The Only Band That Matters

The Band went from backing Ronnie Hawkins as The Hawks to backing Bob Dylan when he did his electric tour to being the most unsung band out there. While they achieved popularity in their time, scored hits, and certainly had the respect of all of their contemporaries, history unfortunately hasn’t yet brought Music From Big Pink and The Band to the forefront of classic rock must-haves like Let It Bleed, Who’s Next, or any The Rutles record.

Their first record, Music From Big Pink, broke ground with its traditionalism. Odd as it may be, The Band released their record in 1968, a time when psychedilia was transitioning to harder rock. Big Pink opens up with the slow song “Tears of Rage,” unheard of in 1968 when the conventional wisdom was opening with a rocker, and presents a return to folksy, roots-rock. The band of Canadians really knew American folk music and knew how to write songs about the American experience. While The Band initially drew attention because they featured several songs written by Bob Dylan (which were recorded earlier and appeared in an alternative from on The Basement Tapes,) people soon realized Robbie Robertson was a gifted writer himself, as it also held The Band’s most remembered and celebrated recording, “The Weight.”

The follow-up, The Band, didn’t have the standout hit like “The Weight” (though it did have “Up On Cripple Creek,”) but the music continued in its Americana tradition with songs of the Civil War like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” as well as the fiddle masterpiece “Rag Mama Rag.” My personal favourite on the record is “When You Awake.”

The Band consisted of five very talented musicians, with Robertson in the upper echelon of guitarists and with a sparse, economical playing style similar to George Harrison. They released albums together for eight years before calling it quits, and in between Music From Big Pink and The Last Waltz, they left a deep footprint on the musical landscape.