Box Set Season, part 1

With Christmas coming very soon, it is officially box set season.

First there is Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes Complete:

After his motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan withdrew from the spotlight to Woodstock, NY (several years before the rock festival, which wasn’t actually in Woodstock anyway). He spent many evenings playing music at “Big Pink,” the nearby house rented by his recent backup band the Hawks, soon to be renamed The Band. As this six-CD box documents, they played a number of traditional songs, rearrangements of some of Dylan’s older songs, and a whole lot of new songs Dylan had written. Although a number of the songs were recorded by others — including Manfred Mann (“Mighty Quinn”), Fairport Convention (“Million Dollar Bash”) and, of course, the Byrds and the Band themself; Coulson, Dean, McGuinness, Flint’s Lo and Behold album was almost entirely comprised of songs from these sessions — only a few ever appeared on Dylan albums.

The Basement Tapes Complete is the latest volume of Dylan’s ongoing “Bootleg Series,” which is only appropriate since it was interest in these tapes that led to the release of what is considered to be one of, if not the very first popular rock bootleg, Great White Wonder in 1969:

Now, 45 years later, the complete collection is officially available for the first time. That said, only a Dylan fanatic, of which there are many of us, would want the complete set. The best songs have long been available on The Basement Tapes, the official double album released in 1975 (although there were some complaints at the time about minor overdubbing and the inclusion of some songs the Band recorded in that basement without Dylan).  For fanatics, though, the set offers the bridge between Dylan’s “electric period” culminating on Blonde on Blonde and his return to roots on John Wesley Harding.

The “Super Deluxe” edition of Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Edition also contains six discs:

The Velvet Underground‘s third is considered their “quiet album,” especially following the very loud White Light White Heat, which ended with the very noisey “Sister Ray.” This was also the first VU album recorded after Lou Reed forced John Cale out. This was now Lou Reed’s band. To make that point totally clear, after Val Valentin initially mixed the album, Lou Reed remixed it to highlight his own vocals. Leaving the band sounding muffled, this version became known as “The Closet Mix.” The two mixes can be compared on the first two discs of the set. The third disc offers still another, formerly promo-only mono mix.

The fourth disc compiles the recordings that have come to be known as The Lost Album. They are far more upbeat than most of the band’s earlier recordings, revealing Reed’s love of classic rock and roll and leading the way to the band’s last album, the relatively straight rock album, Loaded, that holds the later classic “Sweet Jane.” However, the tracks have long been available on the compilations VU and Another View (they have been remastered here).

So the final two discs are the real attraction.  They contain a very good live show (compiled from two 1969 shows at the Matrix in San Francisco). A few of these tracks have been previously released, but the source for this release sounds better. And it includes a preview of the song “Rock and Roll,” another later classic that would appear on Loaded.

Part 2 coming soon, featuring Captain Beefheart and the Go-Betweens

ps — when buying box sets (or imports), I highly recommend importsCDs; they are consistently $20-$30 cheaper than most other sources.


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