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” 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).”
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.
You can hear practically hear the bong hits in the background.
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???
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???
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.