Music From Big Pink by The Band

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Music From Big Pink by The BandAfter a decade of touring as a backing group for other artists, The Band released an incredible debut with Music from Big Pink in 1968. By blending their vast influences of country, Gospel, rock, folk, and R&B into strong compositions, influenced and helped along by Bob Dylan, the group forged an album with an honest, laid-back feel, which sharply broke with the current trends of over-the-top psychedelic rock. The album’s title stems from a (pink) house near Woodstock, NY, where several band members lived while they wrote and rehearsed material for this album. While many demo tapes were recorded there, the actual recording of the album, produced by John Simon took place in studios in New York City and Los Angeles. Concurrently, much of the Dylan-fronted material was recorded and eventually released as The Basement Tapes by Bob Dylan in 1975.

The group’s originator was drummer Levon Helm, from the Arkansas side of the Mississippi Delta, who formed the rockabilly group The Hawks with front-man Ronnie Hawkins in the late fifties. In 1958, the group migrated to Ontario, Canada, which had a growing market for music from the American South, and toured clubs up there for many years. Along the way, Canadian natives Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manual, and Garth Hudson joined up at various points. When Hawkins took time off, the rest of the band continued to play club dates and soon migrated more towards the blues stylistically. In 1964, the group split from Hawkins and released a few singles as Levon and the Hawks with Helm on lead vocals. When Bob Dylan went “electric” in 1965, he enlisted The Band as his backing group, and they toured the world through 1966. However, Dylan suffered a near fatal motorcycle accident and was unable to tour for nearly a year. He retreated to the Catskill town of Woodstock and the Band decided to join him, taking a long deserved break from touring to try their hand at writing their own music.

With this brand new endeavor, The Band made a consorted effort to produce the most “legitimate” songs possible. This philosophy also extended the adaptation of the simple name “The Band”. While Dylan composed three of the eleven album tracks and there was one cover, Manuel and Robertson split most of the rest of the songwriting duties, later admitting they were students of Dylan’s various approaches to composing. Dylan also did the cover illustration for the album.


Music From Big Pink by The Band
Released: July 1, 1968 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Simon
Recorded: New York and Los Angeles, 1968
Side One Side Two
Tears of Rage
To Kingdom Come
In a Station
Caledonia Mission
The Weight
We Can Talk
Long Black Veil
Chest Fever
Lonesome Suzie
This Wheel’s on Fire
I Shall Be Released
Band Musicians
Robbie Robertson – Guitars, Vocals
Richard Manuel – Piano, Keyboards, Drums, Vocals
Garth Hudson – Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Saxophone
Rick Danko – Bass, Fiddle, Vocals
Levon Helm – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

With a “how slow can you go?” tempo, the opener “Tears of Rage” is full of deliberate anguish. Co-written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel, the song has a strong Biblical underlying theme, examining a relationship between parents and daughter. A version of this song with Dylan on lead vocal and the Band backing him was included on The Basement Tapes. “To Kingdom Come” is Robertson’s debut as a songwriter and contains more upbeat, sixties-style music with harmonized vocals and a great bass by Danko throughout, gluing together the slight bursts of musical motifs. The worst part of this fine song is that it ends too quickly, fading out during an interesting guitar lead by Robertson.

Manuel’s “In a Station” returns to the bluesy ballad with topical keyboards and slightly interesting guitar interludes. Written and sung by Robertson, the fine “Caledonia Mission” starts as a ballad but progresses to an interesting, jazzy number with strong horns throughout.

The most famous song on the album is “The Weight”, an iconic music marker in the history of rock n’ roll. A significant influenced on American popular music the lyrics return to Biblical settings, with fictional characters playing the modern day protagonists. Over time becoming one of The Band’s best known songs, it failed to reach the Top 40 when released as a single in 1968, although subsequent cover versions did much better for various artists. Robertson sites the movies of Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel as well as his initial visit to the Mississippi Delta as influences for the song, although Helm later claimed several member of the band had a part in writing the lyrics.

The Band in 1968

Side two of the original LP starts off with the funky “We Can Talk”, with Manuel, Helm, and Danko taking turns on vocals. “Long Black Veil” is an Americana cover, written by Marijohn Wilkin and Danny Dill, and contains a fine acoustic guitar and prevalent electric piano. “Chest Fever” starts with Hudson’s calm but catchy organ riff, topped by Manuel’s rock piano and Danko’s bass. Soon to become a fan favorite, this may be the closest to traditional hard rock that they get on this album.

“Lonesome Suzie” is a ballad with Manuel crooning above Hudson’s soulful organ and Robertson’s calmly picked guitars. “This Wheel’s on Fire” is a good solid track co-written by Dylan and Danko, featuring high-pitched harmonies, and a country-tinged backing. Dylan also composed the closer “I Shall Be Released”, which drips with melancholy and depth. Led by Richard Manuel’s haunting tenor vocals above gently stroked piano and acoustic, this is a real template for future power ballads. With more connotations of redemption, the song stands as a classic “prison song”. One of his unrecorded gems, Dylan later recorded his own impromptu version of the song, included on Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II.

Although not a great commercial hit, Music from Big Pink came as a big surprise to music insiders, with many established rock musicians siting it as an immediate influence. An eponymous follow-up album made of unfinished songs from these sessions was recorded and released in 1969 to near equal acclaim.

~

1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1968 albums.

 

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1
by Traveling Wilburys

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1988 Album of the Year

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1“Super Groups” were commonplace during the seventies and eighties, often causing much hype which was rarely surpassed by the music itself. But in the case of the Traveling Wilburys, by far the most “super” of any super group, the resulting music was downright brilliant. Their debut Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 displays an incredible array of three decades of pop and rock elements wrapped in concise tunes penned and performed by some of the biggest legends in the business. The group and album were not initially planned and came together through a serendipitous series of coincidences and the fantastic music they produced together easily makes Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 Classic Rock Review’s Album of the Year for 1988.

It all started in Los Angeles in Spring 1988 when George Harrison was looking to record B-side material for a vinyl 12-inch European single. Jeff Lynne, who co-produced Harrison’s most recent album Cloud Nine was also in Los Angeles at the time. Lynne was producing some music for Roy Orbison as well as the debut solo album, Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty. Lynne was able to enlist both artists to help out Harrison, who was in a huge hurry to record his material. The final piece of the Traveling Wilbury puzzle was Bob Dylan, who had built a home studio in nearby Malibu and agreed to let the makeshift group record the very next day. On that day, the legendary musicians wrote and recorded the song “Handle with Care” in about five hours. The experience was so positive that all five agreed to form a group and reconvened a month later to record the other nine tracks on what would become Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Here the magic continued as the group wrote and recorded on acoustic guitars. With a limited amount of time before Dylan headed out on a scheduled tour, the five singers in the group often took turns at songs until Harrison (as group arbiter) selected the best “lead” voice for each part. The final phase was Harrison and Lynne returning to England for final overdubs and production. Here Harrison added some electric and lead guitars, Lynne added keyboards and bass, Jim Keltner was brought in on drums.

Although it is generally agreed that Harrison was the group’s leader, they did work hard to maintain a collective image and even set up fictional names for each member masquerading as the “Wilbury” brothers – Nelson (Harrison), Otis (Lynne), Lucky (Dylan), Lefty (Orbison), and Charlie T. Jr. (Petty) with Keltner given the humorous “outsider” name “Buster Sidebury”. All group members also got songwriting credits on the album, although the publishing credits were disbursed according to the actual songwriter. The Wilbury name originated from Harrison and Lynne previously working together as a pseudonym for slight recording errors (“we’ll bury ’em in the mix”).


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 by Traveling Wilburys
Released: October 18, 1988 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Jeff Lynne and George Harrison
Recorded: Lucky Studios and Dave Stewart Studios, Los Angeles and FPSHOT, London, April–May 1988
Side One Side Two
Handle with Care
Dirty World
Rattled
Last Night
Not Alone Anymore
Congratulations
Heading for the Light
Margarita
Tweeter and the Monkey Man
End of the Line
Band Musicians
George Harrison – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Dylan – Guitars, Harmonica, Vocals
Jeff Lynne – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Roy Orbison – Guitars, Vocals
Tom Petty – Guitars, Vocals
Jim Keltner – Drums

 

The ringing guitars of “Handle with Care”, the original Wilbury song, starts things off. Harrison, the primary composer, delivers deliberate vocalizing during the verses which gives way to Orbison’s smooth crooning during the choruses. Dylan and Petty deliver a chanting post-chorus and two instances of Harrison’s classic guitar along with a short Dylan harmonica lead make the song a true classic in just about every way. Within its brief three and a half minutes the song is dotted with decades of rock history, making this the perfect track to introduce the album. While not every song on the album wraps itself so well as “Handle with Care”, there is not a truly weak moment on the album.
 

 
On “Dirty World” Dylan’s rough lead vocals are complimented by smooth backing vocals and a bright acoustic arrangement. The song also contains some horns and an interesting arrangement all around. This song was a particularly enjoyable one for the band to record as each member took a turn singing in the “round” during the extended outro. Jeff Lynne’s “Rattled” is pure rockabilly led by Orbinson on vocals, almost like a lost early Elvis song. Lynne’s bass and Harrison’s lead guitar shine musically and the actual “rattle” in the song is drummer Keltner tapping the refrigerator grill with his drum sticks.

“Last Night” contains Caribbean elements with some percussion and horns and Petty singing during verse and Orbinson during the bridges. The whimsical, storytelling song has a great aura and feel throughout. Petty did the core composing with each group member contributing to the songwriting approach. The verses has an upbeat folk/Latin feel with the bridge being a bit more dramatic. The first side completes with “Not Alone Any More”, a vocal centerpiece for Orbison. His vocals smoothly lead a modern version of early sixties rock and Lynne’s keyboards add more decoration than any other song on the first side. If “Not Alone Anymore” is in the clouds, the second side opener “Congratulations” is right down at ground level. This tavern style ballad with Dylan on lead vocals sounds much like his late 70s / early 80s era material, with blues-like reverences to broken relationships, and includes a very short but great lead guitar by Harrison right at the end.

The up-tempo “Heading for the Light” is a quintessential Harrison/Lynne production, with the former Beatle composing and singing and the former ELO front man providing the lush production and orchestration. The song contains great picked guitar fills as well as a saxophone solo by Jim Horn. “Margarita” may be the oddest song on the album but is still a great sonic pleasure. It begins with a programmed eighties synth line then the long intro slowly works its way into a Latin acoustic section topped by horns, lead guitar, and rich vocal harmonies. It is not until a minute and a half in that Petty’s lead vocals come in for a single verse then the song works its ways through various short sections towards an encapsulated synth ending. This spontaneous composition with free-association lyrics showed with a group of this talent could do on the spot.

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” is Bob Dylan channeling Bruce Springsteen and coming out with what may have been one of the best Springsteen songs ever (even though he had nothing to do with it). This extended song with the traditional Dylan style of oodles of verses and a theatrical chorus includes several references to Springsteen songs throughout and is in Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey. It may have been Dylan’s delayed response to the press repeatedly coining Bruce “the next Dylan”. No matter what the case, the result is an excellent tune with lyrics rich enough to base a book or movie.
 

 
The most perfect album closer to any album – ever, “End of the Line” contains a Johnny Cash-like train rhythm beneathe deeply philosophical lyrics, delivered in a light and upbeat fashion. Harrison, Lynne, Orbinson, and Harrison again provide the lead vocals during the chorus hooks while Petty does the intervening verses. The song revisits the classic music themes of survival and return with the universal message that, in the big picture, it all ends someday. The feeling of band unity is also strongest here with the folksy pop/rock chords and great harmonies. The music video for “End of the Line” was filmed after Roy Orbison’s death in December 1988, mere weeks after the album’s release, and paid tasteful respect with a shot of a guitar sitting in a rocking chair during the verse which Orbison sang.

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 sold over two million copies within its first six months, a figure which made this album a higher seller than any of Bob Dylan’s albums to that date. The album was critically favored and won a Grammy award in 1990. The surviving members of the group reconvened for a second album, which fell far short of capturing the magic of this debut and a long-planned tour by the group never materialized, although members continued to collaborate on each other’s albums for years to come. The incredible magic that came together in 1988 is yet to repeated anywhere in the rock universe.

~

1988 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1988 albums and our album of the year for 1988.

 

Compilations and Box Sets

Beatles official stereo collection

 
Ever since the beginning of the rock era, there have been compilations. As we mentioned in our very first special feature on The Album, long playing vinyl albums were simply a collection of songs, maximized for sales potential, and were rarely a cohesive or artistic statement. Once the “classic era” albums come into prominence in the mid to late sixties, “Greatest Hits” or “Best of” collections stepped in to supplement regular album releases as well as reach out to audience segments who only wished to “sample” a certain artist’s output.

Other such sales tools, such as rarities or B-side collections, targeted the most enthusiastic of existing fans but at time have gained significant popularity. In some cases, greatest hits collections were continued as an artist’s career went along. Bob Dylan had three sequential compilation. Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, released in March 1967, contains some of the most famous songs from Dylan’s formative years. In 1971 the double LP Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume II contained some songs from the interim years along with more from the early years and nearly a side of previously unreleased material. More than two decades later, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Volume III encompassed all his recordings released between the years 1973 and 1991. The Eagles released a couple of sequential “Greatest Hits” collections with their 1976 compilation Eagles Greatest Hits, Volume 1 going on to become the top selling album of the 20th century.

Box Sets

Usually made up of three or more discs boxes, box sets came of age in the 1980s with the media migration from vinyl LPs to compact discs. Artists with long and successful careers would release anthologies which often included rare or previously unreleased tracks along with the typical collection of singles and radio hits. There have been rare cases where a box set contained all new and original material. Led Zeppelin’s initial 1990 Box Set became the first to become a best seller on the albums chart.

Around the turn of the century, some box sets became multimedia collections. These included DVD videos, mp3 discs, or other related items to enhance the collection

Compilations in 1988

With our current look at the rock year 1988, Classic Rock Review will also focus on the compilations and box sets released during that year, a rich year for these items.

Past Masters 1 by The BeatlesReleased on March 7, 1988 to coincide with the official CD debut of Beatles album catalogue, Past Masters is a two-volume compilation set. This collection consisted of many of the band’s non-album singles and B-sides, focusing on tracks not available on The Beatles’ original U.K. albums. These also included rarities such as the UK-only Long Tall Sally EP, two German language tracks, and a couple of songs recorded for charity compilation albums. An all-mono compilation titled Mono Masters was also produced for the most die-hard collectors.

20 Years of Jethro Tull was released on June 27, 1988 was issued as five themed LPs named; Radio Archives, Rare Tracks, Flawed Gems, Other Sides of Tull, and The Essential Tull. Eric Clapton's CrossroadsIt was also simultaneously released as a three CD set and a five-cassette set, with each coming with a 24-page booklet.

Released in April 1988, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads includes highlights from his work with vast musical groups. These include The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Derek & the Dominos, and his long solo career. The collection was released as setsof four CDs or six LPs and it includes several live and alternate studio recordings which were previously unreleased.

Two compilations were released on November 15, 1988. After shocking the world with their recent breakup, Journey released Greatest Hits, which ultimately became the band’s best-selling album by selling over 25 million copies and it spent over 760 weeks on the pop album charts, more than any other compilation album in history. Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was actually the third “hits” album released by Kiss. With most tracks coming from their heyday in the seventies, this album also included two new songs.

In subsequent years and decades, artists brought the box set concept to the extreme with full collections being released. But by the time mp3s and other digital formats became the dominant media, user-driven custom compilations were the order of the day.

~

Ric Albano

The Album

AlbumsClassic Rock Review is built around the concept of the “album”which we define as a collection of professionally recorded songs by a single artist published together usually through a single source of media. If that description sounds a bit convoluted, you may be right, but there really is no simple and concrete way to describe an atomic album. We don’t review singles or compilation sets, nor will we delve too deeply into different forms like live recordings, remastered works, or bonus tracks. Today we offer our first Special Feature (that is non-album review) on our understanding of this basic element of the site’s existence. We split this in two sections, looking at the evolution of the physical media followed by the practical casting of the music itself, which plays a big role on which specific eras we’ve decided to focus our reviews.

The Physical Media

Many people think “vinyl record” when they hear the term “album”, and this was certainly true for most of the eras that we review at CRR. But the truth is many types of media were used for recorded music before and after vinyl was prominent.

Wax CylindersAs we all learned in school, the first known recording was made by Thomas Edison in 1877 in his lab in New Jersey. The first commercial recordings became available in the next decade and these included various forms of discs and cylinders made of various materials including hard rubber.

By the turn of the century, the first earlier materials were largely replaced by a rather brittle formula of shellac, a cotton compound, powdered slate, and a small amount of a wax lubricant. The shellac record was the prominent form of media for over half a century (reigning even longer than vinyl) until the 1950s. These recordings played at 78 rpm and only contained four to five minutes of music per side on each 12 inch disc. This presented a problem for certain genres where longer pieces were custom, especially classical and free form jazz. To work around this problem, record companies began releasing a set of records together as “albums”. In the 1930s this practice became commonplace for all genres, as record companies began issuing multi-disc collections of 78 rpm records by one performer or of one type of music. Artwork began appearing on the front cover and liner notes on the back, with most albums including three to four two-sided records, or six to eight songs each album.

Old 78 RecordsThe first vinyl records appeared around 1940 and were used for commercial recordings that were mailed to several radio stations because vinyl was less breakable. Vinyl was also used for recordings shipped to U.S. troops overseas during World War II, for much the same reason. Most of these were still played at 78 rpm and so they had the same time restrictions as their shellac counterparts.

On June 21, 1948, the Long Play (LP) 33⅓ rpm microgroove 12-inch record album was introduced by Columbia Records. In response, RCA Victor came up with its own format – a 7-inch, 45 rpm single with a large center hole. The 45s kept many of the same properties of conventional 78s, one song per side and multiple discs per album, but were much more compact in size. However, over time it proved much more efficient to release albums on a single LP rather than multiple 45s (or 78s, which continued to be mass produced alongside the newer formats until about 1960 in the U.S.). The 45 did prove useful for promotional “singles” as the hit parade and rock n roll eras began in the 1950s.

Also in the mid-1950s, the common “record player” began to feature multiple speeds, so that a single unit could play LPs, 45s, and 78s, rather than separate units for each. This feature did much to keep both the new formats viable and artists began making recordings for both LP and single 45 release (or both). Other enhancements in technology began to make recordings sound better than ever, including the introduction of stereo and equalization in the late 1950s and noise reduction later on. However, some problems did persist with vinyl records, especially LPs. The latter tracks on a side had lower fidelity because there was less vinyl per second available closer to the center of the disc. This problem sparked research in other types of media.

Inside an 8-Track CartridgeEight-track cartridges, originally known as Stereo 8, were developed in the early sixties and experienced about a decade and a half of popularity through the 1970s. These cartridges used 3.75 inch magnetic tape that played in an endless loop tape with a track-change sensor that could be switched among four stereo “programs” played side on the tape. However, this format did not last long due to the inability to rewind, a feature available on 1/4″ cassette tapes, and the relatively low quality of sound as compared to higher end 2″ reel to reel tape. Soon the cassette tape took over the one area where the eight-track had reigned, the car stereo. For a while that format rivaled the LP for top format, especially after the development of mobile “boom boxes” in the late 1970s. The eight-track was phased out of production completely by 1982.

That same year Sony Corporation began producing symphonic music in a purely digital format called a Compact Disc (CD). Sampled at 44.1 kHz, the CD seemed to top all other formats in every phase. It had a greater frequency range from approximately 20 Hz to 20 kHz, as compared to LPs which had a bass turnover setting of 250–300 Hz and a treble rolloff at 10 kHz. Also, the digital format was the first to have “true stereo”, where other formats “bled” about 20% of one channel to the opposite channel and vice-versa. Finally, at 74 minutes a single CD held a nearly 50% higher capcity of music, as compared to the typical 40-48 minutes of a vinyl LP. The complete transition from vinyl to CD took over a decade as music consumers witnessed CD sections in record stores grow as the LP sections gradually shrunk and companies slowly made all mainstream material available on compact disc. But just when it seemed like the CD would be the dominant media for the foreseeable future, yet another innovation changed things.

Ever since the invention of the CD, several research groups and companies had been working on developing the next level standard. One such group was the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), which sought to develop digital compression to make motion pictures available. The group progressively developed formats starting in 1993 with MPEG-1, 1995 with MPEG-2, and 1996 with MPEG-3. This latest format was idea for file-sharing of music and became commonly know as mp3 due to its online extension format (.mp3). Nearly overnight music was being shared on the Internet through various services like Napster and CD sales began to plummet. After some desperate lawsuits and other tactics, the major labels eventually submitted to the new trend and today most albums are available in digital format and most songs can be purchased separately.

The Logical Album

As we mentioned eariler, music albums first physically consisted of multiple 78 rpm discs before later being released on vinyl LPs. However, there was also an evolution of the “logical” album.

At the dawn of the rock era, albums were simply a collection of songs, mainly a sales item and barely a cohesive, artistic statement. Songs were often developed with strict formulas and included as “fillers”, with a handful of popular songs being the main sales draw. The most popular songs were often featured on many albums, making a definite lineage of sequential works hard to trace for many early artists. Most songs were written by company employed songwriters or teams and creative control was placed firmly with record company producers.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan by Bob DylanThis all started to change in the 1960s. Led by artists like Bob Dylan and the Beatles, original compositions by top artists went from a tiny minority at the beginning of the decade to a vast majority by the end of the 1960s. Released in 1963, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan contained 12 originals out of 13 tracks and may well be one of the first “albums” as we at Classic Rock Review have come to define that term. The Beatles were also releasing albums as early as 1963, but they had different sets of albums for the UK and the US through 1966. In fact, the Beatles music was delayed from being released on CD until 1988 because there was a long debate on which path to follow for the first seven or eight releases, until the UK releases were deemed “official”.

Rubber Soul by The Beatles Also, during the height of the Beatles phenom, hit songs were intentionally kept off albums so that the most dedicated fans would buy both the LP and 45. For this reason, two new albums were created in 1988 (Past Masters I & II) to include the vast amount of A and B sides which were never included on any official Beatles album. Even though the album Rubber Soul had significant differences between the two versions, it may be the first work that was recorded as a cohesive “album” and not just a collection of songs. American musician Brian Wilson was so inspired by this album that he set out to produce his own masterpiece for The Beach Boys called Pet Sounds in 1966, which itself inspired the Beatles next album Revolver.

Classic Rock Review chose the year 1966 to begin our regular reviews, because it is when we believe the classic rock album first proliferated on all fronts – with most songs composed by the artist, the album a cohesive unit, and enough quality works available to review. There were certainly several classic works available before this time but those were fewer and further between. Similarly, we chose 1995 as our endpoint because that was just before the mp3 revolution, when the whole concept of “the album” began to break down and single, individual songs were treated (once again) as autonomous units. While this is beneficial to the music listener in many ways, what is lost is the artwork, the sides, the sequence, and a lot of the conversation that many of us knew and loved in earlier days.

~
Ric Albano

Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan

Buy Blond On Blonde

I had the pleasure of seeing Bob Dylan live over the summer. It was a great experience, which I wrote about for Modern Rock Review. So I jumped at the chance to review one of Dylan’s greatest albums – Blonde on Blonde for Classic Rock Review. Dylan’s music has served as an inspiration to me through some dark times. EVERYBODY MUST GET STONED! Just kidding about getting stoned, but those last two sentences illustrate a good deal about Blonde On Blonde. It is a seminal album in Dylan’s sixties career that somehow balances the silly, philosophical, and melancholy. I dare say it does this a great deal better than I just did. This said, this album is not Dylan’s masterpiece. That honor, in my humble opinion, belongs to its 1965 predecessor, Highway 61 Revisited. However, these albums have been linked together as Blonde On Blonde is sometimes regarded as the third part of Dylan’s mid-1960s trilogy of rock albums which commenced with Bringing It All Back Home. The album has also been considered the first significant double album in rock music (and is the first true double album to be reviewed by Classic Rock Review.

After the release of Highway 61 Revisited in August 1965, Dylan went on some extensive touring with his new “electric” band which had so upset the audience and organizers of 1965 Newport Folk Festival. During this time he contacted a group who were performing under the name Levon and the Hawks. The band was comprised of four Canadian musicians, including guitarist Robbie Robertson, and would eventually come to be called “The Band”. Dylan rehearsed with the Hawks in Toronto on September 15, and eventually they all went into Columbia Records studios in New York City. There they recorded a hit single “Positively 4th Street” (which was not included on the album). Dylan was trying to formulate the shape of his next album, and soon became frustrated by the slow progress of the recordings with the Hawks in New York. Producer Bob Johnston suggested moving the sessions to Nashville where Johnston lived and had extensive experience with Nashville session musicians. Recordings for what would become Blonde On Blonde began there in February 1966.

Keyboardist Al Kooper assisted Dylan in the songwriting process by working song arrangements out on piano and then teaching the tunes to the studio musicians at the recording sessions. However one song, “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, confused the musicians who expected to end many times before the entire eleven and a half minutes of the final recording. The final day of recording sessions ultimately produced six songs in thirteen hours of studio time, including “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, which featured a trumpet part by bassist Charlie McCoy, and the giddy, half-serious “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, where a local trombonist was recruited to join in.
 


Blonde On Blonde by Bob Dylan
Released: May 16, 1966 (Columbia)
Produced by: Bob Johnston
Recorded: Columbia Music Row Studios, Nashville, February-March 1966
Side One Side Two
Rainy Day Woman #12 & #35
Pledging My Time
Visions of Johanna
One Of Us Must Know
I Want You
Stuck Inside of Mobile
(with the Memphis Blues Again)
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Just Like a Woman
Side Three Side Four
Most Likely You Go Your Way
Temporary Like Achilles
Absolutely Sweet Marie
4th Time Around
Obviously 5 Believers
Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands
Primary Musicians
Bob Dylan – Guitar, Piano, Harmonica, Vocals
Robbie Robertson – Guitar, Vocals
Al Kooper – Organ, Guitar
Charlie McCoy – Bass, Trumpet
Kenneth A. Buttrey – Drums

 
The fun, if silly, song with dual meanings is about the escapism of getting stoned on pot due to the inevitability of getting stoned by society. Combine this with a wild musical ride brought about by tambourine, harmonica, clapping, hooting, hollering, piano, and the aforementioned trumpet and trombone, and “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” is an extremely unique and fun song. “Pledging My Time” follows with a similar quickly-put-together sound, but without the fun of the opener. Luckily, this is followed by “Visions of Johanna”, a lyrical triumph with a simple but effective musical backing. There are some really cool effects thrown throughout the song, but it leans a bit on the lengthy side. Not that Dylan fans ever minded length very much.

The album returns from a lyrical odyssey with the fantastic keyboard-driven “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)”. This song blends Dylan’s lyrics with a great musical spine. The piano drives the song up and down like rolling hills as Dylan’s voices leads the way. It also contains great lines –

And I told you, as you clawed out my eyes
That I never really meant to do you any harm
But sooner or later one of us must know
But you just did what you’re supposed to do
Sooner or later one of us must know
That I really did try to get close to you…”

The lyrics point to a scorned lover, but the music keeps things up beat and mellow almost as if the music is trying to keep the scorned lover happy while Dylan breaks her heart. Side Two of this four-sided album begins the classic, simple and perfect “I Want You”. This song contains perhaps the best opening line of any song period –

The guilty undertaker sighs, the lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns, blow into my face with scorn
But it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you…”

From here the song becomes one of the most simplistic sex songs in history. Dylan doesn’t convolute the feelings being expressed in the song and he adds little imagery to the fact that he wants the woman the song is addressing. It’s a love song without love, but it isn’t lust either. Dylan just isn’t sugar coating what he wants with hidden meanings.

“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” is another long one, but the funky guitar and keyboard use makes this song a lot more interesting than the goliath “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”, which closes the album. I could keep putting in examples of Dylan’s fantastic lyrics, but then this review would have more of Dylan than Dylan. That was a joke playing on my middle name which comes from this very same artist. Silly yes, but needed? I think so. “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” is a lyrical jam that still feels fresh after seven minutes of run time. Especially with lyrics like –

One was Texas Medicine, and the other was Railroad Jin, and like a fool I mixed them…”

“…your debutant just knows what you need, but I know what you want…”

So maybe I lied about quoting from the songs anymore. Those lyrics are two that always resonated with me for personal reasons. Who hasn’t mixed Texas Medicine and Railroad Gin? “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” is another very Dylan song that pokes fun at the fashion industry. Dylan is commenting on the fact that outrageous fashion trends, like leopard-skin pillbox hats are fleeting and silly much like fashion as an industry which creates faux crazes over the clothes it declares to be in to rack up cash from people who can’t just be comfortable with what they want to wear. The song is great and the guitar and drums again create a topsy-turvy sense in the music.

Bob Dylan in 1966

“Just Like a Woman” has Dylan’s lyrics, but the music sounds so similar to the simple beats of “Visions of Johanna” that someone who has heard the album multiple times can get a bit bored. In order for a Dylan song to be great it must have the lyrical and musical components working together to bring about a unity of song. Not all the songs on Blonde On Blonde do this, yet none of these songs really lack lyrically. They occasionally just have overly simple beats that don’t change enough to keep a listener’s attention.

As we proceed to “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”, it becomes apparent that there are two distinct sounds that make up Blonde On Blonde – the up-tempo, fun sounding sound, as on this song, and the melancholy, simple-beat songs like “Just Like a Woman”. If you couldn’t tell, I prefer the up-tempo fun sounding ones. “Most Likely You Go Your Way..” is a bit short, but still a good listen. “Temporary Like Achilles” is one of the melancholy songs. Dylan’s voice is slow and simple but the piano plays a strangely interesting melody through the first chorus, until the song slows down a bit for the duration. The album then jumps back to the fun, more pop-oriented “Absolutely Sweet Marie”, where the guitar and drums return to exciting change-up mode and Dylan’s voice is back at its peak. The lyrics also seem more interesting with a good back beat –

Well, six white horses that you did promise/Were finally delivered down to the penitentiary/But to live outside the law, you must be honest…”

Verbal hypocrisy abounds in those fine-tuned lyrics. The song even has a few jam sections spread throughout the chorus. Slight changes in instruments and times also seem to flow out towards the end of the song.

One of the few melancholy songs I really love on this album is “4th Time Around”, a loose tribute to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood”, which was in itself an ode to Dylan in that it uses his language to hide a scandalous affair. I love the song because of the guitar which runs up and down through the songs. Up to this point I’ve avoided the stories surrounding Dylan’s various songs only because there are so many, but this one just seemed to cool to ignore. Onwards to another playful song – “Obviously 5 Believers” which has quite blues vibe running all the way through it. I could easily see a house band jamming out in a crowded bar to this song which closes out side three. The album closes with the side-long “Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands”, perhaps the only Dylan song from the period that I really don’t like. It is a far cry from “Desolation Row”, which closed out the prior album.

I still contend that I think that previous album is superior to Blonde On Blonde, but that does not mean that this is not a solid album with a solid place in Dylan’s sixties career. The songs that have lyrics and music are the classics here and they are the ones people remember for a reason. Then again, this is just one Dylan’s opinion. Feel free to argue the point with me.

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1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of 1966 albums.