This will be a semi-regular feature where I pick a band I haven’t listened to more than what has played on the radio. I was going to try to make it weekly, but I quickly realized that was too lofty of a goal since I really want to listen to the entire band’s discography.
I’ll say it even though most of my friends will argue for Rush – The Band is the greatest band to ever come out of Canada. Hell, it would be hard to argue if you wanted to expand that to all of North America.
The Band is actually the group that made want to start this project. The only song I really knew by them was “The Weight” even though I had heard others. I never actually dug into their albums.
I started with Music from Big Pink, which just had its fiftieth anniversary. The first song just hit me in the gut. “Tears of Rage” song by Richard Manuel with such raging agony may be the greatest first song in any band’s discography. The rest of the album was just as good. I always though Helm was an amazing singer but really the three main singers – Helm, Manuel, and Rick Danko – keep making me switch my allegiance with all three.
That’s the great thing about The Band – they were more than the sum of their parts but each part is needed to make the machine work. Helm has that southern Shelby Foote type of voice that can transport you to the time his story is being told as he does on their second album standout “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” Manuel, to me, sounds like Cat Stevens if all Cat Stevens listened to was soul and blues. Danko, who along with Helm, could find a groove and work the hell out of it. And when he sings, he emotes in a way that elevates the song. Then you have Robbie Robertson who wrote most of the songs and is a great guitar player in his own right. Finally, you had Garth Hudson who could probably play any instrument you placed in front of him.
While Music from Big Pink and The Band get most of the press, the rest of the albums they recorded together are some of the best of any rock band. Stage Fright, in particular, is a favorite mainly because I like songs from bands that are about themselves.
I finally watched The Last Waltz for the first time. After spending two weeks listening only to The Band, I was fascinated and disappointed. It is a great rock documentary (probably top two or three ever made), but I actually wished it would have just been them and maybe Bob Dylan (who did write a few of their songs). In my mind, they were the main attraction, they didn’t need any help.
Now, I need to make room in the Bs in my record collection.
Next up: The Cars