The Band

BigpinkThe Band
Music From Big Pink
Capitol/UME
by David Chiu

(Promo pic via Wikimedia Commons)

This year marked a lot of cornerstone rock albums celebrating their 50th anniversaries, including The Beatles’ The Beatles, the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, the Doors’ Waiting for the Sun, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland. Another key record from that amazing year was Music From Big Pink, the debut album by the Band. Recorded in upstate New York in the salmon-colored house that birthed the album title (and whose cover art was done by Bob Dylan), Music From Big Pink is a landmark work that contrasted with the trippy and psychedelic rock scene at the time; both that album and the group instead focused on roots rock incorporating influences of Americana, country, blues, gospel, funk and soul. The album formally introduced to the world the talents of pianist/singer Richard Manuel; drummer/singer Levon Helm; bassist/singer Rick Danko; guitarist/chief songwriter Robbie Robertson; and organist Garth Hudson—all of them previously known as the Hawks and the backing group of Dylan. There’s a timeless grace, dignity and purity that run throughout Big Pink’s songs: the soulful and gospel-influenced ballad sung by Richard Manuel (co-written by him and Dylan); the iconic “The Weight,” sung by both Helm and Danko, that embodied the spirit of that era and has become a civil rights anthem thanks to the Staple Singers cover; the gritty funk of “Chest Fever” that featured that majestic intro by Hudson; the upbeat-sounding Dylan-Danko’s “This Wheel’s on Fire”; and finally the spiritual and sublime “I Shall Be Released.” One can trace today’s America/alt-country music to this record, which has also been admired by such artists as Eric Clapton; Music From Big Pink is not just one of the best debut albums of all time, but also one of the great albums in rock ever. Marking the album’s 50th anniversary is a deluxe boxed set that carries new mixes of Music From Big Pink; additional bonus material including outtakes Yazoo Street Scandal (the song later appeared on Dylan’s The Basement Tapes), “Tears of Rage,” a gritty performance by Helm on “Keys to the Hightway” and an a capella version of “I Shall Be Released,” highlighting the isolated and amazing vocals of Manuel; plus a Blu-Ray disc that presents the album in 5.1 surround sound, a two-LP set; and a 7-inch single of “The Weight/I Shall Be Released.”

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