“TAKE CARE of your memories… for you cannot relive them,” sings Bob Dylan in Open The Door, Homer on this collection of half-hidden recordings from 1967. “You can’t? Of course you can,” he rebutted in another context decades later. Proving his change of mind, he’s made these Basement Tapes available in full to fans who’ve been knock-knock-knockin’ for ’em for a half-century.
The Basement Tapes’ strengths are what others usually call drawbacks.
With six CDs of music, here’s the basement’s kitchen sink, sans a few “unlistenables”. Sweetening added to 1975’s partial LP release has been stripped away and, after years of sleuthing, the cleanest sources were located. (A 2-CD set is available for the financially impaired.) In ’67, while recuperating from the “Judas!” tour, Bob and The Band kept sharp by rehearsing in Big Pink’s basement. Some of the bard’s then-new tunes were sent as publishing demos to The Byrds and others, and The Band released a few on 1968’s Music From Big Pink. Otherwise they simply revelled in making music for fun. In addition to future Dylan classics (You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, I Shall Be Released), they jammed on many shades of blues, honky-tonk, rockabilly, calypso, 19th century drinking songs, et al. Although keyboardist Garth Hudson ran tape, they had no idea that anyone might hear the results, save for the dozen-plus demos.
The Basement Tapes’ strengths are what others usually call drawbacks. The sound is murky, the performances are riddled with flubs, and with Levon Helm on leave, they were often drum-less. And yet, without music biz pressure, Bob and Band – young genii at their creative peaks – reached backwards (Testaments Old and New) and forwards (irreverence, no limits) and came up with something that exists outside of time. Authenticity was the goal of the ’60s cultural revolution and The Basement Tapes ignored every record-producing rule while remaining true to the muse. Listeners were bewitched.
Diehards have longed for The Basement Tapes Complete: the half-songs, multiple takes and in-jokes. Many own one or more bootlegs, but no one knew if there was more. There is. Thirty tracks that were never circulated in any form: Bob’s gorgeous ballads Edge Of The Ocean and One For The Road and a gospel-funk Blowin’ In The Wind. Dig for the first time Bob and the boys doing the Hank Williams hit My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It and you can hear the musical manger where blues and country had a baby called rock’n’roll. From that manger to the basement in West Saugerties, New York, we’re reminded that artists must break the rules of commerce to create work that lasts.
Listen below to a The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 sampler
And here The Band’s Robbie Robertson remembers the sessions…