The idea behind this ‘series’ is that once every two weeks another year will be brought into attention, starting with 1963 and moving onward chronologically. One and only one album will be selected and written about from each year, the criteria being a mix of personal preference and historical relevance. If you stumble upon this article by any chance and end up not clicking the ‘x’ button in disgust, keep in mind that I would love to hear your choice for the respective year – from a simple comment stating the album’s name, to detailed analysis that will destroy my argument and make me reconsider my reasoning. Remember, one of the main reasons I’m doing this is to get a better perspective of what albums I’ve missed out on, from each period of time.
There is that moment that I think we’ve all experienced at some point when, upon discovering a famous band that you haven’t heard before, you ask yourself “Why the hell didn’t I listen to this earlier?”. You’ve probably always known about their existence, you may have even heard a song here and there, but somehow never could be bothered to fully dive into their discography. Until now. And at the moment, they’re blowing your mind and you can’t stop listening to them.
That exact thing happened to me with The Band. And in a way, I can understand my passive attitude towards them over the years. The Beatles were my gateway into music, as I’m sure was the case for many people. Then it’s only natural to move onto other artists labeled as (the annoying) “classic rock” such as Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and so on. After that, maybe dig deeper into the lost-treasures of the 60’s and give Love, The Zombies, Velvet Underground or Jefferson Airplane a try. Maybe add a bit of punk, some metal or a smidge of grunge. The point is, The Band never get mentioned in the same breath as those bands, at least not here in Romania. At best, the choruses of ‘The Weight’ and ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ will ring a bell for some, or Dylan-geeks will be at least aware of their existence. At worst, you’ll get a confused look when mentioning them. Or, at even worse worst, people will think of them as “just another boring country group”.
What it has to do with, I think, is their image. Listeners as well as reviewers refer to their second album in particular as the ‘quintessential American album’. It is true that many of the themes addressed through the lyrics deal with the American (often rural) life, as well historical events. It is also perfectly true that sonically this album combines country, folk and americana resulting in a backwards-looking vibe. But the inspirations behind the songs and the final result are two completely different matters – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the ‘quintessential American album’ tag is in any way undeserved, I just feel this album is much more than that. This is music that transcends everything – there is such a huge amount of universal emotion packed into these tunes that still rings true today, so many effective instrumental touches that can teach those who abuse virtuosity in music a lesson, such heartfelt vocal performances backed-up by rugged, inviting harmonies that one can’t help but connect with, regardless of being able to relate to the subject matters or not.
I do not know the exact reason for choosing a name such as The Band, but the first thing that I associate it with is just how tight the group is as a whole on this record. Although Robbie Robertson writes or co-writes all of the 12 songs, each member gets his time in the spotlight at one point or another. There’s a lot of instrument-switching, and showing-off is abandoned in favor of blending each member’s contribution together. They truly sound like a band, with every member indispensable and with the sum of them all being greater than the individual parts.
Plenty of words have been written about the influence of this record and its predecessor, about how they presented themselves as the wise, experienced, down-on-earth antidote to psychedelia’s excesses. Just ask Eric Clapton, the man who supposedly quit Cream in order to adopt a more Band-influenced approach towards song-writing after hearing the albums. Or just ask the hundreds of bands they influenced and continue to influence. I want to highlight those last few words in particular, because I feel ‘The Band’ as an album still sounds relevant today, despite being so perfectly characteristic of the direction it shifted music during the late 60’s. It somehow is both of its time and timeless. And there are not many albums that can claim to that.
Do you agree? What’s your favourite album from 1969?
Categories: Album of the Year