Mobile Fidelity Gives Basement Tapes Penthouse Treatment

Youngsters will find it hard to believe there was a time when legendary music existed for most only in whispers but that’s how it was in the late 1960s. We saw what they wanted us to see and heard what they wanted us to hear.

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.

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Martin's picture

Nice, mine arrived a few days ago, I'm looking forward to putting it on the turntable. After I give it a clean.

I have two pressings of this, a US Columbia Demo 1st press and a dutch pressing. Funnily enough I think the dutch pressing was better than the US. Will be really interesting to see how the MFSL compares. Given the excellence of most of Mo-Fis recent releases, should be good.

martint's picture

Like many I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the "Basement Tapes" on Mobile Fidelity and in fact had the album on order since I first saw it advertised last November. Have to say that, despite somewhat limited expectations based on age of the recording and the location, I am very disappointed with this record. My 1975 British copy is better in most ways than this reissue. Not being a technical based audio guy I am not sure what has been done to the record but there is now Sybilence in places where the original did not have any and the life just seems to have been sucked out of the music to some extent. I had to turn up the volume to match levels with the original. This album is definately murky and MF don't seem to have been able to address this problem.

Wish it were not so.

vinyldaze's picture

I remember that Dylan always considered these recordings subpar home recordings and only agreed to release them in 1975 because they were so widely bootlegged. He was always mystified by the fuss over them. They were being recorded as publishing demos with Garth Hudson managing the recording process. This is why tunes like "Mighty Quinn," "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"  were recorded by Manfred Mann, The Byrds, etc... too bad a couple of excellent songs like "All You Have To Do Is Dream" and "One Single River" were left off., 

talkingben's picture

Mr. Fremer is surprisingly underinformed about the basement tapes. There is no "mystery" about how The Mighty Quinn got to performers at the time; it was on the acetate that circulated. In fact I think it should've been mentioned that the 1975 release is a different beast from what people were listening to on bootlegs. The 1975 2LP set contains a handful of recordings by the Band that were not made as part of the "basement" sessions but were professionally recorded in a studio; and some of the tracks, like "Bessie Smith" and "Ain't No More Cane", seem to be 70s recordings. The Dylan-written songs received 70s overdubs by Robbie Robertson, too, when he "produced" the 1975 set. I don't know why it's stated here that "the basement tapes have been out of print in any form" -- the Columbia/Sony album (LP/CD) has never been out of print.

anelinamartin's picture

In the earlier times of the mankind or even about fifty to sixty years ago there music means a slience. a wispher a sound to the heart like harley davidson can't speak but its have words same with the the music. Gloves for motorcycle