And Now We Will Explain How The Basement Tapes Could Have Been an Even Better Album

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02/21/2012 12:15 PM |


Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes, which Columbia released in 1975 and Legacy re-released in 2009, is about to get its “first audiophile remastering” by Mobile Fidelity. Of the 24 songs on the album, 16 were recorded by Dylan and the Band in Woodstock, NY, in 1967, while the other eight were just by the Band, recorded at various times between the original sessions and when the album came out nearly a decade later. Now, I’m not saying The Basement Tapes isn’t a great album, because it is a great album. But it could be better—or at least the official release could be. Below are the seven songs that never should have made it onto the record in the first place, along with six songs that deserved to instead, including five never-officially-released tracks (taken from A Tree with Roots bootleg).

First, the tracks we’ll be deleting:
“Orange Juice Blues (Blues for Breakfast),” “Yazoo Street Scandal,” “Tears of Rage” (It’s great, but the Music from Big Pink version, sung by Manuel, is better), “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread,” “Ain’t No More Cane,” “Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood),” and “Ruben Remus.” See? That wasn’t difficult at all, was it? Now, the worthy additions…

“All-American Boy”
“All-American Boy” was written by Bobby Bare in 1959, and soon became a #2 Billboard hit. By 1967, it had been mostly forgotten—-by everyone but Dylan and the Band, evidently, who did justice to the talking blues, about how to be an all-American guy with a “hot licks” guitar, with Rick Danko echoing Dylan’s vocals in a goofy, deep voice. Not unlike “Quinn (The Mighty Eskimo).”

“I’m Not There”
This track has since been “officially” released on the I’m Not There soundtrack (and covered by Sonic Youth on the same album), but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have made the original. Unlike most other Basement Tapes songs, which have a distinctive home-grown style to them, “I’m Not There” also could have fit right into Highway 61 or Blonde on Blonde, with some religious imagery in the occasionally incomprehensible lyrics foreshadowing Dylan’s eventual fascination with religion.

“See You Later, Allen Ginsberg”
You can hear practically hear the bong hits in the background.

“Sign on the Cross”
It’s not only the jewel of the unreleased Basement Tapes recordings—it’s the single best song to come from the sessions. “Sign on the Cross” begins tenderly, with Dylan—whose range on the track is incredible: weary and emotionally battered at the start then practically smiling by the end—accompanied by a light drum beat and gentle guitar work from Robbie Robertson. Two minutes in, though, Dylan’s voice picks up, while Garth Hudson’s swelling organ dictates the pace of the song. WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN REMASTERED???

“Wildwood Flower”
On the Tree with Roots version, Dylan’s voiced is buried beneath the music, particularly Danko’s bass line, so much so that the lyrics are tough to make out. This is something that could be easily fixed for this twangy number, but again: WHY HASN’T THIS BEEN REMASTERED???

“Young, but Daily Growin’”
Adapted from a British folk song dating back to the 1790s, “Young, but Daily Growin’” tells the sad tale of a 14-year-old girl being forced to marry a 12-year-old boy by her father. Spoiler alert: the girl disbelieves she could ever love someone so young, but she does, they get married, have a kid, and at the age of 16, he’s killed in battle, a “cruel fate has put an end to his growing.” Dylan had publically performed the song as early as 1961, learning it from Irish folk singer Liam Clancy, so he had mastered its tragic tone by 1967.

21 Comment

  • You are going to delete Ain’t No More Cane and Ruben Remus??

    Step away from the keyboard, you are out of your mind.

  • I’ll second yo yo pa on those and raise him the non-Dylan band songs (as good as anything on their first two albums) plus “Crash on the Levee” and “Tears of Rage” (my favorite-ever Dylan vocal). Otherwise, ace suggestions for the next “Bootleg Series” volume.

  • i always liked yeah heavy and a bottle of bread. and i don’t care for see you later alan ginsburg or all american boy.

    what i’m dying for is a remastered version of some of the cover songs

  • Forget it… how can you delete that great little ditty “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread”?

  • Triangle is one of the best Bob performances of all time, as is Santa Fe!!!

  • If you want light shed onto why Dylan really has never associated himself with this album then I’d invite you to read our article on The Basement Tapes at – Cheers:)!

  • I think “One Man’s Loss” from the unreleased stuff is another gem – very poorly recorded but has a great vibe, with Dylan’s voice off in the distance.

  • my comment is, this record is over rated. what you need to hear and what needs to come out are all the Dylan and Johnny Cash sessions on which Dylan even yodels. that should be a biograph issue. amazing stuff. I’m surprised it’s not spoken of very often, or at all. I’m lucky to have alot of it on tape. sure a couple of songs of Bob and Johnny are released but there is so much more. Self Portrait was way ahead of its time. But no one got it, including the pompous Greil Marcus, because they didn’t know where Bob’s roots really were.

  • What?!! You’re not including what is possibly the best version of ” Banks of the Royal Canal”….?

  • The Dylan/Cash sessions are boring and sluggish. They may sound exciting in concept, but not in reality. Self Portrait, which is deservedly underrated, is hardly where Dylan’s roots really lie, unless one believes that includes Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” covered by Dylan in lackadaisical fashion for that album. There is more life, passion, and sense of roots in a Basement Tapes reject like “Young, But Daily Growin'” than in all of Self Portrait.

  • Your inclusions are no better than the deletions. What about Royal Canal, Four Strong Winds, and Sign On The Cross…I’m Not There is over-rated mostly because it is just an idea for a song…and was never completed…

  • No need for me to argue with your deletions or additions. Not the ones I would have chosen, but close enough. I’ve listened to the tapes in every iteration and don’t want another version. There’s only so much one can do with old cassettes.
    There wasn’t a good enough recording of “I’m Not There” available until the version from Neil Young’s collection made it onto the I’m Not There soundtrack and we could at last hear most of the words. Many words were not understandable before then, so judgment had to be suspended or projected.

  • yah hey and a bottle of bread….removed??? judas!!!

  • You’re leaving “Bessie Smith” on there and getting rid of Dylan’s version of “Tears of Rage”? “Bessie Smith” is an outtake from “Cahoots” that Robertson actually engineered to sound WORSE so he could incude it on the Basement Tapes and therefore collect extra cash.

  • Don’t forget I Shall Be Released was not, ah, released on the original album. The obvious solution is to have a four or five disc complete basement tapes session. Sony has covered the pre-1967 period very well in the Bootleg Series, so this would be a good choice for a future release.

  • The entire basement tapes should be released. However the original recordings were crude 2 track and 4 track and I don’t think remastering will make much difference, especially to the level of instruments. The songs by The Band are great, although they should be released separately.


  • Next time just skip the tracks you don’t like, don’t write an article about it.

  • Yazoo Street Scandal is my favorite tune on the basement tapes. Obviously somebody has got their head WAY up their ass!

  • The ONLY song that blew me away here was “Sign on the Cross”. I’d listen to it over and over. “See You Later, Allen Ginsberg” is adorable, but hardly noteworthy. I was unimpressed with “Wildwood Flower” and “Young But Daily Growin’ “. “All American Boy” was ruined by Rick Danko. “I’m Not There” wouldn’t play here in the U.S.

  • Agree w/ the songs that should be omitted. Actually, I’d like to see all Band songs out and only include the tracks recorded w/ Dylan. Not a judgement on whether the songs are good or not but the feel is way different. Be nice to have an honest record of their initial collaboration. As far as the Remastering – I believe they recorded down to 2-track so if they fouled up the mixes there’s nothing remastering can do to fix them.

  • Hey, you’re wrong. Every song you think are worth deleting are great songs and thats how they made it so go fuck yourself rather then writing bunk reviews ya little rascal