The Band. It's a very clear and concise band name, isn't it? It glares at you with a type of arrogance and self-importance that The Band can afford. It's fitting that a band called "The Band" has become so legendary. It's difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when a band crosses the line from renowned to the status The Band has. For some bands, this can take years and even decades, but for others, this status is almost instantaneous. These are the most enduring bands, and they usually make the most enduring albums. 45 years later, The Band is still a household name, and 45 years after this The Band will still be a household name.
There is no such thing as a "perfect" album, but some especially ambitious efforts from some very talented bands come close. On nearly every album, there is at least one track that I feel the need to skip when listening to it. The Band's debut album, Music From Big Pink
, is one album that contains almost no skippable tracks. The Band manages to keep a very high level of consistency throughout their debut. From start to finish, The Band has created a roots-rock classic that captures the essence of non-psychadelic music of the late 60's.
While their music at first sounds very American and Southern, the Band hail from Canada. Originally known for their connections with the music legend Bob Dylan, The Band eventually went in their own direction from the simple folk of Bob Dylan. They turned into an almost-country rock, very warm band that makes music that reminds you of home. Most of their utilize a form of deceptively complex melodies and intrumentation and lyrics on top Beach Boysesque melodies. One of the perfect examples of this on Music From Big Pink
is the most well-known and best song (as well as one of the best of all time), "The Weight." The verses use a simple chord progression as well as interesting characters, but the chorus is the most brilliant part of the song. It uses a brilliant vocal harmony, yet still simple chords. The Band's music is not bloated nor trying to show off--it is simple, excellent, honest, and heartfelt.
While "The Weight" is the most well-known song on the album, it is not the far-and-away hit that cannot be touched. Brilliant songs are scattered all throughout, starting with the album opener, "Tears of Rage." The music is not typical of the band, compared to the fast-paced country rock of the following song. It's the only song on the album that I could imagine being played at a slow dance, due to its pretty melody. Again it demonstrates The Band's uncanny ability for excellent harmonies. "Chest Fever" is another brilliant tune, complete with stellar organ playing, an unusual element to this type of music, and a catchy chorus. One not as well known highlight is the sparse, beautiful, "Lonesome Suzie." The track aches with depression, and Richard Manuel's vocals do the tune justice. It's the type of song that could have been sung by a 1950's R&B girl group, showing the versatility of Music From Big Pink's
music. Another favorite of mine is the slow-paced, beautiful, closer track. Written solely by Dylan, Richard Manuel wails the soulful lyrics in a mildly irritating falsetto, but the gospel aspect of the lyrics and general overall strength of Bob Dylan's songwriting overrides Manuel's delivery. The lyrics evoke similar imagery as a traditional folk song.
Even though there are some tracks that stand out above the rest, as a whole, the album works. It is not one piece of music that lets each song lead into the next like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
, but nevertheless the album works perfectly together. The track listing is also great, with Tears of Rage being an attention-grabbing opener and I Shall Be Released a beautiful closing track.
Many of The Band's songs contain very underrated musicianship. When people talk about the band, they don't usually compliment their bass or guitar playing, but they should. Every member of the band just clicks with each song, and they all mix together wonderfully, as demonstrated on the highlight "Chest Fever." Along with the brilliant organ playing echoing Bach, the chorus's squawking guitar lines and wandering bass line are also worth a mention. The folky style of the album usually does not try to have virtuosic guitar playing or thunderous drum fills, but The Band plays their music with all the enthusiasm and skill of a hard rock band.
The Band is clearly influenced from a number of different bands and musicians from the sixties. They channel a number of different genres to create an original sound that they use again on their also excellent self-titled follow-up. The band is able to craft down-to-earth excellent songs because of the excellent song-writing ability of the band members, and Bob Dylan, who contributed to three songs ("Tears of Rage," "This Wheel's On Fire," and "I Shall Be Released). This album alone propelled The Band into fame and their legendary status, something that bands usually have to work very hard to earn. This is their enduring masterpiece.