Monday, July 6, 2009

Bob Dylan 19: The Basement Tapes

Way back in 1967, when Dylan was hiding from all save his family and closest friends, the world feared he’d stopped writing. As a few bootlegs and constantly surfacing tapes attested, not only was he still writing, but having a ball in the process.
The Basement Tapes was the collective name given to the songs recorded that summer, mostly in the garage of the Band’s shared house near Bob’s own in Woodstock. The boys spent a lot of time working up versions of folk songs and improvisations, along with a couple of dozen new Dylan compositions that were farmed out for others to cover. As his own releases through the rest of the ‘60s and into the ‘70s failed to wow, the mystique of The Basement Tapes grew.
Sure enough, having raked in the bucks from Planet Waves and Before The Flood, Robbie Robertson got Dylan’s blessing in 1975 to compile an official Basement Tapes album. This was not a straight issue of the 14-song demo that had been bootlegged; instead, Robbie sought to rewrite history by overdubbing some parts and including several Bob-less Band recordings, some of which were actually recorded several years after and miles away from Woodstock. Some of those songs are pretty enjoyable, even if they don’t fit the theme of the original sessions. “Katie’s Been Gone” is wonderful, and “Orange Juice Blues” is a nice showcase for Richard Manuel. However, it’s safe to say most would prefer Dylan-sung versions of “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and “Long Distance Operator”.
That said, Bob’s songs are great. Tracks like “Odds And Ends”, “Million Dollar Bash”, “Please Mrs. Henry” and “Lo And Behold!” are delivered with a grin. “Clothes Line Saga” and “Yea! Heavy And A Bottle Of Bread” are just plain absurd, while “Tears Of Rage” and “This Wheel’s On Fire” equally as good as the ones that were on the Band’s debut LP. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Nothing Was Delivered” had also been highlights of the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Even fanatics familiar with the bootlegs got new (to them) surprises: “Goin’ To Acapulco” is full of mystery and longing, while the included take of “Too Much Of Nothing” has an much different chord structure.
This album was a nice gesture at the time, but in this age of archival reissues, a rethinking of The Basement Tapes was long overdue. Ideally we’d get at least one full CD of unadorned mixes of the Bob songs, with the occasional alternate take, the Basement tracks from Biograph and the Bootleg Series box, plus “I’m Not There”, “Sign On The Cross” and any of the other originals they felt like throwing in. Instead, the 2009 remaster merely replicated the original two-record set exactly, on two discs even, adding only a few extraneous photos from the cover shoot. And that, we thought, was that.

Bob Dylan & The Band The Basement Tapes (1975)—4


  1. It's very sad that there has never been an official release of all the other songs recorded during this very creative period in Dylan's life. However, having the full bootlegs of all the sessions is a guilty pleasure that most "Dyalnophiles" revel in :-)

  2. oooops that should be "dylanophiles"