Friday, June 26, 2015

40 Year Itch: Five Facts about The Basement Tapes

"I had been in a motorcycle accident and I'd been hurt, but I recovered. Truth was that I wanted to get out of the rat race."

1. On July 29, 1966 Bob Dylan crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 (like the one above) near his home in Woodstock, NY. The extent of his injuries probably included a cracked vertebrae in his neck and a concussion. For Dylan it was the excuse he needed to take some time off the road ( coming as it did after the "Judas!" tour of the UK) and from producing two albums a year. His road band, The Hawks, were still on his payroll so manager Albert Grossman arranged to have them stay nearby. Three of the band members moved into a house later dubbed "Big Pink". Eventually that house's basement became the makeshift practice and recording studio.

2. All of the songs on The Basement Tapes featuring Bob Dylan were recorded in 1967, eight years before the album was released on June 26, 1975.  Had the songs been released the year they were recorded, The Basement Tapes would have hit stores between Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding. Eight of the 24 tunes were recorded just by The Hawks ( by 1975 known officially as The Band). Some were recorded later, possibly as late as 1970. There are even some reports that a few Band numbers ( like "Ain't No More Cane") were recorded in 1975. 

3. Despite his injuries, Dylan was still writing songs and, by jamming with The Band, he was apparently inspired by the simplicity of folk songs, country songs and all around Americana. With Dylan typing up lyrics right in front of them, they'd make up songs on the spot and record what were essentially demos for other artists. These were songs with a sense of humor. Among them: "The Mighty Quinn", which hit #1 in the UK for Manfred Mann. The Byrds recorded "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and "Nothing Was Delivered" on their Sweethearts of the Rodeo album. 

4. Many of the demos eventually found their way onto one of the world's earliest and most famous bootlegs, Great White Wonder, released in 1969.

In fact, by the time The Basement Tapes came out ( with the cover shot in the basement of a Los Angeles YMCA), most of the songs were well known by rock critics. "Open the Door, Homer" had been recorded by Thunderclap Newman.

"Lo and Behold", "Open The Door, Homer", "Don't You Tell Henry", "Odds and Ends" and "Tiny Montgomery" were all covered brilliantly by Coulson, Dean, McGuinnes, Flint in 1972.

    Rolling Stone critic Paul Nelson listed five tunes he expected to hear on the album ( including "The Mighty Quinn", "I'm Not There", "Get Your Rocks Off","Sign on the Cross" and "I Shall Be Released") before celebrating the unheard "Goin' to Acapulco" which he described as an "cosmic, bawdy" "ace in the hole".

5. So why did Dylan wait eight years before allowing Columbia Records to release The Basement Tapes? One theory is he had finally recorded an album as good as anything he'd done in his classic 60's period, Blood on the Tracks. The album was universally praised, topping the Village Voice's annual critics poll.

Village Voice - Pazz and Jop Lists 1975 Albums 
 1. Bob Dylan and The Band - The Basement Tapes
 2. Patti Smith - Horses
 3. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
 4. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks
 5. Neil Young - Tonight's The Night
 6. Steely Dan - Katy Lied
 7. Roxy Music - Country Life
 8. Bob Marley and The Wailers - Natty Dread
 9. The Band - Northern Lights-Southern Cross
 10. The Who - The Who By Numbers
 11. Toots and The Maytals - Funky Kingston
 12. Neil Young - Zuma
 13. Roxy Music - Siren
 14. Paul Simon - Still Crazy After All These Years
 15. Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger
 16. Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac
 17. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes - To Be True
 18. Gary Stewart - Out Of Hand
 19. Nils Lofgren - Nils Lofgren
 20. Eno - Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)

In 2014 Columbia released a six CD version of The Basement Tapes containing 139 Dylan songs.

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