Sit down kids and let me tell you a story. A story of a magical time, a musical king, lost treasure and an obsession with the forward movement of stones. Our story takes us back, to a enchanted place when flowers were ammo and love was free. The sixties. Few men were higher, in every sense of the word, than the hero of our tale Bob Dylan who radically changed the world of popular music and became a reluctant face of a revolution. But as with all fairy tales, the dream was not forever and tragedy ultimately struck our hero down. But from the ashes of accident rose a musical myth that few could hope to rival in intrigue, the Holy Grail of recordings, and the first ever bootleg; The Basement Tapes.
In 1966 Dylan had been riding the wave of unprecedented success, off the back of 5 years on the road, the release of double album Blonde on Blonde, a secret wedding and the astounding reception of Like A Rolling Stone. But what goes up must come down, with the pressure of being who he was weighing heavily on the artist. People close to Dylan described him as increasingly exhausted and destructive on his world tour, some going as far as to call it a “death trip”. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe it was only a matter of time before tragedy struck and forced a much needed change. Life delivered this blow in devastating fashion, as life tends to do when we have been ignoring the subtle signs, when Dylan came off his motorcycle near his home town of Woodstock on July 29, 1966. The circumstances surrounding the accident remain vague and varied, with Dylanolgists debating the validity of the accounts. While Dylan reportedly broke several vertebrae in his neck, no ambulance was called or hospitalisation recorded. For me, I don’t care, because what came to be the silver lining of this accident were the recordings made in the months to follow during his recovery, gifted to us now and restored to their former glory in The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Volume 11.
Following his accident, Dylan retreated from the glare of public scrutiny. Holed up in the basement of his touring band’s Upstate New York home, affectionately dubbed “Big Pink”, Dylan got busy recording. The Hawks, later to be known as The Band, backed their frontman in what has become a meeting of kindred spirits. In what started as a healing and cathartic musical exercise from a man that needed saving, became an urban legend to his fans. Whispers of over 100 covers, new songs and tidbits began to leak. Samples of the recordings were released and the bootleg was born. Until now, the allure and intrigue surrounding the recordings very existence has captivated the music world. What exactly happened in that basement? What else is on those recordings?
Now we know. This six disc compilation of well over 100 recordings is the first time the collection has been released in full, with a 38 track highlights version available as The Basement Tapes Raw. Tracks from these sessions went on to be hits for acts like The Byrds, Peter Paul and Mary and Julie Driscoll, so while not all unfamiliar, there is magic to hearing them in their infancy. Beautifully restored by Jan Jaust and Garth Hudson, the record gives the listener a rare invitation into that basement to behold the wonder of Big Pink in 1966. Hunters for this hidden treasure are not going to be disappointed in their loot, and I for one would destroy and pillage for a chance to get my hands on this. Luckily, we don’t have to.
Slow and stripped back, Bob Dylan and The Band deliver a collection of precious gems, each one as wonderful as the next. The flaws in delivery only add to the feeling of being a fly on the wall in the basement, none more so than the collapse into laughter at the 2 minute mark on Lo And Behold or the lyrics “look here you bunch of basement noise” in You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. Get Your Rocks Off feels like a jam with your mates between the laughter and quirky backing vocals as do the 3 part harmonies that are rife throughout. Extra special moments go to All You Have To Do Is Dream which is the quintessential hipster at his best, while he carries the beautifully tender track Tears Of Rage on the passion in his delivery alone. The piano driven, bluesy vibe in Nothing Was Delivered is full of soul and I Don’t Hurt Any More is wonderfully poignant in light of the story.
Nothing short of Mick Jagger playing an acoustic set in my backyard is going to top The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Volume 11. If you haven’t wrapped your ears around it yet, get to it. Because now that I have, this damsel in distress is going to be living happily ever after. The end.