Monday, February 5, 2018

The Basement Tapes (1975)

The Basement Tapes
(1975, Columbia Records)


(Vegetarian Jambalaya with Tofurky sausage)

Up until 1975, there were two things weird men in hats couldn't stop looking for. One is the Arc of the Covenant...

"You know it..." I. Jones

The other; Bob Dylan's LOST recordings he made with his backing band, The Hawks, back in 1967 following his "infamous" motorcycle accident.

"Truth bro..." Big Dylan fan with weird hat. 

This once long lost Holy Grail we now know as The Basement Tapes.

But wait, first off, what's all this with Dylan's backing band known as The Hawks?

(Reported photo from the first day of recording)

Well, your moms and pops would know this fabled band The Hawks as... uhhh, The Band. Some know them as those coked up dudes from the movie The Last Waltz. Yes, the soon to be multi-platinum selling artists started life backing up Bob Dylan in the basement... makin' tapes. Initially, Dylan joined forces with mostly Canadian The Hawks who worked as his backing band during his "electric" shows. These shows are often remembered for fans throwing up their souls onto their laps, while hurling garbage at Bob Dylan. Now-a-days, these are known as "the good years!" 

Following Dylan's fabled motorcycle accident, he retreated into a quiet life, putting the pieces (of his spine) back together. It was here, he invited members of The Hawks to woodshed some stuff in the basement of the Big Pink.

(The Big Pink, where the boys recorded this classic piece of smut)

On The Basement Tapes, Dylan was able to flex his wings, shed his French poet-on-speed-and-downers persona, and take in lungfuls of fresh country air. Through reported intense, therapeutic, and cathartic recording sessions, a double disc classic was born. Following the sessions, the often sought out, but rarely heard tapes stayed underground. Meanwhile, Dylan went about as a partial recluse, and occasional recording artist. The Hawks eventually morphed into The Band, making millions and working with Dylan on 1974's poorly named, ho-hum Planet Waves LP.

(For reference, this is The Band; five guys who enjoy sitting down)

Following the smashing success of Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, he allowed Columbia to release these much talked about tapes to the public, resulting in mutual aneurisms amongst rock critics. Dylanites were losing their skulls like Dylan on a wobbly motorcycle at a glimpse into the long lost past. Officially released in 1975, Dylan's 16th LP recorded between Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding, essentially fills the gap between Blood on the Tracks and the rest of his fucking career.  

There's enough mythology and praise around this album to feed a nation of starving children, if mythology had nutritional value, so whatever I have to cry about on this entry is without merit. It's legacy is huge, even if my hunger for it isn't as great as everyone else.  Speaking of hunger, let's double down on this double LP.

Real quick on the topper of a meal that I'll be devouring tonight. Since this LPs a doubler and about 10 days long, I prepared myself a heaping, seemingly bottomless pot of Vegetarian Jambalaya. This low-rent Jambalaya concussion is a ricey dream stirred in with mass amounts of garlic, tender onions, crisp celery, with touches of crushed tomatoes, red bell pepper, hot sauce, and Tofurky Italian Sausage. Why Tofurky you ask? 'Cause I'm a rootin'-tootin' vegetarian you see. So, without any further ado, let's carb up with The Basement Tapes.

Odds and Ends- Bob Dylan is back... from 1967! In some ways, this is the prequel to Back to the Future. If you look closely, you can see a folded LP copy of this record in the back of Michael J. Fox's jeans during the malted shake scene. Anyway, the scratchier, thin production sets the tone for most of the record. Some call this the first lo-fi album, but I guess those people haven't heard a single blues 78? Here, Dylan and The Band do a honky tonk-like cry for feeling like used trash. If The Velvet Underground or Bowie did a song like this, it'd be cool for the young crowd. Here it's cool for the dads. Either way, I'm a sucker for this shit. Good stuff.

(Some say this Dylan-head loved the song so much, he posed in front of a picture of the title)

Orange Juice Blues (Blues For Breakfast)- 1  Ugghh, track 2 and already it's an ALL inclusive The Band tune, sung by bassist Richard Danko. See, one major drawback of this LP, there are flat out songs where Dylan's off takin' care of business on the toilet, and The Band essentially delivers an early demo of theirs (sometimes studio jams). Ultimately, I don't care about this, but if you're a Band-Aid (new name for fanatics of The Band), maybe this is heaven for y'all? If you like orange juice, The Band, and lame titles this one is like striking gold. Music from a white bluesy dumpster. To be fair, I like some of the The Band's music, outside of these solo outings on this record. They're just everywhere on this LP, so strap in.

Alright, time to dissect the rice dish I made. Man, I love rice on here. Guess, I love to choke on starch. This isn't too spicy, just the right amount. Thankfully, I knew when to take the throttle on dribbling on that hot sauce. Mmmmm.... and when it comes to garlic, gimme more!  If you're coming over for a pot-luck, or a million dollar bash, remind me to make this for y'all.

Million Dollar Bash- 4 What do you know, a song called "Million Dollar Bash," right after I referenced it. The luck of that. This is a real throwback here. Part 50's nostalgia, part laid-back swing rock, with a muddy scoop of crooning hillbilly sensibilities. Infectiously hypnotic, despite its cheesy choruses. Dylan sounds like a half rejuvenated man who's gotten his brains knocked back into semi-normie mode (sans lyrics about the "mashed potatoes") following that motorcycle accident.

(Here is Bob Dylan on a $10 bill as imagined by artist Jeremy Hara. If you had 100,000 Dylan bucks, you'd have 1,000,000 Dylan Dollars.... it's simple Dylan math)

Yazoo Street Scandal- 1 DYLAN DOES NOT APPEAR ON THIS TRACK.....Again... I'll get used to it with this collection. Real sleazy greasy vocal wise on here. This is the kind of song that makes you want to take a shower. Man, The Band is (mostly) a real bunch of crud. Ugh, quite funky in a bad way. This is one of the sleaziest sounding organ parts ever. uggh....

This Jambalaya went down quick during this one. Boy, I hate this song so much the only thing to do through it is hate-eat. Shoveling that shit in my mouth.... HOT damn, this song for aiding in my weight gain.

Goin' to Acapulco- 4 Dylan's back, and with it so is my appetite. No longer will I hate-shovel Jambalaya down my throat because of The Band. They don't control my eating habits!

 This song seems to be about traveling to Mexico for a real downer of a time goin' at it between the sheets with a woman of the night, because you hate yourself and what else is there in life (the song interpretation, not my life's credo)?  So that's kind of cool, I guess, if you wanna stay trapped in the mind of a lost soul suck in Mexico? This track's a slow drawl of hangover depression. Part Blonde on Blonde blues-balladry, part "dude hating himself with a hangover and empty pockets after a wild night."  

Katie's Been Gone- A real roots-rocker recorded as The Band without Dylan, so there some of that The Band ooogliness going on in here. Icky, but not as yucky as some of their other white boogie jams. This song is, at the very least enjoyable, and I can tape a toe to it. Will it stick in my memory bank? Hell No. But can I hate on it? Of course I can, but I won't.  As someone once said, "Hatred is the Devil's Phillips-Head screwdriver and if we give in, we're all screwed." The person who said that was me, just now.

(Actress Kate Hudson is a "Katie that's been gone," every time she leaves one location and moves on to another... for reference only)

Lo and behold my followers of the home-made Jambalaya.... I have finished my first plate, eating at a reasonable pace. Excuse my while I refill this plate of Cajun glory by way of NJ. 

Lo and Behold!- Dylan's back for side B. Okay, really for every second song I feel like I proclaim "Dylan's back." Dammit Zimmy, you're being too casual with your keys to the kingdom. The Band scuffles about with a fast paced little jive in the back with Dylan vocals up front. The song is a classic little basement tape gem. The chorus is awkward, but the whole thing is annoyingly catchy.  A mix of lo-fi dirty country with gospel hooks. Alright, I'll take it. 

Bessie Smith Oh man, more tracks from The Band, when all we wanna here is what went on in that BASEMENT. This is a studio track tacked on by Columbia Records. Fortunately, it's not half bad. If you like The Band, godblessya, one and all. If you don't, you might be able to hear it and be like, "Oh, OK? It's like yeah... What's on Netflix, bro."

A fan of The Band watching The Last Waltz on Netflix. 

Clothes Line Saga- 4  According to the history of music, and others who write about it, this is a riff on Bobbie Gentry's '67 hit "Ode to Billie Joe." Whatever the case, this is a narrative Dylan weaves in a monochromatic tone as The Band adds some bluesy bloops and streamlined strums behind our Zimmyteller. Mostly about wet clothes hanging on a clothes line while the neighbors inquire about them, which is pretty goddamn cool.

Bob Dylan, circa 1918.

Apple Suckling Tree- A real off-the-cuff traditional sounding romp as The Band and Dylan seem to be making this up almost on the spot. Some would call that improvisation. Others, jammin'.  A real sing-song bout of country nonsense. But what nonsense it is! Good clean fun that shines through brightly. Brilliant? No, not at all. But the more songs recorded like this in the world, the better. Hit record and commit everything to tape.

Alright faithful dinner followers... I gotta slow down with the rice. Seems the Gerd is catching up to me. For those who don't know what Gerd is, it feels a little something like this...

(actual photo my wife took of me right now? we my never know)

Gerd is the devil's play thing. For all rice eaters like myself, who can't stop indulging, this is a straight up bad time to be alive during any meal. Not only does your chest feel like it's being ripped apart with fire and swallowed sledgehammers, it prevents you from eating more rice at a rapid rate. Now that's a sin.

I shall plow through.... and we will ramble on with the Jambalaya! 

Please, Mrs. Henry- Dylan, vocally, comes off like he's walked out of an all-night Highway 61 Revisited session here. Tired and drunk and out for the sex, Dylan sounds like he's speaking through his COOOOL oversized '60s shades again. Well, after all, this was still the '60s. Thankfully during this sexist song about wanting to "pump a few," Dylan cracks a couple laughs. Man, being up in Woodstock must've really got this guy's testies in a vice. Hopefully, one day this man will find Jesus...

"Soon and very soon, I am going to see the King"- a mighty Saved Dylan from the Future.

Tears of Rage- Perhaps the most famous song from The Basement Tapes, "Tears of Rage," reflects upon the failing state of the nation in 1967, back when this was recorded. Fortunately, by 1975 these guys were WAY more into the cocaine than the senseless war in Veitnam. But to take a step back and examine this in the dim light of the basement, this is a wonderfully crafted pleading ballad of poetic heartbreak. Awesome. Sheer potency, and one of the reason these tapes deserved to be released.

Too Much of Nothing- So here we are moving ever so slowly through this basement skullduggery. Luckily, the opener of Side C (3?) is a fitting mix of normie rock and weirdo tendencies. The whole thing has an eerie feel, vocals and instruments reverberating. Then the buildup to the chorus sounds like a psychedelic circus. And then, the chorus is a falsetto out-of-left-field performance, sounding as if a testicle or two were accidentally snipped. Dylan and The Band were really gellin' on this one, testicles or not.

Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread- Why can't Dylan and The Band ever seem to sing in unison? Must be drunk, or perhaps it's just "rustic." For whatever reason, this work perfectly 'cause this song is a freakshow mess. The lyrics are an incredibly stupid, somewhat amusing selection of weirdo sentences. The '60s man, am I right? I don't know if I'm right, but there certainly was a decade referred to as the '60s.  Anyways, this is like a wilder companion piece to "Too Much of Nothing."

Well, fellow people of the Fire of Chest community we call Gerd suffers, the Jambalaya has one. Despite being mighty full, I'm also packing this eating contest in due to chest pains.  Feels a little something like this...

So to that I say, let's just review the rest of this tome. While I'm at reviewing, can I say I'll give my made-from-scratch Jambalaya a solid 4.5 outta 5 stars. I ain't modest. 

Ain't No More Cane- The Band "steals" this Dylan composition and Columiba Records told ol' Plumber Zimmerman to head back to the basement and start plumbing them pipes some more. Here, The Band plays an old traditional work song and it ain't all bad. The harmonies are strong and the accordion's a slick choice, but it still kind of stinks.

Crash on the Levee (Down In the Flood)- Song's mainly constructed of a blaring organ and walking bass. A skeletal accostic strum ties it together in the back, as Dylan gets all old-time blues preachy about the flood coming through. Unfortunately it's non-too-memorable. Nobody likes a flood, but people like to sing about it, and all possible meaningful things that could lie underneath....

Other meaningful Floods include:
The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927

Famed St. Louis Cardinal's Center Fielder Curt Flood

A really good record named Flood.

A Millionaire 

Ruben Remus- What is this? The Band doing kid's music? Okay, I'll break it down. The music isn't horrid. The recording has a terribly murky quality to it that somehow redeems it, but it's still a pile of shucked clams. MMMM, one of these diners I'm gonna make myself a Ruben.  Now we're talkin'.

Tiny Montgomery- 4 The song follows that "Highway 61 Revisited" formula, also known as a hackneyed blues formula. On that classic song, Dylan sounded like he was flying high on Grade A hashish. Here, Dr. Zimmerman sounds as if he chugged some Reubentusen and told The Band, "Gents, let's fffffffuuuuucccckkkkkkin'..... boogie!"

You Ain't Going Nowhere- 5 One of the greatest rock/folk/blues/country highbryd out there. Okay, the BETTER version was released by The Byrds back on their Sweethearts of the Rodeo LP, or so I say. But this version? Still, HOT DAMN! More off-the-cuff with shabbier vocal melodies and a tinge of wafting pot smoke still in the air, seeping through the floorboards into the second floor of the Big Pink.

Don't Ya Tell Henry- Ugggghhh, this is the complete opposite of the bliss of "You Ain't Going Nowhere." An exclusive The Band track that's about as insufferable as any George Thurogood b-side, or any side, for that matter. Apparently, this song was actually written by Dylan, and The Band deliver it in rockin' fashion. Pass.

Nothing Was Delivered- Speaking of The Byrds... They also recorded an incredible version of this eerie blues tune for Sweethearts of the Rodeo too. Man, those Byrds really knew how to cover a killer tune... umm, mostly by Dylan. A true gem from the basement.

The Byrds really liked Bob Dylan... and it made them lots of money. Facts. 

Open the Door, Homer- An song apparently written with novelist, and Dylan friend, Richare FariƱa in mind, as he'd recently passed away. Dylan and The Band sing "Open the door, Richard," every time instead of "homer," because they don't understand how lyrics and titles work. Oddly catchy, somewhat sad, longing, reflective, celebratory. All these adjectives, and it's not even a perfect song. BUT, it's a notable basement cut.

Long Distance Operator- 1 The Band lay down some sleazy rainy day sex voodoo here. That sick bass could charm a snake out of a forty year slumber in a basket of used gym socks. Nope. Almost worse than gettin' the Gerd.

This Wheel's on Fire- 5 A real overblown, forlorn, doomride of a closer. From the production, to the rising choruses, to the skittish rythms... Goddamn, not to mention the lyrics, which I don't like to mention, because I don't care what most people are singing about.... Anyway, let me catch my breath. I caught it and it's mine, and you can't have it. Epic closer to a unbalanced, undisputed, once unreleased classic by Bob Dylan and his good friends... The Band.

WELL.... there you have it folks... Another main meal down with Bob Dylan and The Band.  Join me next time as I tackle one of the last well received Dylan records (1976's Desire) before he began his multi-decade long decent into sheer madness, poor record sales, and terrible production choices.

Until next time, what'd ya say Bobby (with a Robbie on your shoulder)....

("Get in the Van....."- Bob Dylan, cracking puns to The Belfast Cowboy)


  1. Mmmm... jambalaya!

    Another good review. This is probably Dylan's funniest and most entertaining album - because it was never intended for release - with a couple of searing masterpieces ("Tears of Rage", "This Wheel's On Fire") thrown in for good measure.

    Somewhat surprised by your reactions to The Band's contributions. I am not a fan of The Band, and have never owned a single one of their albums, but I have always thought that their tracks on The Basement Tapes were mostly pretty good despite the dishonesty involved - all of their tracks were actually recorded years later and the audio "dirtied down" to make them sound like they came from the 1967 sessions. The Band also did some later overdubbing on the Dylan tracks. This is why, if someone wants to hear what actually happened at Big Pink during the Summer of Love, they need to listen to Bootleg Series #11 rather than this.

  2. The Genuine Basement Tapes is one of the favorites in my Bob collection. Great stuff...sometimes silly, sometimes poignant, sometimes garbage, sometimes classic. For some reason I love Joshua Gone Barbados, also Silent Weekend & I'm Not There (1956) are incredible. Keep on keeping on!