Music from Big Pink, The Band
Capital, July 1, 1968
Track Listing: 1. Tears of Rage, 2. To Kingdom Come, 3. In a Station, 4. Caledonia Mission, 5. The Weight, 6. We Can Talk, 7. Long Black Veil, 8. Chest Forever, 9. Lonesome Suzie, 10. This Wheel’s on Fire, 11. I Shall Be Released
They say everything can be replaced, but don’t believe it. Some things are one of a kind.
There is a certain irony in introducing a band with a name as generic as The Band as unique, but therein lies a hint to the name. A band of parts. And a magic equation where the parts are somehow greater than their sum.
The Band are a testament to the wonderful results possible through bipartisanship (a strange concept in current day). Heck, this band didn’t even feel the need to identify a lead singer. As they did with the songwriting, each musician shared in the singing duties too, choosing to employ a group effort approach, varying members taking the reigns in different verses as dictated by register or reason, all the while weaving harmony into the recurring mantra of all for one and one for all.
“One voice for all
Echoing (echoing) echoing along the hall”
-from “We Can Talk”
Perhaps one of their most famous songs and chorus refrains, from “The Weight,” is the best symbol to use as their template. A new voice comes in with each “And, (and), (and),” building a unifying crescendo, individual parts given rise to an electrifying whole.
“Take a load off Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny
And (and) (and) you put the load right on me
(You put the load right on me)”
-from “The Weight”
They were musical farmers plowing the fields of the American South, harvesting a sound of heartache and strife that regular folk routinely become filled with when they are busy living and dying in a land of broken dreams.
“We carried you in our arms
on Independence Day
Now you throw us all aside
and put us all away”
-from “Tears of Rage”
The Band were a mix of musical influences that blended together perfectly, without ego. Blues, country, soul, R&B, folk, melded it together to define a sound all their own, an Americana melting pot seeped in setting and time, rich with the stories of real people. The sound was as immediately authentic and defining as its subjects.
“I pulled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
`Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?’
He just grinned and shook my hand, `no’ was all he said”
-from “The Weight”
If you broke it down into parts: Robbie Robertson’s seamless lead guitar, Richard Manuel’s high heavenly voice, Garth Hudson’s smooth, sometimes funky, always effortless keyboard, Levon Helm’s Deep South drums, his soulful voice, or Rick Danko’s rolling bass guitar and sweet sweet tenor, you would do yourself no favors in trying to understand what made the music come alive. The parts were great to be sure, but joined together, they were so much more.
“I’m not alone, you see”
-from “To Kingdom Come”
The “Big Pink” refers to the actual pink house in West Saugerties, New York where they set up shop, first recording as Bob Dylan’s backing band on The Basement Tapes. Dylan himself wrote or cowrote three of the tracks on Music from Big Pink: “Tears of Rage” (Manuel and Dylan), “This Wheel’s On Fire” (Dank and Dylan) and “I Shall Be Released” (Dylan). And while The Band will always hold the proud distinction of being originally typecast as Dylan’s backing band, that same signature also went a long way in breaking them out of his shadow: if a band was good enough to back a perfectionist as Dylan, they were obviously doing something right.
“Must be some way to repay you
Out of all the good you gave”
-from “In a Station”
“It seems to me we’ve been holding something
Underneath our tongues”
-from “We Can Talk”
That Music from Big Pink closes with the Dylan song, “I Shall Be Released,” is not only a fitting tribute to The Band’s connection to their legendary friend and leader, but also fitting in that The Band were clearly released. And in doing so, they just happened to record what is probably the most iconic version of the song, not that winning that type of vote would matter to this band. They were only interested in making great music. Nobody was bigger than that ambition. The music was the thing was the thing … was The Band.