Finally, "Music From Big Pink" on AAA Vinyl With BASS

Who begins a debut album with a dirge-like, mournful song taken at a heartbreakingly slow pace like Richard Manuel's "Tears of Rage?" The Band did on their debut album that didn't exactly hit the pop charts running.

Imagine the Capitol execs confronted by these opening lyrics:

We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
But now you'd throw us all aside and put us all away
What dear daughter 'neath the sun could love a father so
To wait upon him hand and foot and always tell him no?

Tears of rage, tears of grief
Why must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know we're so low
And life is brief

Not exactly a party album!

It was a terribly adult album that was defiantly uncommercial from the cover that had no writing on it to the back jacket that announced the name of the album in enormous letters but not who was making the music from what appeared to be a nondescript suburban home.

Unless a record buyer had read about it, there would be no way of knowing the cover art was painted by Bob Dylan or that the group making the music had formerly been the back-up band for Ronnie Hawkins and had then toured as Bob Dylan's backing band? At the time The Basement Tapes were passed around on bootlegs only among the cognoscenti.

Even those who knew what they were getting had to be take aback when they removed the shrinkwrap and opened the gatefold and saw a picture of what appeared to be a crowd waiting to audition for Grant Wood's "American Gothic." Standing amongst the "next of kin" were the members of The Band, appearing almost like Madam Tussaud wax figures.

The photo was a metaphor for what had been going on in West Saugerties, New York where the house stood and where The Band had been blending into the every day life of the upstate New York, Hudson River Valley town.

Richard Manuel's song (co-credited to Bob Dylan but there's some question about whether Dylan had a hand or simply got the credit) about a daughter's rejection of her father projects raw, painful, heart-breaking emotion not often heard on rock records (if in fact this record, devoid of tappable backbeats even is a rock record!). The opening song remains almost as powerful and stunning heard for the hundredth time in 2012 as it was upon first listen in 1968. It just rips you up.

The album includes Dylan's mysterious "This Wheel's On Fire," and "I Shall Be Released," a closer that ends the album where Manuel's "Tears of Rage" but the originals by Manuel and Robbie Robertson are every bit as worthy, from "The Weight" to "Chest Fever" to "In a Station." The one cover, "Long Black Veil" first popularized by Lefty Frizell and later by The Kingston Trio (Dylan was a fan), enhances the album's mood.

While the music was created in the pink house, the album was recorded in studios on both coasts and though it eschewed the obvious studio gimmicks and psychedelic razzle-dazzle that was then common, hidden within its outer austerity are many interesting production tricks. LIsten to the opener's mysterious wailing sound on the left channel weaving in and out with the keyboards, supposedly Robertson's guitar plugged into Garth Hudson's organ.

The vocals—leads and harmonies—mesmerize and are often spread across the stage, making them easy to individually decipher. One of the album's sonic highlights is the excellent recording of Levon Helm's deeply tuned drum kit, but if you have an original Capitol pressing you won't really hear it.

Why? Bob Ludwig told me the cut he made and sent to Capitol was rejected because it had "too much" bass and Capitol worried that the kiddies' phonographs wouldn't be able to track it. So they re-cut it, lopping off everything below 80Hz.

Unbelievable, right? So don't even think about searching for an original Capitol pressing. Why bother?

. Mobile Fidelity issued a 1/2 speed mastered version (MFSL 1-039) at the end of it's first vinyl era, pressed on Japanese "Super vinyl" and Stan Ricker's cut resurrects the bass and the amount of detail it delivers and the transient clarity are amazing, but the top end is thin and overdone so the midrange suffers and the vocal sibilants are terrifying. The end result is rather lifeless and bleached.

Capitol put out a 180g version a few years ago clearly cut from a digital source. It's got a better tonal balance than the older Mo-Fi edition, but perspectives are flat and so much detail gets lost, not to mention emotional content. Levon Helm's drum kit takes a hit—and not in the ways we like drums to get hit!!

So finally, after all of these years we have the ultimate Music From Big Pink. It's got the bass, it's got the proper top end, it has the mids correct and it gives you all of the space and low level detail missing from every other edition, though the original Capitol isn't bad in that department.

This is a "must have" album on the "must have" version. Mobile Fidelity has had its share of hits and misses. This is one of the hits. Don't miss it. (The "10" for sound is not because the recording really is a "10" but because compared to every other edition, this one is the very best).

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vinyldaze's picture

I just want to say the lyrics of "Tears Of Rage" sound like straight from the pen (typewriter) of Zimmy. Aslo don't forget, he recorded and sang it on the Basement Tapes in 1967 which clearly shows it was his. Also, not to forget that Rick Danko wrote the music to "This Wheel's On Fire."  If this sounds as good as you say, it goes to the top of the list for me.

roscoeiii's picture

Never had any luck getting a clean original pressing. But wow, I can agree with this review that this pressing is fabulous. The bass is prodigious, and the album has never sounded better to me. 


Now I'm gonna have to figure out if I want to grab the Basement Tapes or Reckoning next. Man, there is some good vinyl coming being reissued recently. 

rakalm's picture

Interestingly, I have this in a triple box set (STCR-288).  The other albums are Steve Miller Band/Sailor and Quicksilver Messenger Service.  I guess the bass is cut on mine as well?  I'll have to give it a listen.  Mint condition but a cut out.