Music From Big Pink was so radically different from contemporaneous rock and pop albums in 1968 that it was largely overlooked by most music critics and record buyers when released on July 1, 1968. Eventually, the debut album from The Band caught on, and when it did, everyone else discovered the first Great American Roots-Rock album and one of the most influential records ever compiled.
In mid-1968, the British Invasion was in its final phase, Sgt. Pepper’s was still the rage, psychedelic pop and psych-rock were dominant, Motown was gaining traction, and the earliest country-rock albums were just coming out (see my Top 25 albums for 1968 here). And then, out of left field came a sweetly unpretentious blend of rustic folk and stripped-down rock ‘n roll with Biblical themes, church-pipe organs, lonesome harmonies and lyrics about simple human values and tragedies, all from four Canadians and an Arkansas farm boy.
The album’s cover is a Bob Dylan watercolor, and Zimmy contributed three songs to the effort, including “Tears Of Rage,” co-penned with pianist Richard Manuel, whose hauntingly plaintive vocals on that song and “In A Station” contrast with the rough-hewn rhythm and vocals of bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm on “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Add Garth Hudson’s majestic organ work (particularly on “Chest Fever”) and Robbie Robertson’s subtle but distinctive guitar throughout, and Music From Big Pink sounds like nothing else of the time – and nothing since. (The inner jacket photos of the group against a Catskill Mountain backdrop and amidst a rural family are evocative and appropriate for the music they accompany).
Contrary to the title (and popular myth), the album was not recorded at the group’s communal, split-level, pink-sided ranch house they shared with former employer Dylan in West Saugerties, New York, just north of the village of Woodstock. The actual recording sessions took place in New York City and Los Angeles earlier in 1968, although a good deal of the practice sessions that led to the album were held in the basement of the house affectionately known as “Big Pink.” Those tapes were eventually issued as a collaborative album with Dylan, The Basement Tapes.
Music From Big Pink begat no Top 40 hits, but the signature track, “The Weight” has become a genre-defining period piece from the late 60s and one of the most covered songs of all-time. Music From Big Pink is unquestionably a must for any collector’s music by The Band, and a favorite of Dr. Rock’s. It’s #34 on Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 500 albums of all-time and can be downloaded as mp3 files or purchased as a CD from Amazon. Downloads for iPods can be found on iTunes. My Top 25 tracks from The Band are in the Playlist Vault.