Mobile Fidelity Gives Basement Tapes Penthouse Treatment
There were bootleg LPs of course, and some of the recordings from these legendary sessions did make it out on boot vinyl but for most fans, Dylan and the Band’s “basement tapes” existed only in the form of whispers.
The “basement tapes” grew in stature both because they were unobtainable and because these were private recordings of Dylan and a group of musicians later to be known as The Band, made in the basement of their headquarters in a big pink house in West Saugerties, New York.
In other words, these were not glossy studio productions but rather what these musicians, particularly the by then god-like Bob Dylan recorded for their own pleasures. Everyone wanted to hear these pure gems but other than on miserable sounding, hard to find bootleg LPs, few managed. During this period following Dylan’s motorcycle accident and after Dylan had toured around the world with The Hawks, more than one hundred tunes were recorded in that basement and in studios in the Woodstock area.
Funny thing though: Manfred Mann recorded one of the songs from those 1967 sessions in 1968 and had a big Top 40 hit with “Mighty Quinn”. How he got the tune, which is not on this basement tapes album, remains unclear. Perhaps the South African, whose real name is Manfred Lubowitz, had some spiritual/religious connection to Mr. Zimmerman because in 1972 Mann produced the album Lo and Behold by Coulson, Dean, McGuiness, Flint (Sire SAS 7405) with all words and music by Bob Dylan.
That album contained the title track, which is on The Basement Tapes along with “Open the Door Homer,” and “Odds and Ends”— beating by four full years (back then a few musical lifetimes!) the official release of The Basement Tapes.
The release of this double LP (originally produced for record changers, with side one backed by side four), includes sixteen songs featuring Dylan and The Band along with eight songs by The Band, with overdubs added before the official release. So this is not really a “pure” recording of Dylan and The Band playing for themselves in that basement, but it’s still pretty damn close!
The Byrds recorded “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “Nothing Was Delivered,” and of course The Band later recorded “Tears of Rage” and the masterpiece “This Wheel’s On Fire” but most of what’s here is not on that masterful level, though all of what remains does not disappoint the near mythical hold the unobtainable tapes had on Dylan’s fans back then and the original double LP (Columbia C2 33682) reached number 7 on the Billboard Top 200 charts—impressive for a “homemade” recording engineered by keyboardist Garth Hudson and sounding not at all like the ultra-slick recordings then popular and demanded by the record buying public, many of whom had also bought into reasonably high quality audio gear.
To get to the point: Mobile Fidelity’s remastering is close to miraculous, especially for anyone who grew up on the murky original. The Basement Tapes have long been out of print in any format, so to have them back on 180g vinyl cut from the original tapes and presented with pristine clarity for the first time (and sequenced as sides 1-2, 3-4) is great news for fans of Dylan and The Band.
Don’t expect polished studio sound of course, but also don’t expect the murky sound found on the original 1975 set. The clarity and transparency here will thrill fans of the original, though the mysterious fog of the lyrics and the dense, informal arrangements, remain thankfully intact.