T for Tom

Day 17 – The Basement Tapes – 1975

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 9, 2016


The date says 1975 but it’s eight years off. The Basement Tapes were legendarily recorded, all 100+ songs of them, in the basement of Big Pink, which was a pink house that The Hawks members all moved into to be closer to Bob Dylan as he recovered from his motorcycle accident. It is the stuff of legend, but also of the stuff of the heart. As he struggled to overcome injuries, his band mates moved to his home and recorded songs with him everyday as a means of recovery. Really, I wish we all had friends that good.

The Hawks went onto become The Band, and the recordings sat on a dusty shelf for almost a decade before making their way onto this record, a promotional release of sorts to announce Dylan’s return to Columbia Records. In an effort to ride the wave of success from their reunion tour following Planet Waves and Before The Flood, Columbia cobbled together 16 of the best songs from the basement that were written by Dylan, and eight songs that were popularized by the Band in later years (even if they were written by Dylan). And the thing is, there’s some 80 more songs that have just now made their way onto a box set last year. Rolling Stone magazine, in 1970, caught wind of the recordings and wrote an editorial plea to the public that it should be released, stately correctly, “if this record were ever heard it would be a classic.”

Their foresight is as correct as our hindsight is today. The collection – which I’ve chosen to listen to the first 1975 release as described above, while spinning at home my mono album pressing of the original ten presented to Columbia – ranges widely, but all neatly within the traditional American folk-song lore of yore. They are a package of neatly unwound farm tunes that get new life by a gang of friends banging away loudly at whatever instruments they can find. And it’s catharsis, for everyone.

The album was never meant to be, but sometimes things are just too good – anyone involved at the time knew it was among the greatest American recordings ever made, but I suppose for intimacy kept it largely to their selves. As well, these recordings were a bottle shock for the music industry in 1967 – the same year as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club, a time of loud and violent pop music. To take time to set down and give new life to old times was a testament to revolution.

What keeps me so mystified is that there a people in this world, who when faced with extreme distress, survive by making music.

And we should be thankful that such music exists for us to hear.

Song: “Yazoo Street Scandal”

Such a funky beat, it always stands out as the strongest. Bob Dylan just screams and you can hear him break his own heart in a time of depression.


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