I removed the majority of the music on my iPhone a few months back. I did this mostly for the sake of clearing up space, and also because I use Spotify to stream a lot of my favorite music.
But as I don’t want to eat up a ton of data and risk paying overages for exceeding my data plan, I usually keep some music on my phone so I can use it like an iPod when it is convenient.
(Bob Dylan’s “Series of Dreams” always captures my imagination, and it definitely made the cut to be added to my iPhone.)
I was adding some Bob Dylan materials to my phone the other night, and that can be tricky. What do you add? What do you leave off? A lot of the man’s recorded output is worthy of appreciation and study. But I don’t have unlimited space, so I was doing a lot of picking and choosing. Darn few albums were included in their entirety (and among those was “Love and Theft,” the 2001 release that may just be my favorite Dylan album of all his works).
Sometimes it was pretty difficult to filter out songs. But for one era of Dylan’s recording, I made the effort to include lots and lots of material. That era involves The Band, and the collected works fall under the banner of “The Basement Tapes.”
The first legitimate* release of this material came in 1975. It features some overdubs as well as a handful of songs recorded by The Band after the fact … It may not have been what some Dylan purists wanted, but it’s a hell of a statement.
(* Many recordings from “The Basement Tapes” were included on “Great White Wonder” and other Dylan bootlegs.)
I got my first tastes of “Basement Tapes” goodness with the “Biograph” box set, which I checked out from the public library as a teenager. That box set made me a “real” Dylan fan, giving me the interest to dig deeper. I started to pick up the albums one by one, and “The Basement Tapes” always managed to be among my favorites.
(Fans of the Basement Tapes materials had the choice of a deluxe six-CD box set or a two-CD compilation of the music when it was released in 2014 in the Bootleg Series.)
In 2014, fans of Dylan, The Band and “The Basement Tapes” got a long-awaited treasure trove when the latest Bootleg Series release featured the Basement Tapes materials (available in a deluxe box set or as a two-CD compilation). My wife got me the box set as a gift, and I’ve spent hours with it. It’s a gift that keeps on giving, and it is one of my favorite albums of my lifetime.
Is every scrap of music on the box set a masterpiece? No, of course not. And Dylan and The Band didn’t think other ears would hear a great portion of this music. Some of it was just for fun, some of it was trying stuff out, some of it was about “keeping limber” despite not touring or being in the studio, and some of it was about recording some ideas and floating demos out for other artists to consider for release.
But a great portion of these songs are truly magnificent. And it’s not just having the songs that makes this set so valuable. Sure, there’s a book available with the box set too, with photos and notes about these sessions and the songs.
There’s also this feeling of being there. Some tapes start after a song already has commenced, and some tapes cut off abruptly before the songs have wrapped up. But the general quality is pretty amazing. You hear fingers on the guitar strings, you almost feel the singers as they breathe. You feel like you’re sitting in the Red Room, or in the converted garage. The atmosphere if intoxicating!
These songs, the surreal characters, the mix of original lyrics and melodies with old songs and occasionally slapdash performances contributes to the specialness of this music and of this era. I think this music may just be Dylan’s best, even if it isn’t always my favorite. It’s alive, this music thrives, it has a spirit and style and color that is simply unparalleled.
Sure, I love “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Blood on the Tracks” and all the other incredible Dylan records, but there is something magnetic in the Basement Tapes era that always brings me running back, eager to listen to these songs over and over again.
So when I was piecing together my iPhone playlist of Bob Dylan goodies, I indulged on materials from “The Basement Tapes” (1975) and the 2014 Bootleg Series releases. Did I put everything on the phone? Nope, but I think you’ll find most of the highlights here.
It can be hard trying to boil down an artist’s recorded output to what amounts to a (large) collection of highlights, and Dylan is especially difficult to narrow down. But anyone’s selection of career highlights should include “The Basement Tapes.”
Consider these songs: “Odds and Ends,” “Million Dollar Bash,” “Lo and Behold!,” “Tears of Rage,” “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread,” “Too Much of Nothing,” “Tiny Montgomery,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “Nothing Was Delivered,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “I’m Not There (1956),” “I Shall Be Released,” “Quinn the Eskimo” and “Sign on the Cross.” Those 14 tracks would make an astounding, breathtaking album by themselves. And these are just the tips of the iceberg!
When I’m out and about and I have my Dylan playlist going, you can bet that I’ll be eager for “The Basement Tapes” to make an appearance. Whether I’m walking, driving or reading, this music makes for a stellar soundtrack. Heck, I may just listen to it again today.
Care to join me?