I spent a large chunk of the weekend listening to the first two albums by The Band (Music From Big Pink and The Band), as well as portions of their tremendous live album Rock of Ages*. It’s almost as if I had forgotten about them; they’re one of these groups that are always in the mix for discussion of greatest rock band ever, but they’re also usually the band one forgets to include in such discussions. This may be due to the relative lack/obscurity of “huge hits” (fans of “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” may disagree).
My brother, who introduced me to The Band going on about 15 years ago (unsuccesfully, at first) has almost unerring love for all of the first two records. I’m not quite so convinced by all of the songs, particularly some of the slower ones (e.g. “Lonesome Suzie”, “I Shall Be Released” – I know, I know). However, “Tears of Rage” is probably one of the greatest slow rock songs ever recorded, and to kick off an album with it, especially one’s first album – what brass balls on those guys!
Some of the songs are unreasonably good, though. Clearly, “The Weight” is an all-time classic, at home in bad beer commercials and art films both, covered by artists up and down the radio dials. “Rag Mama Rag” and “The Night They Drove…” also are radio staples. But dig the lesser known tracks: the unbelievable gospel-tinged organ opening to “We Can Talk”, the incredible menace of “Chest Fever”, Richie Manuel’s depthless sadness on “Rockin’ Chair.” And if you have the newer CD versions of the records, dig the previously unreleased outtakes such as “Yazoo Street Scandal” (Rick Danko’s bass sound is a mystery to me on that track – it galoomps. That’s the sound it makes. Galoomp.)
It hardly needs to be said, but revisit The Band from time to time. It can’t hurt. At all.
*Rock of Ages features two special things: 1) their version of “Don’t Do It” by Marvin Gaye, possibly the best live recording ever made, and 2) horn arrangements by the vastly, vastly, vastly underrated Allen Toussaint, he of “hi-I-produced-like-everything-out-of-New Orleans-ever” Meters, Lee Dorsey, and Dr. John fame. And, AND, he wasn’t too shabby of a singer himself: if you don’t already have it, run, don’t walk, to your local music place and drag out a copy of From a Whisper To a Scream. You know that song in the Axe Body Spray commercial with the guy made out of chocolate? Allen Toussaint, from that record: “Sweet Touch of Love.” It’s unreal. Buy it.