KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Satur-debut – THE BAND “MUSIC FROM BIG PINK”

It’s been nearly eight years since I revisited the discography of legendary quintet The Band for a 5-part series. They were only the third artist I wrote about, following Van Morrison and Talking Heads, and I was still figuring out how in-depth I wanted my posts to be. Between their debut, 1968’s Music From Big Pink, and its eponymous follow-up, there were so many great songs & performances that I couldn’t hold back and went into much more detail than I had originally planned when I started this blog a few months earlier. That set the stage for the verbose approach I’ve continued since then, so credit (or blame?) goes to the five members of The Band for creating such incredible music right from the start: Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel & Garth Hudson. My appraisal of their debut, originally written in May 2011, is featured below.

For more information on this series, please read the opening paragraph of the first post, which featured the debut album from Led Zeppelin.

 

From THE BAND Part 2 – This Band’s On Fire:

It’s not easy deciding where to start a discussion about The Band. They may have been known for their work with Bob Dylan in the mid-60s…but no one could have predicted how immediate and long-lasting their impact on the music world would be when they recorded under their new name. Their music simply sounded like nothing that came before it. What exactly made them so special, and why does their music still endure more than 40 years after their first album? I suppose they were just the right combination of musicians at the right time, with an amazing collection of songs.

I already knew several songs from Music From Big Pink fairly well. “Tears Of Rage” is a wonderful song, but a strange way to begin a debut album, its dirge-like tempo and the aching vocals of Richard Manuel and Rick Danko are not something you would expect to immediately grab many listeners, but it works. “The Weight” (which most people probably know from its familiar “take a load off, Fanny” refrain) is one of the songs that The Band are best known for, even to casual fans. In the sequence of the record, it’s also our introduction to the lead vocals of drummer Levon Helm, who brings a Southern twang to their sound (and is their most effective rock ‘n’ roll voice). My favorite part of this song, however, is Rick Danko singing “I said, wait a minute Chester…” in the fourth verse. That slight crack in his voice gets me every time. “Long Black Veil” is an old country ballad (from 1959, but it sounds much older), which tells an interesting story about a man sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. His only alibi is that he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife, a secret he takes to the grave. I always enjoyed the melody, but sometimes paying attention to the lyrics can enhance your enjoyment of a song, as it did for me here. “I Shall Be Released” is a Bob Dylan song that I always thought was sung by Rick Danko, but it’s actually Richard Manuel. On the surface he may be singing as a prisoner waiting for his release, but it also seems to be about a spiritual release, or possibly even death (as a release from his earthly burdens). Deep stuff, and a powerful way to close out the album.

Those were just the songs I was already familiar with. Most of the others made significant impressions on me these past couple of weeks as well. The haunting keyboard sound on “In A Station” that drew me in is a combination of clavinet (to be popularized by Stevie Wonder on his string of brilliant early-70’s albums) & electric piano that sounds like a psychedelic harpsichord. Great vocals from Manuel on this track. “Caledonian Mission” features a pleading Danko vocal performance with high harmonies by Manuel. “Chest Fever” is an odd one here. I really like this song, but the deep organ sound (courtesy of Garth Hudson) & heavy drums make this more like a Deep Purple or Vanilla Fudge song (albeit without wailing vocals or screaming guitar solos). I can imagine even staunch fans of The Band having issues with this song, but it works for me. I can also hear a direct line from the vocal harmonies to those of Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock on the Derek & The Dominos Layla album. During “We Can Talk,” I enjoyed the shift to a shuffle beat at around the 1:35 mark, as well as the strong vocal harmonies. “Lonesome Suzie,” a mournful ballad written and sung by Manuel, and the Dylan-Danko composition “This Wheel’s On Fire” are two more songs that made a strong impression on me.

Robbie Robertson was eventually considered the leader & driving force in The Band, but Music From Big Pink comes across as a more democratic album than anything else they would release. Robertson is an excellent guitar player, very underrated in fact. He rarely plays a traditional “solo,” and even when he does it’s usually not predictable. You can hear Eric Clapton’s influence on his playing, but he has more of an angular approach than the blues-based Clapton. Robertson would begin to take control on the next album, writing or co-writing all 12 songs.

 

 

Do you agree that this is a classic debut album and possibly one of the all-time best? Even though this post is about that album, do you think their sophomore release is even better?

21 comments on “Satur-debut – THE BAND “MUSIC FROM BIG PINK”

  1. Aphoristical
    February 16, 2019

    It’s a big step up from their stuff on The Basement Tapes IMO. It’s a classic but the second is even better.

    Like

    • Not a fan of The Basement Tapes, eh Graham? I dove into it for the 5th & final installment of my series on The Band and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it, more then I ever had previously. It’s not all essential, and certainly not in the same league as their first two proper albums, but it’s still a classic in its own right. Of course, points have to be deducted due to the nebulous nature of the recordings, some of which were apparently put to tape a few years later, or overdubbed in the ’70s.

      I’m glad you agree that the second album is even stronger than Big Pink. Not a bad start to their career.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical
        February 18, 2019

        I like the Dylan songs a lot more than The Band songs. Apparently Robertson put it together and had an agenda to make the two entities seem more equal than they were. So really good Dylan songs like ‘I’m Not There’ and ‘I Shall Be Released’ we’re left off in favour of second tier Band stuff. My favourite Band song there is Bessie Smith, which is one of the songs that’s generally dated later, would have been a much stronger record if it was 80/20 Dylan.

        Like

      • That’s a fair assessment. I also love “Bessie Smith” although, as I wrote in my post about that album, “it sounds like it was recorded in the ‘70s (around Stage Fright or Cahoots), so sonically it doesn’t fit with most of the other songs here.” My favorite Band songs on Basement Tapes are “Katie’s Been Gone,” “Ain’t No More Cane” and “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” (I know, the latter is a Dylan song but he’s not on this version and Helm’s voice is perfect for this song).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Arlee Bird
    February 16, 2019

    “Big Pink” is still one of my favorite albums and the second album ranks right up there with it.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    Like

    • Thanks for the feedback, Arlee. I think I prefer the second album but it’s a close race between the two. Certainly an impressive start to their discography, and of course a hard standard to live up to.

      Like

  3. christiansmusicmusings
    February 17, 2019

    It’s one for me to decide, since I can’t claim I know these two albums in great detail.

    Based on ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ which are both tunes I dig very much, I would probably go with The Band’s sophomore album as my preferred choice.

    Like

    • The sophomore album is an excellent choice, even if it’s a qualified selection based on just those songs. These albums are a nice one-two punch and worth multiple listens one after the other.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alyson
    February 17, 2019

    For the second week in a row you are writing about an album I neither own nor know much about. It is interesting that so far in this series, you are featuring albums that were made during your infancy – Is it that they have had longer to mature, like fine wines, that you warm most to music from that era or simply that it’s all been downhill from then on?

    I promise to investigate further. My fun fact for this album is that it features in the video for the Abba song One Of Us – She unpacks it from a box whilst moving into the post-breakup house.

    Also, when I wrote about Pennsyvania in my American Odyssey series one of the song suggestions was The Weight as they were on their way to Nazareth, PA. Listened to it back then and listened to it again now. It’s definitely growing on me.

    Wonder now what next week will bring – Something from 1969?

    Like

    • Hi Alyson. Since I started this series with my favorite band, Led Zeppelin, which was from 1969, I decided to take a mostly chronological approach going forward. That way it’s somewhat different from my Great Out Of The Gate series, on which this is based. So as much as I love the debuts from The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, etc., they’re not quite as important to me as some others that will show up later this year.

      Not sure I remember that ABBA song. Will have to give it a listen to hear their reference to The Band.

      I didn’t realize the lyrics in “The Weight” were referring to the Nazareth in Pennsylvania. I always thought it was the biblical city in Israel. Thanks for clarifying that for me.

      I think we’ll stay in 1968 for another couple of weeks and won’t get to the ’70s for another couple of months. 1969 was a pretty spectacular year for debut albums.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        February 18, 2019

        Sorry – must have misssd the bit about this series being chronological. Makes sense though and since starting my blog the era I keep returning to when it comes to great individual songs is the late ‘60s. Just can’t imagine people will be writing about the music of 2019 in the same way in 50 years time but hey, who knows what the heck life will be like then.

        As for the ABBA song, the album cover features in the video so you won’t hear a reference in the lyrics but a blogging buddy pointed it out at the time.

        Curious about next week’s pick now.

        Like

      • Thanks for clarifying about the ABBA song. I would have been scratching my head if I listened to the song expecting a reference to this album. Was there an official video for the song?

        I agree that it’s unlikely the majority of music being created today, at least the stuff that sells the most, will be written about with the same kind of reverence as music from the ’60s & ’70s. There’s certainly a lot of wonderful music being created today but it’s just harder to sift through the crap to get to it. Of course I don’t care if I’m wrong since I won’t be around to listen to or read about music in 50 years…or I’ll be pretty close to being on the other side.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson
        February 19, 2019

        Sorry if this comes up as a giant image with Freida looking a bit grumpy but if you fast forward to 0:58, you’ll see what I mean.

        Like

      • It showed up fine for me. Thanks so much for sharing. Very cool to see that album show up in the video.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. 80smetalman
    February 18, 2019

    I confess, The Last Waltz is my main experience with The Band. I have always been meaning to explore them more so I thank you for giving me the kick start I needed.

    Like

    • The Last Waltz is deservedly considered a classic but it’s a different beast than their first couple of studio albums. If you like the former then I imagine you’ll find a lot to enjoy on their debut and its follow-up.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. J.
    February 18, 2019

    I’m a big fan of this one… sometimes I prefer it over the self-titled album, but I do think the self-titled album is the better of the two. It just depends on the mood, I guess. They were a truly special band.

    Like

    • Sounds like our opinions on this band and the first two albums are very close, although I would rank the self-titled album just slightly ahead of this one. It’s a close call.

      Like

  7. stephen1001
    February 18, 2019

    I’ll have to revisit this one Rich, as it didn’t speak to me when I explored it a few years ago.
    Its follow-up, however!

    Like

    • Surprised to hear that this one didn’t speak to you, Geoff. Perhaps it was just the wrong album on the wrong day. I imagine one day it will click with you, and then you can check out the next album and be even more impressed. At least I hope that’s what happens.

      Like

  8. Pingback: The Band, “The Weight” and Can Someone Help Me Out With A Puzzler? – What's It All About?

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