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.”

The Band's Essential Albums: 'Music From Big Pink' and Many More ...

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.

The Band, Woodstock, 1969 by Elliott Landy — Mr Musichead Gallery

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.

The Band, Woodstock, New York 1969, Photo by Elliott Landy ...

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.

Elliott Landy Photography - "The Band recording The Band album in ...

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.

I Love The Band — The Band pose in the drizzling rain on John Joy...

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 Band, Behind Big Pink, 1968 by Elliott Landy — Mr Musichead ...

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.

A co-operative that thrived on creative equality: Elliott Landy's ...

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.

The Band pose for a portrait in West Saugerties, New York in 1968 ...

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}


  1. For all the stylistic changes across music back then, the iconoclastic individuals in rock, everything, I find it very fascinating that probably the most influential band on the planet at that time was this group of five, seemingly nondescript individuals. Yes, they were loonies amongst themselves, but to the rest of us mortals they let their music do the talking and continue to do so to this day. Timeless stuff. Excellent choice, Hans.

    • Dang a few days ago when I was thinking on this review- a thought came to my head and I forgot it when I wrote this up–you reminded me of it- in the going out of style comment. My friend from high school Helmet once commented- we were in high school late 70’s- looking at the yearbook pictures we all dressed – in what looks like silly costumes today. There was one kid in school who seemed out of style-and Helmet commented a while back that back then we thought that this fella was out of style then but actually he was forever in style- he would fit in today- we wouldn’t. The Band and Dylan- CCR maybe a few others remind me of that- all the psychedelic music of the time- some was great no doubt- but the music seems of a certain time today- The Band -timeless.

  2. Great choice Hans. Those first two albums changed the musical landscape and broke up bands like Cream and started new ones. The music was so organic.

  3. If I had to pick a favorite band .The Band would be in the running. Great piece Hans. CB will be swimming over for a listen but he just might have an album or two on his little island. I’m a little bit more forgiving on their latter albums than you and have a spot for them. Then bottom line is, this is an essential album in my pile and I would cry if it went missing. I’d of like to heard the JB fans when they heard the original of “Dixie’. Certainlt a different vibe. Good stuff Hans. Rag mama rag.

  4. A great album! Might pick Big Pink as my favorite by them but both are excellent. Grew up hearing ‘Cripple Creek’ & ‘The Night…’ a lot on radio as a kid, they were quite unlike other artists AM was playing then. ‘King Harvest’ has become something of a favorite of their material lately, to me.
    I never noticed Joan’ s addition of ‘the’ to Robert E Lee before…I think there was once a train run called that…do you think she didn’ t know lyrics were about the general? Who knows, maybe so!

  5. Hans, you know I’m delighted with this pick. Believe it or not I had that Eliot Landry book until a couple of years ago, when I donated to an auction fundraiser. Those b&w and sepia-toned photos are magnificent! I can’t pick a favorite album by them between this, Big Pink, and Basement Tapes, but your insights and feeling on the “ancient-ness” while being timeless are spot on. Why Baez grew cajones to attempt a cover of one of their songs is a mystery. Overblown ego and overestimate of talent. I just watched “Were Brothers” last week and will be covering it in movie reviews on Tuesday. GREAT CHOICE HANS

  6. Agree – great choice and great write-up. One of my favorite things to brag about to my younger music friends is now I got to see The Band with all the original members quite a few times. There will never be another group like them – those three voices and Robby’s songs. Watch me drool about them here: https://youtu.be/yo3Dn2QyHSo

    • You saw them a few times- I am envious. I saw them in the 90’s of course without Robbie and Richard- they were still well worth seeing but still… the originals!

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