2020 Album Draft- Round 3- Pick 7- Hanspostcard selects- The Band- The Band [ aka- The Brown Album}
By the time The Band released their debut album- Music From Big Pink in 1968- The Band were a well seasoned band. They started back in the late 50’s backing up Ronnie Hawkins- and then most famously Bob Dylan in the mid-60’s. They were the band up band for Dylan when he made his controversial move to ‘go electric.” In 1967 at Big Pink they recorded with Dylan the famous “Basement Tapes.”
Music From Big Pink is one of the greatest debuts in rock history. Their second album- the self-titled The Band [nicknamed the Brown Album}- even topped the debut in the minds of most critics and fans. The Band is a perfect album. I can usually sit down and rank the songs on an album in order of greatness. I don’t even try with this album. There are 12 songs on the album- and it’s a 12 way tie for first place. There isn’t one song below 5 stars.
This is an album like my #1 choice- Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks- that takes me somewhere else. It was recorded and released at a time when the world was being turned upside down. The late 60’s were chaotic. Rock music had turned psychedelic. There is nothing on this album that feels 1969. This album feels ancient. It makes me think of old times- pioneer days, the civil war eta- but it feels timeless also- like it could have been released yesterday. It doesn’t sound like it has aged a day since it was released. In my mind I have the image of the famous Elliott Landy photographs [the images I have included here} The Band seemed like they were in their own world at this time- untouched by all the events of the world. There is a book out of those Elliott Landy photographs of the band in 1968-69- they are so outstanding I just had to spend $30 to get the book. The images the Landy took -other bands for years have tried to copy- but with The Band these images were just the way these fellas were at the time.
Sammy Davis’s poolroom in Hollywood actually plays a big part in the greatness of this album. What The Band was aiming for was to find the feel of The Basement Tapes -their legendary recordings with Bob Dylan from Big Pink the house they lived in in West Saugerties, New York- also winter was coming and they wanted to be out of cold New York in the wintertime. They rented the house once owned by Judy Garland- and then owned by Davis. They set up a studio in the pool house in the backyard- they got that ‘clubhouse’ feel that they wanted.
The Band for their first two albums at least- we getting along great. It was all for one- one for all type of feeling. No member was more important than another. This was a band whose sum was much greater than its parts. They had a chief songwriter and guitarist in Robbie Robertson. This band had three outstanding singers- Rick Danko- the bass player, Richard Manuel- piano, Levon Helm on drums- and organist and jack of all trades- Garth Hudson. Everything was going well with these guys- a cohesive unit. There was no head-just five equal parts.
For The Band album- Robbie Robertson wrote nine of the songs on his own, Robertson and Richard Manuel together wrote two and Robertson and Levon Helm the other. Robertson didn’t set out to write a concept album- but it turned out that it was a concept album with its historical themes about the American South. They thought about calling it Harvest- before settling on just calling it- The Band. Years later both Robertson and Helm would say it should have been called simply America. I often think of The Band as being the greatest American group ever- which in a way can’t be correct because only Levon Helm was American- the other four were Canadian. This album though- is an album about America. A simpler and older America comes to mind when I listen to this. The album begins in the springtime with “Across The Great Divide” and ends in the fall with “King Harvest.”
The songs on the album have a timeless quality to them. In listening to the album- these songs feel like they could have been a hundred years old. The songs are fairly short- ranging from 2:53 to the longest at 4:34. The singing on this is incredible. At times it is hard to figure out who is singing- the harmonies are that great. As far as who sang the lead on the songs- Richard Manuel sang lead on five, Levon Helm on four and Rick Danko on 3- but the voices weave together.
The song that is the most famous and the central song in this collection is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”- sung by the man from the American South- Levon Helm. It would later be a hit for Joan Baez. Joan Baez butchered this song- turning “there goes Robert E. Lee”- to “there goes THE Robert E.Lee” like it was a boat that the wife of Virgil Cane had told him was passing- and not the man.
I could highlight every song on this album. It is on my Mount Rushmore of Albums. The songs have a great mixture of songs- from upbeat ones to Richard Manuel’s song of loneliness- the gorgeous “Whispering Pines.”
I am a big fan of The Band- this was my first album by them- I quickly gobbled up all eight of them. There were six albums after this landmark album- and they all have something to offer but I remember feeling sad that after The Band- The Band- the other albums just didn’t have that magic that the first two albums had. The Band lost that togetherness they had in the late 60’s- drugs and egos became a problem. The harmony singing was no longer there. They never got back the sound of this album. I now look at it a little differently- I am thankful that for two albums there was this magic.
Songs From The Band- The Band
Across The Great Divide/ Rag Mama Rag/ The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down/ When You Awake/ Up On Cripple Creek/ Whispering Pines/ Jemima Surrender/ Rockin’ Chair/ Look Out Cleveland/ Jawbone/ The Unfaithful Servant/ King Harvest [Has Surely Come}