It’s taken me awhile to get to some of the current batch of reissues of great rock albums from 1968. One, THE BAND’s Music from Big Pink, has been remixed for its big anniversary and sounds better than ever.
Now, Big Pink is one of those albums that in many people’s books you’re supposed to like. Most folks who aren’t big Band-ophiles will know “The Weight,” a song that was featured in the celebrated movie, Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. You might also know “Long Black Veil,” “I Shall Be Released” and possibly “This Wheel’s on Fire.” That’s half the album right there – why not get to know the rest of it?
Well, I was one who felt I should at least give it a try, some twenty or so years ago as a slightly arrogant college radio DJ who’d seen Easy Rider (didn’t get it then) and whose parents (mom and stepdad) had the soundtrack. That album had songs from the movie in it but – very lame – did not include The Band’s version of their own “The Weight,” which was the one used in the movie. The album cover said only “specially performed for this album by Smith”; no explanation of why the correct version wasn’t included. (It was probably stupid ’60s record company politics that kept The Band off the actual record.) But, as I later learned, it was on their own album, Music from Big Pink, which I had seen in record stores but knew nothing about. Eventually I pieced together that The Band had been Bob Dylan’s backing band for a few years, and that they had written some of the songs on Big Pink, their debut album, with Sir Bob. Alright, so The Band had great credentials. But what about the band itself? What were they like? You could say they were country rock or even “Americana before it was called ‘Americana’”. To call The Band rock ’n’ roll is a bit of a stretch, but they do fit in there at the country/folk end of the spectrum, and “Chest Fever” certainly has a killer rock groove. Whatever you call them, The Band were an interesting group of guys playing a unique version of rock that embraced country, folk, blues and gospel in a big way. Wiki it if you wanna.
This 50th Anniversary release of Music from Big Pink has been remixed by renowned producer/mixer Bob Clearmountain, who has clarified the, errr, mountain of elements that went into the original mix for a very nice listen. The vinyl version has been pressed on two 45 rpm records, giving more room for the songs to breathe (and giving you a slight workout from getting up to turn over the records a few times). These new mixes really do the record justice, though I don’t have a copy of the original to do a strict A/B comparison. (My memory rarely serves me well!) As pictured above, there is a special version available at The Band’s web site on pink vinyl, which was naturally the version I wanted. It may be sold out by now, but whether it’s pink or black, the vinyl Big Pink is a worthwhile purchase. For a deeper dive into The Band’s most celebrated album, the box set features numerous outtakes, a 5.1 mix of the entire album and the new stereo mix in 96kHz/24-bit high resolution (on a Blu-ray disc), as well as a bonus 7″ of “The Weight” b/w “I Shall Be Released.”
4/5 (Capitol/UMe B0028420-01, 1968/2018)