It’s July 1, 1968. This Guy’s in Love with You by Herb Alpert is the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 list. But a debut album by a band with the simplest of names has been released. And it will change the future of music.
The Band (the band’s name is “the Band”), composed of five members, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson, had just released one of the best albums of all time (34th according to the Rolling Stone’s 2012 definitive list of the 500 greatest albums of all time). The songs, title of the album, Music from Big Pink, as well as the album cover, came with an eventful backstory.
The group of guys who made up the Band started off as members of the backup band for Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, the most influential American musician rock & roll has ever produced (Kemp, 2018). In July of 1966, Bob Dylan got into a serious motorcycle accident, having to cancel a large portion of his tour. He and his family retreated to Woodstock, NY. The backup band decided to relocate up there to be with their lead performer and continue to work in the laid back atmosphere of northern New York state. Two of the Band members moved into 2188 Stoll Road, the house known as Big Pink because of its pink paneled exterior.
It was in the basement of that house that the backup band and Dylan wrote and recorded songs together in a casual jam-session setting. Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman ultimately came to manage the backup band’s newly formed independent band, the Band, and secured them a recording contract. Grossman asked the Band members if they wanted to record with Dylan, and the group declined stating that they wanted “to do something new” (Pinnock, 2015). While the Band had separated themselves from Dylan’s shadow, they did a piece of him with them. The album cover was designed and painted by Dylan.
Music From Big Pink was an album like any other. A spinoff of the “Basement Tapes,” songs recorded with Dylan in the Big Pink basement, this album sound was completely new. Each of the Band’s members performed like individuals working towards a collective sound, instead of mixing and blending together smoothly as one. The sound was a mix of folk, blues, gospel, R&B, classical, and Rock & Roll (Eder, 2018). Although the album was not a chart topper (only reaching spot 30 with the album’s single, “The Weight” only reaching number 63), the Band’s debut album was critically acclaimed. Music legend, Al Kooper, wrote an article on August 10, 1968, just over a month after the album’s release, claiming that Music From Big Pink was the album of the year. Describing the sound as “White-Soul,” Kooper gave the album and the Band high praise (Kooper, 1968).
The album went on to inspire future musicians and their creations. Eric Clapton said that “it was one of his motivations for breaking up Cream” (a ’60’s power trio), and the Rolling Stones abandoned their “echoey psychedelic sound” and followed the Band’s authentic, “Americana” sound, leading to some of their most famous albums, Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Sticky Fingers (Tobocman, 2018). Even the Beatles tried to recreate their unique sound in their Let It Be sessions, the last album they would release as a group in 1970 (recorded in 1969). The Band’s sound was honest and pure, making it stick out during the ’60’s sound of psychedelic rock. Music From Big Pink marked the end of an era of acid rock and inspired the sound of what would become some of sounds of classic ’70’s rock. The feeling of home that was projected through their sound provided a necessary sense of community during a time of political turmoil.
The album’s only single, and most famous song off of the album, “The Weight,” was used the following year in the Academy Award nominated movie, Easy Rider. The song was then covered by Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations that same year in 1969. The soul cover reached 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 List, a significant 23 spots higher than the original. Then in 1970 Aretha Franklin covered the song with it reaching spot 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 List and #3 for soul/R&B tracks. The song continues to receive attention as it is still covered by a variety of artists such as The Grateful Dead, Panic! At The Disco, the Lumineers, Elle King and more.
Music From Big Pink continues to be an iconic and widely respected album. The Band was indicted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. Then in 2012, Rolling Stone ranked Music From Big Pink as the 34th Greatest Album of All Time (Rolling Stone, 2012). In celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary, a popular tribute band, The THE BAND Band, is performing in bars and clubs across the NorthEast this summer with their “50th Anniversary of ‘Music From Big Pink'” show. Even Bob Dylan’s guitar, used by the Band’s singer and guitarist, Robbie Robertson, in Music From Big Pink and during their performances at Woodstock in 1969 is set to go on auction on May 19th for an expected sum upwards of $600,000 (Blistein, 2018). While the Band might no longer be alive, Music From Big Pink lives on.
Link to Relevant 1968 Site: Aretha Franklin covered Music From Big Pink‘s single, “The Weight” in 1970, becoming a bigger chart topper than the original. This site discusses Aretha Franklin’s hit 1968 song, “Respect.” https://1968inmemory.web.unc.edu/2018/04/aretha-franklin-paying-r-e-s-p-e-c-t-to-an-american-icon/
Kemp, Mark. “Bob Dylan Bio.” Rolling Stone, 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/bob-dylan/biography.
Rolling Stone. “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” Rolling Stone, May 2012, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/500-greatest-albums-of-all-time-20120531/the-band-music-from-big-pink-20120524.
Greene, Andy. “Readers’ Poll: The Band’s 10 Greatest Songs.” Rolling Stone, Dec. 2013, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/readers-poll-the-bands-10-greatest-songs-20131204.
Pinnock, Tom. “The Band, Bob Dylan and Music From Big Pink – the Full Story.” Uncut, July 2015, http://www.uncut.co.uk/features/the-band-bob-dylan-and-music-from-big-pink-the-full-story-69989/4.
Gallucci, Michael. “How Bob Dylan and the Band’s ‘Basement Tapes’ Finally Saw Official Release.” Ultimate Classic Rock, Loudwire Network, Townsquare Media, Inc, 2018, http://ultimateclassicrock.com/bob-dylan-the-band-basement-tapes/.
Eder, Bruce. “The Band Biography.” AllMusic, AllMusic, 2018, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-band-mn0000038490/biography.
Tobocman, David. “Rock Albums That Changed the World: Music From Big Pink.” Esthetic Lens, Feb. 2018, https://www.estheticlens.com/2018/02/04/albums-that-changed-the-world-music-from-big-pink/.
Blistein, Jon. “Bob Dylan’s ‘Going Electric’ Guitar Headed to Auction.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 29 Mar. 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bob-dylans-going-electric-guitar-headed-to-auction-w518467.