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(Cover art believed to be the property of Columbia Records – used under Creative Commons license)
The Basement Tapes was the sixteenth studio album released by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, issued on June 26th 1975. The songs on the album featured vocals that had been recorded by Dylan in 1967 in his house in Woodstock, New York. Some of the songs had shown up in bootleg records beforehand but the release saw their first official circulation.
The Band were a five member group formerly known as The Hawks who had toured with Dylan during his world tour of 1965-66 and later changed their name. The members were four Canadians – Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson, along with one American, Levon Helm.
In July 1966, Bob Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident that saw him concealed from public view for an extended time period while he recovered. During this time, the members of The Band came to his house and together they recorded over 100 songs, everything from original compositions, covers of contemporary songs and traditional songs.
The songs saw a new style of writing from Dylan, who moved away from the extended narratives he had used in recent albums such as Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. The songs on this album were more intimate and used many traditional American music styles. There was humour in some of the songs while others look at deeper themes such as betrayal, the quest for salvation and even dwelling on nothingness. For many critics, the album saw a major change in style that had a great effect on rock music for the whole of the late sixties.
The album’s release came as a surprise when, in January 1975, Dylan gave his permission for a selection of recordings to be issued. Some say it was due to him ending a legal dispute over some of his songs while others thought he was capitalising on the success of Blood on the Tracks.
That year also saw The Band buying a property in Malibu, California called Shangri-La that they transformed into a recording studio. It was here that engineer Rob Fraboni was brought in to work on the material for the album, being described as the dominant voice in selecting the final tracks. New keyboard, guitar and drums were overdubbed to the original music, though Dylan himself was rarely in the studio.
The Basement Tapes was released by Columbia Records on 26th June 1975 and peaked at number 7 on the Billboard 200 album chart. It also reached number 8 in the UK and was critically acclaimed, with John Rockwell of the New York Times hailing it as ‘one of the greatest albums in the history of American popular music.’ It consistently received hight ratings from professional reviewers including a five star rating from The Rolling Stone Album Guide, whose Paul Nelson called it a collection of ‘the hardest, toughest, sweetest, saddest, funniest, wisest songs I know.’
In the early 1990s, a five-CD set was released containing all of the music originally recorded under the title of The Genuine Basement Tapes; then, in March 2009, the original album was reissued after a remastering that vastly improved the sound quality.
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