Monday, June 18, 2012

Bob Dylan - Big Pink

Bob Dylan - Big Pink
(soniclovenoize Basement Tapes reconstruction)

Side A:
1.    Odds and Ends
2.    Million Dollar Bash

3.    Lo and Behold!

4.    This Wheel’s On Fire

5.    I Shall Be Released

6.    Please Mrs. Henry

7.    Too Much Of Nothing

Side B:
8.    Tears Of Rage
9.    Yea! Heavy and A Bottle Of Bread

10.    Crash On The Levee

11.    You Ain’t Goin Nowhere

12.    Quinn The Eskimo

13.    Open The Door, Homer

14.    Nothing Was Delivered


This is the Bob Dylan album that never was: his Basement Tapes, organized into a singular, cohesive album as it would have existed in 1967.  I’ve used all the original recordings that do not have the extra overdubs found on the official release from 1975, and I’ve remixed this into true stereo.  This will be nothing you haven’t heard before (although they are all my own unique stereo mixes), but this is presented as the presumed album that chronologically would have appeared between Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding. 

Throughout the first half of the 1960s, Bob Dylan had evolved from an acoustic troubadour into amphetamine-fueled rocker, culminating by his 1966 Tour, backed by The Hawks.  He had encompassed the ever-changing social and musical dynamics of the 1960s and now the ears of the public were turned to Bob Dylan in a time of Brian Wilson’s symphonic pop and The Beatles neo-psychedelic rock.  Ready to hear Dylan’s next triumphant move, they instead heard the sound of a motorcycle crash, putting Dylan out of commission and forcing him into hiding in Woodstock, New York.   

By the summer of 1967, when psychedelic music was running rampant, Dylan was slowly joined by members of The Hawks—now known simply as The Band—and began recording basement jams of folk standards as Dylan recuperated from his crash.  The jams quickly evolved into original Bob Dylan compositions, initiating a completely new era of Dylan’s songcraft, both lyrically and compositionally.  Gone were the protest refrains, surrealist verses, heavy subject matter and epic song-lengths that had dominated his work in the previous six albums.  The songs were more concise, lyrically free-form and nonsensical, the arrangements Americana—the complete opposite of the music being played outside that basement studio in Woodstock, New York, which The Band called The Pig Pink.  What’s more, the recordings pioneered the Lo-Fi Movement: sonic clarity was abandoned to capture the laid-back mood and atmosphere and the performances were even sloppy at times! 

But the hundreds of songs that Dylan and The Band produced at this time remained unheard to the general public aside from bootlegs and the inner-circle of music publishing brokers.  It wasn’t until the end of 1967 when Dylan released his subdued and stripped folk album John Wesley Harding, which echoed all the musical components he had developed in the basement of The Big Pink earlier that year.  Brilliant as it was, the album was an entirely different set of songs; absent were the Big Pink classics, apparently reserved for other artists through a collection of 14 of Dylan’s Big Pink songs circulated as a publishing demo tape for his own Dwarf Music.

After almost a decade of bootlegging what was known as Dylan’s unheard masterpieces, 1975’s The Basement Tapes was the official word from the mouth of the man himself, a 2LP collection of selected Big Pink basement recordings.  But was a true representation of these basement tapes really what the public received?  Most of the material was slightly altered with new overdubs for a more “releasable” sound; the songs were mixed to duophonic fake stereo; Dylan’s tracks were interspersed with The Band’s originals that were never recorded during the Big Pink Sessions; and die-hard fans noticed the lack of some of Dylan’s most classic recordings. 

This is an attempt to rectify those errors and omissions, and recreate what never was … What if the material recorded during the original Big Pink Sessions had been an actual official album, released in 1967, in-between Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding?  I have assembled the best of the 1967 basement tapes, remixed them into true stereo and created a cohesive album, the Dylan masterpiece that never was. 


*md5 file, artwork, and track notes included.


How does one create an album that never was, to choose 12 or 14 from a list of hundreds of recordings?  This is a daunting task for anyone, especially when this is a Bob Dylan album.  It’s impossible to know what this man had intended so many years ago—we don’t know what he’s intending at any given time in the present!  But we do have a big clue that serves as a starting point and how to construct a 1967 album of Big Pink material.

Our first clue is in the form of the 14-song Dwarf Music demo.  These were the songs shopped around in the fall if 1967 to music publishers, in the hopes to sell the songs as hits for other artists.  The tracklist was: Million Dollar Bash; Yea! Heavy and A Bottle Of Bread; Please Mrs. Henry; Crash on The Levee; Lo and Behold!; Tiny Montgomery; This Wheel’s On Fire; You Ain’t Goin Nowhere; I Shall Be Released; Tears Of Rage; Too Much Of Nothing; Quinn The Eskimo; Open The Door, Homer; Nothing Was Delivered.  These 14 songs are pretty much the core of the quality Dylan originals from the Big Pink Sessions, which is further supported by their inclusion on The Basement Safety Tape, two reels of backup stereo masters.  If there was ever an album planned for this material, this was it, or something close to it.

Although the track selection itself is rather strong, the problem is the sequencing.  The majority of the “nonsense songs” (“Lo and Behold!”, “Yea! Heavy and A Bottle Of Bread”, etc.) are grouped together as the first half of the album, while the more refined “serious” songs (“I Shall Be Released”, “Too Much Of Nothing”, etc.) are grouped together at the end of the album.  My reconstruction attempts to spread the fun songs amongst the serious songs to add an element of balance.  Also note that the track “Odds and Ends” was used as the opening number, effectively replacing “Tiny Montgomery” in the running order due to time constraints and quality control (It was also appropriately excluded from the Basement Safety Tape stereo reels).  Notice that thus we have alternate versions of “Too Much Of Nothing” and “Nothing Was Delivered.”  Finally, two 20-minute sides were constructed as per industry standards at the time. 

Sources used for my set were the remastered, pitch-corrected and cleaned-up versions taken from the A Tree With Roots bootleg box set and the Complete Basement Safety Tape.  They are all the original recordings, minus the extraneous overdubs The Band had recorded in 1975.  All tracks existed in their master stereo 2-track form with both tracks panned hard and left.  For my recreation, I chose to create a more palatable stereo remix: the track 1 (vocal/guitar/piano) is panned at 1 o’clock and the remaining track 2 (bass/organ/drums/lead guitar) is panned at 9 o’clock.  The effect is a vocal track mostly centered--but slightly to the right--so that the reverb appears to move into the right channel, with the remaining instruments panned to the left.  The mix becomes cleaner and more enjoyable, giving space and atmosphere non-existent on the originals, albeit a less dense mix since they are minus the later-day overdubs.   This benefits “I Shall Be Released” and “Quinn The Eskimo” the most, as they were never released in stereo form whatsoever. 

This album’s reconstruction allows the listener a better insight to the attitude and stripped-down demeanor of the original sessions, offering a concise and cohesive package of the sessions which can fit nicely into Dylan’s discography.  Artwork is included.  Enjoy, and “there was no more to tell…" 

25 comments:

  1. Great blog, appreciate the work. Keep going!

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  2. Hey sonic, good to see you posting again. Now that Demonoid is gone it looks like this is where we'll be seeing future updates?

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  3. This is really impressive. Thanks for your hard work!

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  4. Great work. I do miss Tiny, though.

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  5. Welp, the links are down for this too...

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  6. Just when I thought I didn't need another BT collection you come up with this. This is how the album should have been.

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  7. Brilliant idea..... Flac part 1 is missing now though....

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  8. Love the site and am having a blast in an alternate history kind of way. Unfortunately, all of Dylan's TBP links seem to be down.

    I do have a couple of suggestions:
    1) The Kinks - Four Respected Gentlemen
    2) The Doors - Celebration of the Lizard King

    Thanks again!

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    Replies
    1. Links updated.

      Thanks for the suggestions, I'll look into them...

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  9. Wow!!
    What A Most Incredible Site You Have - And What A Phenomenal Job You've Done!!!
    A Giant Tip Of The Hat To You. You've Created (& Re-Created) Some Fantastic Albums (I'm Posting A Little Farther Back,As I'm Currently Listening To "Big Pink" For The Hundredth Time.
    Anyways,Best Of Luck On All Your Future Projects!
    All The Best,
    Colonel Dan

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  10. Excellent work, but for me the sides should still end with "This Wheels On Fire" and "Tears Of Rage".

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  13. Fantastic post on a fantastic blog! One question though, why is Levon Helm on the back cover when he is not mentioned on the cover as a recording artist on the album, and not mentioned in any of the notes either! Robbie Robertson is the titled drummer, so was Levon not playing on any of these songs? And if he didn't then why is he on the picture on the back cover?

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  14. This nails the BT's for me, love what you've done here, thank you Sir!!

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  15. Great version! Just wondering why on the album art it says Pig Pink instead of Big Pink. Not complaining, I kind of prefer it that way. Great job! Thanks.

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  16. This is the collection that I was curious about a benefit from using tracks from the big box.

    Thanks!

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