 3:12
    • Helm - mandolin, vocal; Robertson - guitar; Hudson - piano; Danko - bass, backing vocal; Manuel - drums. Recorded at Shangri-La Studio, 1975
  3. "Nothing Was Delivered" (Dylan) (take 2) – 4:22
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Robertson - electric guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal
  4. "Open the Door, Homer" (Dylan) (take 1) – 2:49
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Robertson - electric guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal
  5. "Long Distance Operator" (Dylan) – 3:38
  6. "This Wheel's on Fire" (Danko, Dylan) – 3:49
    • Dylan - vocal, guitar; Hudson - organ; Manuel - piano, backing vocal; Danko - bass, backing vocal; Robertson - drums


Notes

  1. Sounes, 2001, Down The Highway: The Life Of Bob Dylan, pp. 222–225.
  2. Heylin, Clinton. Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960–1994 (New York: St. Martin's Press 1995), p. 55–56.
  3. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 85, 177, 190-221.
  4. Heylin, Clinton. Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960–1994 (New York: St. Martin's Press 1995), p. 59, 67–68.
  5. Marcus, 1997, Invisible Republic, pp. 86–97.
  6. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 304.
  7. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 40.
  8. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 46, 52-53.
  9. Shelton, Robert. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Ballantine 1986), p. 426.
  10. Rosenbaum, Ron. "The Playboy Interview: Bob Dylan," Playboy magazine, March 1978, in Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews, Jonathon Cott (ed.) (New York: Wenner Books 2006), p. 215.
  11. Shelton, Robert. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Ballantine 1986), p. 429.
  12. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 55.
  13. Sounes, Howard. Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (Grove Press: New York 2001), p. 221
  14. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007), p. 120, 158.
  15. Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (London: Picador 1997), p. 72.
  16. "Interview with Jann S. Wenner," Rolling Stone November 29, 1969, in Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews (Wenner Books 2006), p. 151.
  17. Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (London: Picador 1997), p. xvi.
  18. Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (London: Picador 1997), p. 240.
  19. Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (London: Picador 1997), p. 237–265.
  20. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 104.
  21. Spencer, Ruth Albert. "Conversations with the Band" in The Woodstock Times, Vol. 14, no. 12, March 21, 1985. Retrieved 2008-03-08.
  22. Shelton, Robert. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Ballantine 1986), p. 427–428.
  23. Shelton, Robert. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Ballantine 1986), p. 428.
  24. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 230.
  25. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 272.
  26. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 270.
  27. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 280.
  28. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 278.
  29. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 282.
  30. Shelton, Robert. No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Ballantine 1986), p. 438.
  31. Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide Reviews Retrieved on 2008-02-14
  32. The 1975 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll Retrieved 2008-02-14
  33. Marcus, The Old, Weird America, xvi
  34. Marcus, The Old, Weird America, 86
  35. Marcus, The Old, Weird America, 87
  36. Marcus, The Old, Weird America, pp. 236–265.
  37. Although Griffin lists no overdubs to this song, there is piano clearly audible on the released version which does not appear on the bootlegged original recording. This was most likely overdubbed in 1975 by Manuel or possibly Hudson.
  38. Griffin credits Dylan with harmonica on this track, but there is no harmonica audible.
  39. Griffin conjectures that it possibly might not be Helm playing the drums, but a session drummer who sounds somewhat like Ringo Starr in the fills.
  40. Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007) p. 294.
  41. Ibid. As per the liner notes, two drum kits are not audible, nor is piano. Helm may not be present at all if this was recorded prior to his return to the group, therefore it may be Manuel on drums and not piano.
  42. Griffin, 2007, Million Dollar Bash, pp. 255–256.


References

  • Cott, Jonathon (ed.). Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews (New York: Wenner Books 2006). ISBN 1-932958-09-6
  • Griffin, Sid. Million Dollar Bash: Bob Dylan, the Band, and the Basement Tapes (London: Jawbone 2007). ISBN 978-1-906002-05-3
  • Heylin, Clinton. Heylin, Clinton. Bob Dylan: The Recording Sessions, 1960–1994 (New York: St. Martin's Press 1995). ISBN 0-312-15067-9
  • Marcus, Greil Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (London: Picador 1997). ISBN 0-330-33624-X
  • Shelton, Robert, No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan (New York: Ballantine 1986). ISBN 0-345-34721-8
  • Sounes, Howard. Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan (Grove Press: New York 2001). ISBN 0-8021-1686-8


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