While recovering from a motorcycle accident in 1967, Dylan ensconced himself in Woodstock, New York and, with The Band in support, recorded about 100 songs. Since they were recorded in the cellar of The Band's home, they became known as The Basement Tapes.
The tracks recorded at Big Pink would quickly reach legendary proportions and become some of the most bootlegged in history. I doubt that The Great White Wonder, released in 1969, was the first bootleg album ever produced, but it was the first one to become famous.
Blonde On Blonde, released in May of 1966 and John Wesley Harding released in December of 1967 are miles apart in terms of musical styles. While the music recorded with The Band is unlike either of these two albums, it does fill in the gaps and show Dylan in transition.
The Basement Tapes was a 24 song, double LP album released in 1975. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Released on the heels of the brilliant Blood On The Tracks I thought that I had died and gone to Dylan heaven. Little did I know at the time that these tracks were only the tip of the iceberg of what had been recorded in 1967 plus the tracks recorded by The Band did not originate during these sessions but were recorded later. Even with this knowledge, The Basement Tapes, is an excellent release.
It is a loose, sprawling album of experimentation on the part of Dylan. He seems to take a casual approach to the whole affair. Maybe it’s the Band and maybe it was his place in life at the time, but he produces an album rooted in Americana.
Two songs that would become Band classics are presented in their initial form. “This Wheels On Fire” and “Tears Of Rage” both are interesting with Dylan taking the lead.
The album is filled with various songs of story telling. “Tiny Montgomery,” Million Dollar Bash,” “Clothesline Saga” and “Lo and Behold” just pull the listener along through the wonderful use of words and images.
“Goin’ To Acapulco” and “Odds and Ends” are straight rock ‘n’ roll songs for Dylan on which Robbie Robertson provides some of his signature guitar licks. He had just begun to explore the rock format and these two songs are good examples of his early experimentation.
Some other interesting tracks include the old Ledbelly tune. “Ain’t No More Cane,” which is given a classic treatment, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” would become a concert staple, and “Crash On The Levee (Down On The Flood)” which may be the most sophisticated song on the album. The Basement Tapes was a belated look into the musical mind of the 1967 Bob Dylan. It historical significance today is that it filled in a blank spot in his career.
Who knows why these songs were included and not some others? I just chalk it up to the inscrutable mind of a genius at work. The album is not cohesive but many of the individual parts are brilliant. Just listen to it one song after another. It will be time well spent.