Posts Tagged ‘The Band’

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The Band emerged in the late sixties as part of the roots movement that would come to counter the psychedelic influence that had taken a grip on popular music. This group of four Canadians and one Arkansas musician, who once backed Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, exploded onto the scene with arguably two of the greatest albums of all time – Music From Big Pink and the self-titled second album The Band. Rustic and encompassing various genres, performed with musicianship of the highest order and with a great trio of vocalists in Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, the albums are like timeless storybooks, documenting a long-gone era with nostalgia, bitterness and regret.

Flanked by a guitarist of the highest order in Robbie Robertson and the almost mythical layer-adding Garth Hudson, these are soundscapes like no other. Songs like The Weight, Whispering Pines, Lonesome Suzie, The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down and King Harvest represent a group in full mastery of their abilities and are rightly regarded as classics.

The problem with The Band is that they peaked too early. The dirty habits of the rock and roll life style set in, drugs and alcohol the corrupting influences that saw the group decline after the third album Stage Fright. In addition to this, Robertson has also alluded to the pressures of being on the road that only served to exasperate the issues facing these talented musicians. By the early seventies, Manuel, once the main songwriter for the group, could no longer pen material. His voice remained entrancing but onstage he could barely perform beyond a few numbers.
The Band would continue to show sparks of their former selves throughout the remaining seven years they spent together. Moondog Matinee, a covers album, is pretty fine and there are a few nuggets to be found on Northern Lights-Southern Cross, one of the original setup’s final albums. By the time they called it quits following the Last Waltz they were burned out. Robertson could no longer tour and Manuel would tragically take his own life in 1986. A reunited Band in the nineties (minus Robertson) was unable to capture the magic, with very little new original material penned. Here are some of their classic songs.

A Musical History

The Weight

Gram Parsons might have coined the phrase “cosmic American music”, but has any piece of music ever sounded so cosmic, or indeed so American, as the Band’s signature track? By the time Levon Helm’s road-weary traveller has pulled into Nazareth – not in biblical Galilee, but eastern Pennsylvania, where CF Martin founded the oldest guitar company in the US in 1833 – he’s already “feeling ’bout half-past dead”, with light years on the clock, and no end to his journey in sight. So ingrained is The Weight’s sense of the mythological and metaphysical that even after you learn the more prosaic truth behind its cast of characters – that “Luke” refers to their former Hawks bandmate Jimmy Ray Paulman, “Anna Lee” was a childhood friend of Helm’s and “Crazy Chester” was an eccentric club owner from North Carolina – it still feels as esoteric and inscrutable it did on your first listen. It’s a song that doesn’t sound like it was written, so much as divined – a nugget of gold panned from the riverbed of American musical tradition, even if four-fifths of the group who happened upon it were Canadian.

Chest Fever

According to guitarist Robbie Robertson: “If you like Chest Fever, it’s for god knows what reason … it doesn’t make any kind of sense in the lyrics, in the music, in the arrangement, in anything.” Yet it’s hard to see how the reason could be any more obvious: if you like Chest Fever, it’s because of Garth Hudson. The multi-instrumentalist didn’t sing, and his songwriting credits were scarce, but his peerless ability and technical know-how were a huge, if often overlooked, asset to the Band. Ophelia – on which he almost single-handedly constructs a Dixieland-jazz wall of sound – is perhaps the greater testament to his musicality and versatility, but personal preference means Chest Fever sneaks on to this list ahead of it. Sure, the lyrics were ad-libbed and largely meaningless, but Hudson’s extraordinary Lowrey organ intro (improvised from Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor) and the heaving, inexorable groove of the song’s central riff elevates what might have been a throwaway number into a thing of indomitable power and majesty, which for many years served as the centrepiece of their live set.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

In later life, drummer Levon Helm began to dabble in acting, appearing in movies such as Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Right Stuff and, bizarrely, the Steven Seagal eco-thriller Fire Down Below. His greatest performance, however, will always be that of Virgil Caine, the defeated but stoically defiant protagonist of what is possibly the Band’s finest track. Helm inhabits the role of a forlorn Confederate veteran so completely that when he sings – in that high, lonesome, cigarettes-and-rye rasp – about how the last days of the US civil war are “a time I remember oh so well”, you find yourself believing him. In writing it, meanwhile, Robertson displayed remarkable nuance: the lyrics are not an expression of sympathy or support for the Confederacy, much less slavery; they’re the lament of an ordinary man who knows he’s on the wrong side of history, aware that his own suffering – and the excesses of the victors – has already been written out it.

Whispering Pines

Much of the Band’s early magic lay in their rejection of clearly defined roles. Each member had a primary instrument but would chop and change as the music required; songwriting duties were mostly shared between Robertson and nominal lead vocalist Richard Manuel, but there was no de facto leader; they were adaptive, instinctual, egalitarian; a band – the band – rather than a vehicle for individual talent. That began to change after their self-titled second album, as much because of Manuel’s drug-induced inertia as the bitter disputes over Robertson’s royalty shares, but the heartrending Whispering Pines stands out as perhaps the greatest collaboration between the group’s two main songwriters. Manuel composed the melody – so haunting it would have given Brian Wilson shivers – on an out-of-tune piano he kept at home before tasking Robertson with finishing the lyrics; the guitarist responded with a poetic meditation on loneliness that Manuel’s fragile falsetto managed to wring every last ounce of pathos from. It was no accident, as Robertson later explained: “Richard always had this very plaintive attitude in his voice, and in his sensitivity as a person. I tried to follow that, to go with it and find it musically. We both felt very good about this song.”

Up on Cripple Creek

There’s an argument for 1969’s The Band – also known as The Brown Album – as a loose concept album about the people, places and shared experiences of an older, more innocent and fast-vanishing America, an idea not entirely dissimilar to what Ray Davies was doing on the other side of the pond with The Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur. The Band’s worldview, however, was decidedly more blue-collar: they gravitated towards earthier tales of stricken sharecroppers, down-at-heel outlaws and charismatic drunkards. Up on Cripple Creek is the epitome of that, the story of a sanguine, free-wheeling hobo’s cross-country adventures with his “little Bessie”, and likened by the critic Greil Marcus to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain as “a place where all fears vanish beyond memory”. Underpinned by the bright, sure-handed bounce of Helm’s drumming and Hudson’s funky, undulating wah-wah clavinet, it’s possessed of a roguish, irresistible charm that never fails to have you reaching for the nearest bottle.

Stage Fright

All five members of the Band had cut their teeth as working musicians in the 1950s, when the concept of success was very different to what it would be a decade later when they finally achieved it for themselves. “If you’ve never made a million dollars overnight, like we did, you have no concept of what it can do,” reflected bassist Rick Danko. “Suddenly, we had all the money we needed and people were falling over themselves to make us happy, which meant giving us all the dope we could stand.” Stage Fright was the sound of the Band choking on fame’s poisoned chalice, a theme that ran through the album of the same name – see also WS Walcott Medicine Show’s mockery of showbiz artifice, or Daniel and the Sacred Harp’s Faustian parable about a musician selling his soul – and yielded some of its strongest material. In this case, the creeping anxiety and psychosis – “Your brow is sweating and your mouth gets dry / Fancy people go drifting by / The moment of truth is right at hand / Just one more nightmare you can stand” – belonged to Robertson, whose writing was taking a darker, more personal turn, but the song is brought to life by Danko’s twitchy, nervous vocals.

The Shape I’m In

By 1970, the shy, sweet-natured Richard Manuel had started down the self-destructive path that would ultimately consume him. A heavy drinker since his teens, Manuel subsequently developed a fondness for hard drugs that made him unreliable and accident-prone, and he seemed content to let his considerable songwriting gifts wane – after that year, he never wrote again. Robertson would later recall: “I begged him, I pleaded with him, I offered to become his partner in songwriting, I’d pull him into a song I was working on just to get him in the mood or give him a taste of it, thinking he would go on to follow it up. But he didn’t.” It’s tempting to wonder if The Shape I’m In was one of those songs. It was certainly written about the pianist’s physical and psychological deterioration, and not withstanding the mischievous twinkle in its eye or the Stax beat in its step, the lyrics – “Out of nine lives, I’ve spent seven / Now, how in the world do you get to heaven?” – have the air of an intervention. Manuel sings it with a gruff, haggard charm, but the real stinger comes close to the end, when he lays out the dilemma his bandmates were wrestling with: “Save your neck, or save your brother / Looks like it’s one or the other.” Manuel took his life in a Florida hotel room 16 years later.

When I Paint My Masterpiece

Cahoots, the group’s misfiring fourth album, brought to an end to one of rock’n’roll’s most febrile creative streaks, containing what Rolling Stone would later (and to these ears unfairly) call “Robertson’s first truly awful song”, the unloved The Moon Struck One. Yet it still had its moments, principally this one – a song written by their former paymaster Bob Dylan, but which belongs, in the broader sense of the word, to the Band, and to Levon Helm in particular. The drummer’s characterful vocal captures the essence of a Yankee outsider’s odyssey through Europe – romancing “a pretty little girl from Greece,” dodging lions in the Coliseum, navigating a near-riot in Brussels – far better than Dylan’s own sub-par version, released a couple of months later. Special mention must also go to Garth Hudson’s sparkling turn on the accordion, which lends the song a discombobulating layer of faux-continental sleaze.

It Makes No Difference

Though it might seem like the kind of song more suited to Richard Manuel’s wheelhouse, Robertson wrote It Makes No Difference with Rick Danko in mind, and the bassist knocked it out of the park, out of the neighbourhood, and several area-codes down the road. Simply put, this is one of the rawest, most devastating vocal performances committed to tape, by this band or any other: a seemingly straightforward torch song about the void left by an absent lover, Danko’s high, keening delivery amplifies it to levels of hurt and desperation that are almost as uncomfortable for the listener to hear as they were for Danko. It’s a song that you can’t turn away from, an apocalypse-by-melancholy, whose heartsick protagonist is ceaselessly pursued by low-hanging storm clouds, torrential rains and – just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse – a herd of stampeding cattle.

Acadian Driftwood

This list concludes in 1975 with the release of Northern Lights – Southern Cross, after which the original lineup would record only one more studio album, the contractually obligated (and how it showed) Islands. Yet their penultimate effort – discounting those of their latter-day iterations, which featured neither Robertson nor Manuel  was a welcome return to form, and even fitful greatness. Acadian Driftwood, the album’s big moment, tells the story of the Great Upheaval of the 1750s, when tens of thousands of Acadian colonists were forcibly deported from Canada by the British, who “signed a treaty and our homes were taken / Loved ones forsaken, they didn’t give a damn”. As a meticulously researched song of historical record, it shares some DNA with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, but it’s arguably even more ambitious. Though it’s never made explicit, once Manuel, Helm and Danko start intuitively trading verses, there’s a sense that this story is not being told from a single perspective, but several, with each man expelled from his home into an uncertain future. It was the last time the group’s three lead vocalists would share a song between them, and they couldn’t have chosen a better or more quintessentially Bandish one for the occasion.

  • Rick Danko – bass, vocals, double bass, fiddle, trombone
  • Levon Helm – drums, vocals, mandolin, guitar, percussion
  • Garth Hudson – organ, keyboards, saxophone, accordion, pedalboard, woodwinds, brass
  • Richard Manuel – piano, organ, vocals, lap steel guitar, drums
  • Robbie Robertson – guitars, vocals, percussion

The band

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In the midst of the country’s turbulence in 1968, five musicians later named simply The Band hunkered down in a salmon-colored house in upstate New York to craft Music From Big Pinkan album that brought the rural folk Americana sound to popular music and to the classic album canon.

Before finding their footing with this debut album, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel played as backing musicians for Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan. After the 1966 Dylan tour, the group hunkered down in the Big Pink house in West Saugerties, N.Y.

You likely know the rest of the story. To mark the 50th anniversary of its release, Music From Big Pink is getting a reissue worthy of one of the greatest albums ever recorded. On August. 31st, the record will receive a new stereo mix on CD and digital, with five outtakes, alternative recordings and an unreleased a cappella version of “I Shall Be Released.” including the new stereo mix of the album’s historic single “The Weight” .

The Band will also release a double-LP vinyl box set of the album, which includes the CD, digital access and a high-res surround mix on Blu-Ray. It also includes a reproduction of the 7-inch single “The Weight” b/w “I Shall Be Released,” and a hardback book with an essay by music journalist David Fricke and photos by Elliott Landy.

The box set of Music from Big Pink’s reissue includes two LPs, CD, Blu-Ray, 7-inch vinyl and a hardback book. And yes, there are limited-edition versions with pink vinyl.

This beautifully packaged 50th-anniversary box set offers a brighter, sharper mix than past reissues, so you can really hear the lust in “Chest Fever,” the sorrow in “Long Black Veil” and the half-past-dead blues in “The Weight.” There’s also an insightful essay by Rolling Stone‘s David Fricke, and a new a cappellaedit of “I Shall Be Released” that shines a lovely spotlight on Richard Manuel’s falling-angel falsetto. If you love the Band, it’s mostly nothing you haven’t heard a couple thousand times before, but little else is needed. A half-century later, the brotherhood of Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Manuel and Garth Hudson still makes you want to join the party. Listen to “Tears of Rage” and you’re right there in the dream: Someone’s delivering a darkly significant monologue (“We carried you in our arms/On Independence Day…”) while your hosts offer you a drink and a seat by the fire. How could you not accept, if only to find out what happens next?

In his 1993 memoir, titled This Wheel’s On Fire, the dearly departed Levon Helm wrote, “We wanted Music From Big Pinkto sound like nothing anyone else was doing. This was our music, honed in isolation from the radio and contemporary trends.”

Although the album was not immediately popular on its release, Music From Big Pink is now widely recognized as one of the most influential albums of all time. July 1st marks Music From Big Pink’s 50th anniversary.

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This was a film that covered Bob Dylan on his 1966 European tour backed up by the Hawks that eventually became The Band minus, Levon Helm. The film was to be shown on ABC television but ABC rejected and saying it was “incomprehensible” because Dylan himself was one of the editors and wanted the film to have more of an artistic feel.  It was shot under Dylan’s direction by D. A. Pennebaker, whose groundbreaking documentary Dont Look Back chronicled Dylan’s tour the previous year 1965 British tour.

It was filmed by D.A. Pennebaker who filmed Dylan’s 65′ European tour when he played acoustically called Don’t Look Back. Don’t Look Back is terrific. This film is very disjointed. This is the Dylan period that probably is my favorite. The Hawks are raw and powerful and Dylan was

There are some highlights to this odd film. A spontaneous piano duet with Dylan and Johnny Cash, John Lennon and Bob Dylan very high riding around in a cab, and the famous concert footage from the  infamous Manchester Free Trade Hall concert, wherein an audience  member yells out “Judas” because of Dylan’s conversion to electric music. After the Judas remark, he proceeds to tell Robbie Robertson to play it loud and they kick off in a vicious “Like a Rolling Stone.” My favorite live version of that song. Those folk music fans were harsh.

The film is disjointed and frustrating to watch because some of the songs you want to see and hear are there…but only partly. You will be seeing Dylan performing something and then flash away to something else. Some of the concert footage and film from this ended up in the Martin Scorsese movie No Direction Home…I would recommend No Direction Home to be seen by everyone. Other scenes include Dylan and Robbie Robertson in hotel rooms writing and working through new songs, most of which remain unreleased and unpublished. Among these songs are “I Can’t Leave Her Behind”, which was later covered by Stephen Malkmus for the I’m Not There soundtrack.

Bob was pale and nervous and there is no secret he was doing drugs heavily through this movie. After the tour, Dylan had his motorcycle wreck heard around the world and after he recovered he didn’t tour for years.

The cab ride with John Lennon is historical now. Both of them in sunglasses and Lennon trying to inject humor into the situation and Dylan is ok at first and then starts getting sick as the filming stops. As Dylan shows signs of fatigue, Lennon urges him to get a grip on himself: “Do you suffer from sore eyes, groovy forehead, or curly hair? Take Zimdawn!…Come, come, boy, it’s only a film. Pull yourself together.”

Lennon would later recall in an interview with Rolling Stone that he and Dylan who were “both in shades, and both on fucking junk, and all these freaks around us.

If you are a Dylan fan it’s worth a watch. I’m glad we have “No Direction Home” to see some clear film segments on that tour. Eat The Document has not been officially released but you can get a bootleg of it or watch most of it on youtube.

 Thanks to PowerPop… An Eclectic Collection of Pop Culture

Very quietly, for six years, a band had been brewing. Recruited as the Hawks by Arkansas rockabilly veteran Ronnie Hawkins, the quintet had notched years as road warriors playing Canadian and U.S. clubs and casinos, further seasoned by combat duty on Bob Dylan’s tumultuous 1966 tour, Still in their 20s (save for keyboard polymath Garth Hudson), they looked and sounded decades older; the black and white portrait on the album jacket. It was sort of hip to know who they were outside of Toronto.

Few game-changing albums open as quietly as Music From Big Pink, the 1968 debut for The Band. A languid but brief motif of single Telecaster notes wheezing through a Leslie speaker staggers in on top of weary, muffled drum beats, anchored by gospel piano chords. And then Richard Manuel begins singing, his soulful, broken-hearted voice breaking as it climbs:

“We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
And now you’d throw us all aside, and put us all away
Oh what dear daughter ’neath the sun, would treat a father so
To wait upon him, hand and foot, and always tell him ‘no’?”

The antithesis of a conventional, radio-friendly earworm, “Tears of Rage,” written by Manuel and his erstwhile boss, Bob Dylan, was a lagging dirge of inventoried betrayal and lost innocence against brooding organ. A mournful duet of soprano and baritone saxophones punctuated later verses,

They came home to Woodstock with Dylan and put down firm roots for two-years. It was Dylan’s “out of touch” year and they began to spawn this music, this hybrid that took its seeds in the strange pink house. Whereas the Dylan “sound” on recording was filled with Bloom-fielding guitar, Kooper hunt and peck organ and tinkly country-gospelish piano, a fortunate blending of the right people in the right place etc., the Big Pink sound has matured throughout six years picking up favorites along the way and is only basically influenced by the former.

The Dylan tracks on Big Pink already carried the Band’s DNA from their gestation in the Saugerties, N.Y., house that conferred the album’s title, an acknowledgement that the very essence of the group’s ensemble style had been pared away and rebuilt from its foundations as a result of the collaboration.

On “The Weight,” Levon Helm, the group’s lone American, recounted a journey that seemed part pilgrimage, part parable, part shaggy dog story written by guitarist Robbie Robertson. The music itself was at once plainspoken and deliberate, Hearing three distinctive voices build the vocal harmonies on the choruses evoked a brotherhood that itself emerged as part of the album’s mystique and the Band’s identity.

Robbie Robertson makes an auspicious debut here as a composer and lyricist represented by four tunes. Two are stone knockouts: “The Weight” probably the most commercial item in the set with a most contagious chorus that addicts you into singing along… “take a load off Fanny, take a load for free, take a load off Fanny and… you put the load right on me…” “To Kingdom Come” starts out smashing you in the face with weird syncopations and cascading melody lines and then goes into that same groovy bring-it-on-home chorus that earmarks “Weight.”

Hudson’s pitch-bending Lowery organ and Manuel’s piano provided the ensemble’s foundation throughout, with Hudson and producer John Simon adding horns . Vocally, the arrangements highlighted Manuel’s lyrical growl, steeped in Ray Charles’ protean influence, Rick Danko’s buoyant yelp and Helm’s Arkansas drawl; gospel’s call-and-response interplay capped by wide intervals rather than the close harmonies of most bands. Robertson stepped up as a lead singer on just one of his compositions, “To Kingdom Come.”

Individually what makes up this album is Robbie Robertson whose past discography includes “Obviously Five Believers” on Blonde on Blonde, the “live” version of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and the much ignored Dylan single, “Crawl Out Your Window.” Rick Danko, on bass and vocals, is one of the more outgoing people in the band, he can be depend upon to give you a lot of good matured shit whenever you see him; he of the new breed in bass players, the facile freaks like Harvey Brooks, Jim Fielder and Tim Bogert. He is only different from these three in his tasteful understating. Bassist Rick Danko also steps up with his own Dylan co-write on “This Wheel’s on Fire,” decorated with twinkling keyboard accents on a cheap Roxochord keyboard Hudson had hot-rodded with a telegraph key, while the set’s third Dylan contribution, “I Shall Be Released,” further extends the scriptural atmosphere.

Richard Manuel is affectionately called “Beak” or was at one time; a deft pianist with a strong feeling for country-gospel big pink music. A strong contributing composer: “Tears of Rage,” “In A Station,” “We Can Talk,” and “Lonesome Suzie.”  “We Can Talk” offers a hearty mid-tempo rocker framed between Manuel’s rollicking piano and Hudson’s organ arpeggios as the three singers traded overlapping lead vocal lines through lyrics that nodded to the era’s political turmoil with a playful allusion to the group’s Canadian majority. As impressive as that song remains, however, it’s as a balladeer that Manuel would be most compelling. “Lonesome Suzie” is a tender, sympathetic portrait of romantic rejection and abject loneliness that implies Manuel’s own inner pain, while “In a Station” is a hushed reverie that sonically and lyrically evokes a borderland between waking and dreaming.

Garth Hudson is one of the strangest people I ever met. If Harvey Brooks is the gentle grizzly bear of rock and roll then Garth is the gentle brown bear. He is the only person I know who can take a Hammond B3 organ apart and put it back together again or play like that if it’s called for. While backing Dylan on tour he received wide acclaim for his fourth dimensional work on “Ballad Of A Thin Man.”

Levon Helm is a solid rock for the band. He is an exciting drummer with many ideas to toss around. I worked with him in Dylan’s first band and he kept us together like an enormous iron metronome. Levon was the leader of the Hawks. If Big Pink consciously rode the throttle to focus on the quintet’s collective sound, they did flex their power on “Chest Fever,” a semi-nonsensical paean to a wild lover that builds upon Hudson’s formidable intro, itself a virtuosic goof on Bach’s Toccata in D minor that would metastasize over the years into a concert highlight.

John Simon, a brilliant producer-composer-musician, finally has this album as a testimonial to his talent. The reason the album sounds so good is Simon. He is a perfectionist and has had to suffer the critical rap in the past for what has not been his error, but now he’s vindicated.

Music From Big Pink set its hooks into fans gradually but deeply. Musicians, on the other hand, were stunned by the Band’s musicianship, songcraft and democratic spirit, inspiring artists from both sides of the pond to search such fellowship, with Eric Clapton and George Harrison just two of the more prominent acolytes. The rich roots music sensibility underpinning the album with folk, gospel, blues and country elements meanwhile planted vital seeds that buttressed the imminent rise of country-rock, as well as the subsequent emergence of Americana at the turn of the millennium.

These are fiery ingredients and results can be expected to be explosive. The chord changes are refreshing, the stories are told in a subtle yet taut way; country tales of real people you can relate to (the daughter in “Tears of Rage”) the singing sometimes loose as field-help but just right. The packaging, including Dylan’s non-Rembrandt cover art, is apropos and honest (there’s that word again). This album was recorded in approximately two weeks. There are people who will work their lives away in vain and not touch it.

Released: 1 July 1968

If 1967 was a year of introduction and innovation in rock ‘n’ roll—from Monterey Pop to to the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band and the launch of Rolling Stone Magazine  1968 was a proving ground, when a handful of the stars who had sprouted in the “Summer of Love” came to full flower in the psychedelia age. Artists from both sides of the pond, including The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Aretha Franklin, Cream, Traffic and Jefferson Airplane felt free to chip further away at old molds and pursue a daring new musical muse. It was an epochal year for established artists as well. The Beatles splintered in the studio, but their individual contributions to a self-titled double LP, the so-called “White Album”, amounted to some of the band’s greatest work and, in retrospect, unlocked a few imminent solo careers. It was a double album released by the Beatles  containing strong flavours of blues and rock’n’roll, Does this now mean the Beatles are taking a step backwards? As Ringo Starr philosophically remarks: ‘It’s not forwards or backwards. It’s just a step.’

John Wesley Harding

The year started out with what may well have been the finest album of the year, Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding. Midway through the year some tapes of Dylan’s were uncovered which were equally brilliant. Several of the songs on them came out on an album by The Band, Music From Big Pink. The best things on their album were not the Dylan songs, most of which sounded forced and strained, and by no means as good as Dylan’s own version of them on the tape. Rather, the highlights were the songs written by lead guitarist Robbie Robertson. “The Weight” was typical of the group’s low-down, country-soul, rock and roll performing and was one of the finest recordings of the year.

Bob Dylan also sets an anomalous tempo, established early in the year with the bucolic minimalism of ‘John Wesley Harding’. Dylan’s continued absence from the promotional scene allows him to move with a freedom not permitted his British contemporaries, and his absence creates a vacuum that myth, and under-the-counter recordings, step in to fill. British groups like The Who, meanwhile, grasp the opportunities of America. So effectively in fact, that their live shows were stupendous as they were chaotic.

The Notorious Byrd Brothers

The Byrds continued to go through personnel changes at least four times a year but in between times came up with two of the year’s great albums: The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart of the Rodeo. The latter was a fine, straight country album with gorgeous, free harmonizing and excellent material. The former was perhaps their best album to date, and surely one of the five or so best of the year. David Crosby made some brilliant song-writing contributions, but the album was mainly Roger McGuinn’s and neither he nor anyone else in rock has often equalled such cuts as “Get To You” and “Artificial Energy.”

The Grateful Dead bored a lot of people with their much awaited second release, Anthem of the Sun and Moby Grape disappointed those who know that they are (or at least were) one of the finest live bands in the country with a very mediocre second album, Wow. On the other hand, the Rascals, long thought of as a teeny bopper group, continue to mature and develop and had at least one fine single this year: “People Got To Be Free.” 

Among individual artists, Laura Nyro began to receive the recognition she deserves, and many idolize her Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Johnny Winter, a recently discovered white Texas blues singer has already created a large following on the basis of a few guest appearances in New York. San Francisco concert promoter Bill Graham rents a vacant New York theater and opens the Fillmore East concert venue.

Canadian rock band Steppenwolf release their debut album including the single “Born to Be Wild” and San Diego Rock band Iron Butterfly releases the album In A Gadda Da Vida considered to one of the first incarnations of the genre heavy metal albums.

The Rolling Stones grew out their roots with “Beggar’s Banquet”, while The Kinks and The Zombies took giant leaps forward with new and imaginative masterpieces that forever altered their trajectories. Plus we were introduced to a bunch of new faces to the pantheon:  The Doors, Sly Stone, Fleetwood Mac, Tim Buckley and, oh yes, Led Zeppelin. British rock and roll this year was dominated by blues bands. Ten Years After managed to kick up a lot of dust, Procol Harum continued to grow into its style and came up with a fine album, Shine on Brightly.

Pink Floyd lead singer and song writer Syd Barrett is checked into a psychiatric hospital and the band replaces him with David Gilmour.

Rock ‘n’ roll was at its most free in the pre-Woodstock glow of 1968. The Beatles went to India, Johnny Cash went to Prison at Folsom with one of the great live albums ever released, the Rolling Stones put a mobile studio in a truck, The Monkees went off the air. But it couldn’t ignore what was happening in the world riots, assassinations, war, a doomed election, space travel, poverty, drugs, Civil Rights, women’s liberation. All of it seeped into the art of the free-love counterculture with that strange combination of militant idealism and comical self-regard, as though it were clear that humanity would one day look at 1968 for a generation’s heroes and villains. Fifty years later in 2018 we are in the midst of a modern drug epidemic, a tarnished presidency, a growing underclass and a renewed vigor for social progress.

Here are some of the best albums of that momentous year in no particular order.

Sweetheart Of The Rodeo

The Byrds,  – Sweetheart of the Rodeo’

Even though David Crosby was booted from the Byrds in late 1967, the band had a pretty great 1968. In addition to the excellent ‘Notorious Byrd Brothers’ album, the restructured group released ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo,’ the granddaddy of all country-rock records. Credit goes to newcomer Gram Parsons, who helped steer the Byrds in this new direction. By the time the album came out in August, Parsons was gone and most of his vocals had been replaced (you can hear his recordings on the various reissues). But it didn’t matter in the long run — his, and the album’s, influence still resonates today.

Dock Of The Bay

Otis Redding, The Dock of the Bay   Released: February. 23rd

In some ways, 1968 began with a great sadness. On December. 10th, 1967, the blossoming soul star Otis Redding was killed in a plane crash in Wisconsin that also claimed the lives of four of his band members. The tragedy had taken not just one of the era’s most distinctive singers, but an artist standing at a new horizon for R&B music. Days before his death, Redding had recorded a new composition ”(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay,” a lilting ray of sunshine that found a winsome Otis Redding unwinding his tight groove sound and opening up new worlds for his soul.

Released posthumously in February 1968, The Dock of the Bay showcased Redding for the mainstream audience he had courted at Monterey Pop the previous summer. “Let Me Come on Home” was the hard-driving, horn-happy rocker; “The Glory of Love” the arpeggiated slow burn; “Tramp” the naughty call-and-response with Carla Thomas. It wasn’t the album Redding was supposed to make in 1968, but it nevertheless served as the crossover breakthrough he always had in him.

Cheap Thrills

Big Brother & Holding Company, Cheap Thrills  – Released: August. 12th

Cheap Thrills, the second album featuring Janis Joplin, marked the emphatic emergence of the Texas-born singer in the San Francisco band that had already found some local success without her. Propelled by a star-making appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that netted the band a deal with Columbia Records, Janis Joplin’s wavering, powderkeg voice quickly dominated the band’s psych-blues repertoire and raised the bar for practically every fiery vocalist to follow. Album entries “Summertime” and “Piece of My Heart” became signature songs, the vehicles with which she stunned the pop world with her grit and femininity, fusing her inner torment and strife with her public persona. Cheap Thrills topped the charts, one of the few products of San Francisco’s emerging underground to earn a mainstream embrace. The album’s cover, by illustrator R. Crumb, remains one of the most iconic of the era.

Truth

Jeff Beck,  –  Truth  

Jeff Beck’s first solo album following his departure from the Yardbirds in 1966 picks up where he left off with the influential British blues rockers: covering blues classics, standards from the Great American Songbook and even one of his old band’s songs. The guitar hero’s group on ‘Truth’ — including singer Rod Stewart and guitarist Ronnie Wood  would get co-billing on the follow-up album, 1969’s ‘Beck-Ola.’ They deserve it here too.

Ogdens' Nut Gone Flake

Small Faces, Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake  –  Released: May 24th

Marking a definitive break from Small Faces’ early mod and R&B underpinnings, the two-act Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake was a bold move into the realms of stylish psychedelia and the eccentric affectation of late ‘60s English invention. Although more than a hint of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane’s Cockney humor was inescapable—the whimsical “Rene” and “Lazy Sunday” being obvious examples—two bold anthems, “Song of a Baker” and “Long Agos and Worlds Away,” predated Led Zeppelin’s arch bombast by several months.

At the time, the round album cover, made to resemble a tobacco tin, and the sidelong gibberish of “Happiness Stan,” a pseudo fairytale narrated by English actor Stanley Unwin, also garnered plenty of attention. One of the first concept albums ever envisioned (and basically unplayable live), Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake remains a little appreciated musical masterpiece. Small Faces would disband the following year.

Wheels Of Fire (Remastered)

Cream, Wheels of Fire  –  Released: August

Wheels of Fire had a hard precedent to follow, coming as it did on the heels of Cream’s 1967 sophomore breakthrough, Disraeli Gears and the blues-embossed psychedelia that preceded it. Nevertheless, laden with such classics as “White Room,” “Politician” and a sterling remake of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads” that became a microcosm of Eric Clapton’s entire career as a blues-nicking guitar deity, it managed to express the full potency of this startling supergroup (with Jack Bruce on bass and Ginger Baker on drums) and ensure their immortality. By taking the idea of a double disc to a new level of productivity—half live, half studio—Wheels of Fire also made full use of the trio’s songwriting chops and their ability to improvise onstage. Rarely has there been such a sprawling effort capable of bringing out that ability with such flourish and finesse. This was Cream’s last real album-length musical document, with only 1969’s abridged Goodbye to follow.

We're Only In It For The Money

Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention  –  We’re Only It for the Money

More so than any other record on our list of the Top Albums of 1968, the Mothers‘ third record is the one with the most direct link to ‘Sgt. Pepper’s.’ And not just because its original parody cover photo — which ended up inside the LP after the Beatles’ management objected — is a fierce slap to the earlier record. Frank Zappa and crew’s concept album satirizes tons of Summer of Love standbys, including hippie idealism, left-wing thought processes and over-the-top concept albums.

Traffic (Remasters)

Traffic, Traffic  Released: October

A follow-up to their excellent and eclectic debut, Traffic’s eponymous sophomore set found a fully congealed ensemble. The on-again, off-again participation of Dave Mason was now fully present, if only temporarily for this effort. Indeed, this was the album that represented Traffic’s transition from woodshed romanticism to forerunners of new iconic invention, a sound simultaneously purveyed by The Band in their early Americana guise. Several of the standout songs—”40,000 Headmen,” “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring,” “Pearly Queen”—offered druggy swirls of hippie-rock and tight soul embodied by Steve Winwood’s preternatural tenor and organ playing. Mason’s highlight, “Feelin‘ Alright,” would become a rock-radio smash for Gospel-tinged covermeister Joe Cocker the following year, and remains a mainstay in Mason’s live repertoire to this day. The definitive Traffic album, Traffic is another underrated monument of 1968.

Odyssey & Oracle by ZOMBIES (2011-01-21)

The Zombies, Odyssey and Oracle  –  Released: April 19th

One of the ‘60s great unsung masterpieces of that hallowed decade, the Zombies’ Odyssey and Oracle followed on the heels of the group’s early hits “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There,” while marking a giant leap forward. It was a set of songs flush with bold experimentation and baroque innovation, a concept not unlike that of Sgt. Pepper and other ornate musical ventures of the day. Ironically, The Zombies had broken up by the time Odyssey came out, and with its eventual smash hit, “Time of the Season,” it became a sad swan song that failed to reap the appreciation it deserved. Al Kooper championed its release in the U.S., but tepid label support doomed it to the cut-out bins practically from the get go. The original band recently reconvened (sans the late guitarist Jim Atkinson) to play the album live in its entirety, helping regain the critical kudos that evaded it originally.

At Folsom Prison (Legacy Edition)

Johnny Cash, At Folsom Prison  –  Release: May

When Johnny Cash arrived at Folsom Prison in California on January. 13th, 1968, he was fortunate that he was there to perform for inmates and not join them behind bars. Cash had spent much of the previous few years in a drug spiral, watching his career and his life circle the drain. He was looking to revitalize his waning career, and a prison concert seemed the ideal vehicle—if Cash had always empathized with jail-bound convicts and the lonely despair that comes with the life, now he felt he could speak directly to them on terms everyone could understand. He had recorded the “Folsom Prison Blues” single back in 1955, and here was an opportunity to put faces to names. Proving that the concert was directed at a very specific audience, Cash performed a set of songs (two sets actually, which were combined into one 15-song album) that resisted self-help bromides and spiritual guff. “Dark as a Dungeon,” “The Long Black Veil” and “25 Minutes to Go” evoked the cynicism and gloom of living in captivity. Little did Cash expect, it also resonated loud and clear with a global audience who for one reason or another felt the sting of living in bondage even as they walked free.

Astral Weeks

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks   –  Released: November

After attaining his initial success back in Belfast with the band Them and a couple of hits (“Gloria,” “Here Comes the Night”), Van Morrison launched his solo career with a bang in the form of the ubiquitous soul-blaring 1967 hit “Brown Eyed Girl,” off his debut LP Blowin’ Your Mind! But it was the followup that proved to be his magnum opus. Charting new experimental terrain, he initiated a sound that was open-ended and had more to do with jazz, folk, elegiac imagery and pure stream of consciousness. “Cyprus Avenue,” “Sweet Thing,” “Ballerina” and “Astral Weeks” are unbound folk songs lit up with bells, strings, flutes and Morrison’s assured vocal wail. All but ignored in Northern Ireland, the album struck a chord with critics who admired Morrison’s meditative musings and the songs’ cerebral settings. Today, it’s widely recognized as one of the most influential albums of the era and an adventurous chapter in what would be a long and varied career.

The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society

The Kinks, Are the Village Green Preservation Society  –  Released: November. 22nd

The Kinks were never rabble-rousers in the truest sense of the word. For every proto-punk attempt at slash and burn with songs like “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night,” Ray Davies and Co. were able to offer softer laments like “Waterloo Sunset” and “Set Me Free.” With an astute eye for detail, Davies could probe the absurdities of life and turn them into woeful tales of middle-class misery. He found full flourish with the lovely and graceful Village Green Preservation Society, a wonderfully wistful song cycle about idyllic England in more innocent times, flush with nostalgia, nuance and a gentle chiding of civility and sentiment in a storybook world. If Ray Davies chose to look at life through rose-colored lenses, no one could blame him for attempting to engineer this imaginative escape. It was The Kinks‘ sixth album, and final record by the original quartet, bombed when it came out in November 1968 . But it’s now considered the band’s best LP, a straight-faced concept album about Victorian-era mores. It’s lush, pastoral and brimming with gently strummed songs about small-town England that rank among the best songs that Ray Davies has ever written.

Bookends

Simon & Garfunkel, –  Bookends  –  Release: April 3rd

The most fully realized album of Simon and Garfunkel’s middle-period career, Bookends showed that the duo were capable of more than merely poignant, introspective balladry. Only their fourth studio effort, Bookends was fashioned as a concept album that imagined life’s progression from youth to old age. “Old Friends,” a song that more or less became synonymous with the duo’s often stormy relationship, encapsulated that trajectory, but several others stood apart as future standards, including “America,” “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” “At the Zoo,” and an encore performance of “Mrs. Robinson,” culled from the soundtrack to The Graduate, released the year before. At the same time, Bookends would prove an ideal lead-in to Bridge Over Troubled Water, which would follow two years later and elevate the duo to their grand crescendo.

Music From Big Pink

The Band, Music From Big Pink  –  Release: July 1st

The Band’s debut record took an entirely different path from 1967’s candy-colored psych-rock explosion. Bob Dylan’s former backing group stripped down and excavated a form of American roots music that was somewhere between country and folk. Dylan had a hand in some of the songs, but the quintet proved to be one of the most significant groups of their time.

By the time The Band released their debut full-length, they were already a well-known, road-tested outfit who’d played behind Dylan during his infamous electric breakout. But their emergence as architects of archival Americana arrived with Music From Big Pink, an album borne from jams, rehearsals and songwriting sessions at the album’s namesake house in upstate New York. Though elevated in stature at the time thanks to the presence of a few Dylan compositions, the finished album found Robertson, Helm, Hudson, Danko and Manuel tossing off their musical shackles, mixing up instrumental and vocal duties, and creating a vintage variety of folk and country that seemed as effortless as it did brilliant. It was that emphasis on rural roots—the band boasted four Canadians and and Arkansan—that inspired the souped-up backwoods persona they purveyed in both sight and sound. The songs stand the test of time, and indeed, “The Weight,” “This Wheel’s On Fire,” “Tears of Rage” and “I Shall Be Released” stand among the most indelible expressions of heartland music ever recorded.

Lady Soul [w/bonus selections]

Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul   –  Released: January. 22nd

It says something about how rare and electrifying Aretha Franklin was in 1968, as a 26-year-old singer making her third album for Atlantic Records, that she could claim the title Lady Soul and not only pull it off, but then wear the crown undisputed for the next 50 years. Aretha Franklin had scored a defining hit—for both herself and women everywhere—the previous year with her cover of Otis Redding’s “Respect,” then mourned Redding’s death in December. Her mix of exuberance and despair, crying and shouting with every twist of a wounded relationship that haunts the album, courses through Lady Soul.

There’s gospel bliss on ”(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and down-hearted blues on “Good to Me As I Am to You.” She also fearlessly reimagines songs by her most famed male contemporaries, including a simmering cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “People Get Ready,” which had been a hit for The Impressions. Franklin’s once-in-a-century siren of a voice always powerful, always under complete control—is backed all the way by a crack New York headlined led by organist Spooner Oldham, saxophonist King Curtis and guitarist Joe South.Beggars Banquet

The Rolling Stones, Beggar’s Banquet  –  Released: December. 6th

Following 1967’s critically panned Their Satanic Majesties Request, attempt to cash in on psychedelia, the Rolling Stones revealed their essence on Beggar’s Banquet—a dirty, raw, set of originals that injected some country twang into the band’s R&B obsessions and set the mold for the iconic Stones sound that would stretch on for another 50 years.

Like a few other artists on our list of Albums of 1968, unplugged and settled into a more gutsy rock ‘n’ roll groove for their seventh LP. Acknowledging, but without directly borrowing from, the usual R&B and blues influences, the Rolling Stones crafted an album that’s simultaneously raw, scary and sinister. More than that, it launched a staggeringly fruitful creative period (which continued through 1972’s career milestone ‘Exile on Main St.’) when the Stones more than earned their title as the World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Band.

Containing at least three certified Stones classics—“Street Fighting Man,” “Salt of the Earth (featuring a rare lead vocal from Keith Richards) and the signature song “Sympathy for the Devil”Beggar’s Banquet marked the first entry in a four-album run—followed by Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street—that would go down as maybe the greatest winning album streak in rock history.

Sadly, it also marks the final album with Brian Jones’s full participation, and his reliability at the time was clearly in question. The original cover image, featuring a graffiti-strewn lavatory, was rejected by the record label and replaced with an unadorned invitation image that drew instant comparisons to the Beatles’ White Album, which had come out three weeks before. Nevertheless, the inner gatefold, depicting an enthusiastic food fight, ensured the Stones’ depravity wasn’t diminished.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland  –  Released: October. 16th

Jimi Hendrix  radiated genius from the get-go with Are You Experienced? and Axis Bold As Love, his first two albums with the his band Experience in 1967. On Electric Ladyland, he took that extraordinary innovation into entirely new realms that were difficult to define then and remain so now. The trio, with its British rhythm section and American front man, was perfectly suited to their era, and with a supporting cast that included Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Dave Mason and Chris Wood, as well as drummer Buddy Miles and Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady, Electric Ladyland redefined the concept of modern rock within a progressive posture. The album boasts everything that Hendrix (who produced it) did well: slinky psych-soul (“Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” the title track), explosive electric blues (“Voodoo Chile”), melodic pop (“Crosstown Traffic,” “Long Hot Summer Night”) and tripped-out sonic explorations that take the listener under the sea (“1983… A Merman I Should Turn to Be”) and into the heavens (“And the Gods Made Love”). His version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” showcased his ability to put an indelible mark on any popular music of the day, making it little wonder that even now, half a century later, the final studio effort recorded in Hendrix’s lifetime continues to set an almost unattainably high bar. Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland was the only two record set of the year that made it in my book. He is the authoritative lead guitarist, the coolest showman, an excellent songwriter, and a constantly improving vocalist. He has one of the finest drummers in pop music working with him and an imagination of touring performers on the scene that day, Hendrix is tops and 1968 was his year.

The Beatles (The White Album)

The Beatles, The Beatles  –  Release: November. 22nd

After the critical success of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the rapid follow-up of the equally colorful and hallucinogenic Magical Mystery Tour, this expansive double-disc allowed the four Beatles both to stretch out artistically and reconnect with their roots in a way that would be further explored with the bare bones concept for their 1970 swan song, Let It Be.

A series of solo excursions made by an increasingly fractured band, the so-called White Album collected songs composed while the Fabs were meditating in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It mostly resisted the pressure to address the social upheaval swirling outside the doors of EMI Studios (later called Abbey Road) and focused instead on wide-ranging song craft, with each member managing to create some of his most lasting work despite—or maybe because of—the infighting and tension that plagued the recording sessions. Lennon emerged with “Dear Prudence,” Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Sexy Sadie” and “Revolution 1”; McCartney composed “Martha My Dear,” “Blackbird,” “I Will” and “Helter Skelter”; and Harrison contributed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Long Long Long” and “Savoy Truffle.” Taken together, they form what many consider to be among The Beatles’ greatest collection of songs.

Image result for levon helm

There’s an implied humility to a group deciding on calling themselves, very simply, the Band. They got their start as the backing band for Ronnie Hawkins in the late ‘50s before getting upgraded to backing up Bob Dylan throughout the mid ‘60s, so for the better part of a decade they had already been known collectively as “the band.” With their own debut album in 1968 Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, and Levon Helm just made the title official with a capital B, they had a monumental effect on the history of rock and roll, but director Jacob Hatleys “Ain’t in It for My Health” focuses in on the rich past and present of the group’s drummer, and only American member, Levon Helm.

The film opens with a candid scene that catches Helm giving specific directions to his tour bus driver. The legendary singer and drummer knows the highways, backroads, and byways of America better than the guy paid to be behind the wheel, it turns out. As we’ll see, Helm’s the real deal, salt of the earth, and his story is one that alternates between creative highs and one particularly bitter betrayals that casts a long shadow over the body of work he’s left behind.

 

The title, Ain’t in It for My Health, is presented as Helm’s credo as a musician. If you’re going to pursue that line of work to its logical end, you sign away a good chunk of security in order to fulfil your creative calling. Joining up with any band, much less the Band, is “not a career choice you make based on how long you want to live” we’re told, but the filmmakers go to great lengths to impart the indignities of advanced age that Helm is forced to endure. It’s painful to watch him white knuckle through doctors probing his vocal chords through his nose, but it’s even worse to listen in as his voice goes out on him during performances. Helm would pass away just a few years after the filming of this documentary, but his 2011 live album Ramble at the Ryman would win him another Grammy before he left us. Despite the understandable inability to let bygones be bygones with Robertson, Ain’t in It for My Health provides ample proof that Helm was much more than what defined him as an artist.

For decades, Bob Dylan’s performance in Manchester was incorrectly labeled, The Royal Albert Hall Concert. Now, for the first time, the REAL Royal Albert Hall concert, originally recorded for a live album by CBS Records, is finally being released as a standalone 2-CD set, titled The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert. This show is also included in the 1966 Live Recordings box set. The Real Royal Albert Hall 1966 Concert features Bob Dylan’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall from May 26, 1966 (two days after the artist’s 25 birthday)

Dylan is accompanied on these recordings by Robbie Robertson (guitar), Rick Danko (bass, backing vocals), Richard Manuel (piano), Garth Hudson (organ) and Mickey Jones (drums)

Forty years ago on Thanksgiving Day 1976, The Band took the stage at San Francisco’s Winterland for their final performance. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters and others joined Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel for the concert event known as The Last Waltz. Director Martin Scorsese’s film of the evening was released in April 1978, setting a high bar for concert movies.

On November 11th, Rhino will mark this landmark anniversary of The Last Waltz with four new editions, including the first time the film has been paired with the soundtrack.

The deluxe editions feature complete audio from the concert, including rehearsals and outtakes, with the 180-gram vinyl version presented in an ornate lift-top box. The sets include rare performances not featured in the film, including “Furry Sings the Blues” (with Joni Mitchell) and “All Our Past Times” (with Eric Clapton). The CD version also features new liner notes from Rolling Stone’s Ben Fong-Torres and David Fricke.

The Collector’s Edition – limited to 2,500 copies worldwide – includes complete audio, a Blu-ray of the film, a second Blu-ray with a rare 1990s interview with Scorsese and Robertson, a photo gallery and 5.1 audio mix of the original album. The set will also include a 300-page book featuring a full replication of Scorsese’s shooting script, rare and previously unseen photos and a foreword by Scorsese.

40th Anniversary Edition (2-CD) – Original soundtrack with newly remastered audio from the original master tapes on two CDs.
40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (4-CD/1-BD) – Complete audio from the concert, including rehearsals and outtakes, plus The Last Waltz film on Blu-ray.
40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Vinyl (6-LP) – Complete audio from the concert, including rehearsals and outtakes, pressed on 180-gram vinyl for the first time and presented in a lift-top box.
40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (4-CD/2-Blu-ray) – Limited to 2,500 copies and due on December 9, this version includes: Complete audio from the concert; The Last Waltz film on Blu-ray; Second Blu-ray disc including a rarely seen interview from the 1990s with Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson, photo gallery, and 5.1 audio mix of the original album; 300-page book, bound in red faux-leather with a full replication of Scorsese’s shooting script; rare and previously unseen photos, set sketches, three foldout storyboards, and a foreword by Scorsese and an essay by screenwriter Mardik Martin.

Available as a 4-CD/Blu-ray set and – for the first time – on vinyl as a 6-LP set, the 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of the original soundtrack has 54 tracks, including the entire concert, as well as rehearsals and outtakes. This set reprises the track listing from Rhino’s 2002 box set which premiered 24 tracks including “Shadows and Light” and “Furry Sings the Blues” with Joni Mitchell, “Four Strong Winds” with Neil Young, “Hazel” with Bob Dylan, rehearsals with Van Morrison and Dr. John, and more.

The CD version also includes newly-penned liner notes revered music journalists David Fricke and Ben Fong-Torres along with a classic essay from 1977 written by iconic author Emmett Grogan. (Fricke penned the lengthy notes for the 2002 box set, as well.)

The Last Waltz‘s 40th anniversary sets come at a busy time for Robbie Robertson. On November 15, his new memoir Testimony arrives in stores, joined by a companion anthology of the same name released on November 11 by UMe. (Watch for more details on that soon!)

You can peruse the track listing to the upcoming Deluxe Edition at the links below! The 2-CD, 4-CD and 6-LP iterations are due on November 11, with the limited edition set following on December 11. All pre-order links are not yet active, so watch this space!

The Last Waltz: 40th Anniversary (Rhino, 2016)

2-CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada

6-LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada

4-CD/1-BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada

4-CD/2-BD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada

Track Listing for 4-CD/1-BD edition below:

CD 1

“Theme From The Last Waltz” – with orchestra
“Up On Cripple Creek”
“The Shape I’m In”
“It Makes No Difference”
“Who Do You Love” – with Ronnie Hawkins
“Life Is A Carnival”
“Such A Night” – with Dr. John
“The Weight”
“Down South In New Orleans” – with Bobby Charles
“This Wheel’s On Fire”
“Mystery Train” – with Paul Butterfield
“Caldonia” – with Muddy Waters
“Mannish Boy” – with Muddy Waters
“Stagefright”
CD 2

“Rag Mama Rag”
“All Our Past Times” – with Eric Clapton
“Further On Up The Road” – with Eric Clapton
“Ophelia”
“Helpless” – with Neil Young
“Four Strong Winds” – with Neil Young
“Coyote” – with Joni Mitchell
“Shadows And Light” – with Joni Mitchell
“Furry Sings The Blues” – with Joni Mitchell
“Acadian Driftwood”
“Dry Your Eyes” – with Neil Diamond
“The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show”
“Tura Lura Lura (That’s An Irish Lullaby)” – with Van Morrison
“Caravan” – with Van Morrison
CD 3

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
“The Genetic Method/Chest Fever”
“Baby Let Me Follow You Down” – with Bob Dylan
“Hazel” – with Bob Dylan
“I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Live We Never Have Met)” – with Bob Dylan
“Forever Young” – with Bob Dylan
“Baby Let Me Follow You Down” (Reprise) – with Bob Dylan
“I Shall Be Released”
Jam #1
Jam #2
“Don’t Do It”
“Greensleeves” (From Movie Soundtrack)
CD 4

The Last Waltz Suite

“The Well”
“Evangeline” – with Emmylou Harris
“Out Of The Blue”
“The Weight” – with The Staples
“The Last Waltz Refrain”
Theme from “The Last Waltz” (*)
Concert Rehearsal

“King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”
“Tura Lura Lura (That’s An Irish Lullaby)”
“Caravan”
“Such A Night”
“Rag Mama Rag”
“Mad Waltz” – Sketch track for “The Well”
Stereo Ideas

“The Last Waltz” – Instrumental
“The Last Waltz – Sketch
Disc 5 – Blu-ray (Film available in 5.1 Surround Sound Mix)

“Theme From The Last Waltz” – with orchestra
“Up On Cripple Creek”
“The Shape I’m In”
“It Makes No Difference”
“Who Do You Love” – with Ronnie Hawkins
“Life Is A Carnival”
“Such A Night” – with Dr. John
“Down South In New Orleans” – with Bobby Charles
“Mystery Train” – with Paul Butterfield
“Mannish Boy” – with Muddy Waters
“Stagefright”
“Further On Up The Road” – with Eric Clapton
“Ophelia”
“Helpless” – with Neil Young
“Coyote” – with Joni Mitchell
“Dry Your Eyes” – with Neil Diamond
“Tura Lura Lura (That’s An Irish Lullaby)” – with Van Morrison
“Caravan” – with Van Morrison
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
“Baby Let Me Follow You Down” – with Bob Dylan
“I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Live We Never Have Met)” – with Bob Dylan
“Forever Young” – with Bob Dylan
“Baby Let Me Follow You Down” (Reprise)
“I Shall Be Released” – Finale
“The Well”
“Evangeline” – with Emmylou Harris
“Out Of The Blue”
“The Weight” – with The Staples
“The Last Waltz Refrain”
“Theme From The Last Waltz”

‘Cahoots’ celebrates its 45th Anniversary!, This whole album is a masterpiece. Seems to be much more appreciated now than the initial fan reactions. Cahoots is the fourth studio album release by the American/Canadian  rock group The Band . It was released in 1971 to mixed reviews, and was their last album of original material for four years. The album’s front cover was painted by New York artist/illustrator Gilbert Stone,

“Run away Run away”  it’s the restless age, sings the Band at the beginning of Cahoots (Capitol SMAS 651) and they mean it. They also mean it when they sing of the endlessness of the river, admonishing the listener that “You can ride on it or drink it,/Poison it or dam it,/Fish in it and wash in it,/Swim in it and you can die in it, run you river run …” Cahoots is about finding a place for yourself in the restless age.

The mood of the album is filled with a “tinge of extinction.” As the chaos of the carnival is played off against the timelessness of the river, the Band mourns, always more in sorrow than in anger, the passing away of the things they have grown old with and the failure of anything of consequence to rise up in their place. “How you gonna replace human hands?” they ask us in “Last of the Blacksmiths.” And, “How can you sleep when the whistle don’t moan?” in “Where Do We Go From Here.” “Your neighborhood isn’t there anymore,” they jeer in “Smoke Signal.” “Run away Run away — it’s the restless age,” but, “the car broke down when we had just begun.”

Very complex song structures and features some of The Bands best vocals.

Allen Toussaint and Van Morrison. Where on The Band we were made to experience a mythical view of the past as a present reality, Cahoots is merely sometimes about the past, and then only insofar as the past can be made to comment in a direct way on the present. Unlike The Band, Cahoots endistances us from the past, constantly reminding us of what was then and what is now.

In Cahoots, the notion of the commentator is stressed over that of the participant. The narrator of these songs is most often observing others and in the process drawing explicit contrasts, comparisons, and morals. Instead of seeing phenomenon in motion, as they were being experienced, we see them as fixed entities to be described or dealt with: the process is now less important than the conclusions to be drawn about the process. At the same time, the orientation and musical texture is constantly changing so that we are left with the feeling of experiencing things through a stylistic kaleidoscope.

“4% Pantomime,” another song about performing, is named after the fact that the difference between Johnny Walker Black and Johnny Walker Red is 4%. It is also for the 4% of Mr. Van Morrison’s performance which had to be seen, not heard. Unlike “Stage Fright,” which analyzed the artist’s dilemma, “4% Pantomime” is simply about being a working artist. Many of the Band’s songs have been in the first person but none of them literal representations of themselves. This one even uses real names on the choruses, as two old fashioned juicers  Van Morrison and Richard Manuel — coax as much feeling as they can out of each other.

“Last of the Blacksmiths” is a crucial song embodying more than any other the definition of the “tinge of extinction” and “isolated artist” themes of the album. Sung and played in a desperate style, the lyrics parallel the question of the blacksmith (“how can you replace human hands”) with the question of the musician: “frozen fingers at the keyboard, could this be the reward?” Unfortunately, the acuity of perception then trails off in a typical bit of over-writing and the rest of the song is sustained more by the excellence of the performance than by its lyrical content.

“Where Do We Go From Here” comes dangerously close to being merely topical. Cute rhymes like “Just one more victim of fate/Like California state” do nothing to add to what the song has. The music, while brilliantly put together, has a stiffness which makes it once again forbidding. Like every cut on the album there is something to recommend it: in this case, the opening lines of Rick Danko’s beautiful vocal.

“Shoot Out In Chinatown” is a fairly grim story that makes the point that things cannot be shoved under the rug, to wit: “Buddha has lost his smile/But swears that we will meet again/In just a little while.” The music has more momentum and freshness than most things on the album and the cut is sustained exceptionally well. One of the most enjoyable things on the record.

“Smoke Signal” is a light play on the extinction theme. In “Chinatown” Robertson is talking about deliberate actions of the state while on “Smoke Signal” the humorous allusions seem to be to the process by which people merely lose control, instead of being actively forced to surrender it. Musically, it is a powerful song with some brilliant lines that stick in the mind, especially: “When they’re torn out by the roots/Young brothers join in cahoots.”

If “Life In A Carnival” is an overture,  The song features a lively Dixieland horn chart courtesy of  Allen Toussaint then “The River Hymn” was surely intended as a finale, a sort of ceremonial piece, and on it one’s ultimate impression of Cahoots must rest. It is surely the most ambitious thing the group has ever attempted. Lyrically, it is the culmination of Robertson’s growing style. It is so cinematic, that as it is heard the movie possibilities flash in front of you uncontrollably. Everything described is not only easy to visualize but is, in the listener’s mind, inevitably visualized.

“When I Paint My Masterpiece,” a Bob Dylan song making its recorded debut here as the second selection, is another welcome track, buoyed by mandolin and accordion in a charming arrangement appropriate to its tale of an odd trip to Europe.

Several of the songs’ lyrics come across as half-baked film scenarios, but they fail to be evocative, and they are paired to music lacking in structure. The failure is solely in the writing The Band sounds as good as ever playing the songs, with singers Richard Manuel Levon Helm and Rick Danko all performing effectively and primary instrumentalist Garth Hudson filling in the arrangements cleverly.

Rick Danko – bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
Levon Helm – drums, mandolin, upright bass, vocals
Garth Hudson – organ, piano, accordion, tenor and baritone saxophones
Richard Manuel – piano, drums, organ, slide guitar, vocals
Robbie Robertson – guitars, piano
Additional personnel
Allen Toussaint – brass arrangements on “Life Is a Carnival”
Van Morrison – vocals on “4% Pantomime”
Libby Titus – backing vocals on “The River Hymn”[6]
Mark Harman – engineer

Maybe it’s difficult to overstate the contributions to modern day music that began with a group of five young men with no clear frontman. But the Band  which released its eponymous masterpiece 46 years ago this week — brought a swollen heart and a down-home groove to the rock n’ roll landscape that was unprecedented at its time. Not that surprising, considering the group was referred to as “the best damn band in the world” before they even settled on a name. The Band is the eponymous second studio album by The Band, released on September 22nd, 1969. It is also known as The Brown Album. According to Rob Bowman’s liner notes for the 2000 reissue, The Band has been viewed as a concept album, with the songs focusing on people, places and traditions associated with an older version of Americana. Thus, the songs on this album draw from historic themes for “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” and Richard Manuel’s “Jawbone” (which was composed in the unusual 6/4 time signature.)

In the mid-sixties, four rag-tag kids from Canada were lured to the open road by Rockabilly legend Ronnie Hawkins and his teenage drummer, Levon Helm. Unlike the rest of his bandmates, Helm was the son of a cotton farmer from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas and brought the authenticity of Delta blues with him wherever he went.

He was eventually recognized by fans and friends alike as the heart of the group’s sound, sharing vocal responsibilities with bassist Rick Danko and multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel. But it was Helm who took the reins in four of the songs on that self-titled release with his signature country drawl. Two of those songs became timeless Band favorites- “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” a hypothetical civil war tune overflowing with classic Americana.

It is a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Rick and Richard Manuel in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some oral tradition material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of ’65 to today.

… I kept coming back and coming back until now I am prepared to say that, depending on one’s mood, these songs stand, each on its own, as equal sides of a twelve-faceted gem .

Just a month before its release, the Band took to the stage at Woodstock on the final night of the three-day festival, playing seven songs from their 1968 studio debut, Music From Big Pink. Along with generally favored reviews, this earlier record fell flat with certain critics, The album which would eventually be referred to adoringly as The Brown Album.

[The Beatles’] Abbey Road captivates me as might be expected, but The Band is even better, an A-plus record if I’ve ever rated one. That should come as no surprise to those of you — which I assume means most of you — who regarded Music From Big Pink as epochal. Though I somehow always managed to avoid saying so in print, I didn’t.

Except for Dylan, [guitarist Robbie Robertson] is the only American songwriter to write good fictional/dramatic songs… and the only one to master the semi-literate tone, in which grammatical barbarisms and colloquial ellipses transcend affectation to enrich and qualify a song’s meaning.

Months before recording the LP, Robertson, the group’s primary songwriter, had no idea just how iconic their work would become. Robbie was asked how seriously the group took their craft.

“Just seriously enough to satisfy us, enough so that we can smile at one another when we’re through playing.”

And you can feel it; that satisfaction especially in these songs. The musicianship between all five members on the album is electric, heartfelt, and casual. With the ping of every ride pattern, you can practically sense Helm’s broad, boyish grin behind that drum kit.

The Band released five more albums with the same lineup before Robertson’s departure, taking an overwhelming majority of disputed songwriting credits with him — an issue that left some of the remaining members bitter for decades. None of those records would come close to the success of The Brown Album.

Apart from several other best of all time lists, The Brown Album has became a national treasure. It was added to the National Recording Registry in 2009, deemed “culturally, historically, and aesthetically important,” and it “informed or reflected life in the United States.”

Not bad for a few Canadian boys and a dusty farmer.

LEVON HELM

After unsuccessfully attempting sessions at a studio in New York, The Band set up shop in the pool house of a home the group rented in West Hollywood. The home, located at 8850 Evanview Drive, was once owned by Judy Garland, Wally Cox and, at the time the group worked there, Sammy Davis, Jr. According to Robbie Robertson, the location was chosen to give the songs a more Basement Tapes-like feel in what was termed “a clubhouse concept.” Work was later completed at The Hit Factory in New York City.

The album was also reissued in 2009 by Audio Fidelity as a limited edition gold CD. Remastered from a 1980s CD pressing, the album also included a single b-side “Get Up Jake” as a bonus track. originally it was dropped from the line-up at the last minute, either because the band felt it was too similar to another track on the album, or because there physically wasn’t enough room on the album.

The album includes many of The Band’s best-known and critically acclaimed songs,  In 1998 Q magazine readers voted The Band the 76th greatest album of all time. Upon hearing the record one critic declared it better than Abbey Road, which had been released four days following, writing that The Band’s LP is an “A-plus record if I’ve ever rated one.” He ranked it as the fourth best album of the year in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine’s annual critics poll.