#1. The Band
Commonly referred to as “The Brown Album," The Band’s sophomore effort, The Band, is every bit as good as their first album. And, considering I have it listed at the top of this list, that much better too.
Released a month after the Summer of Love had ended, The Band is everything that concept never could be: good, authentic and unpretentious. Surprisingly, it hit #9 on the Billboard charts (and, for some reason, shot up to #10 in 2000 on Billboard’s Internet Albums chart) and its most well-known sung, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” is commonly (and sadly) associated with the horrific Joan Baez version.
The album begins with “Across the Great Divide,” which also happens to be the name of sub-par Band retrospective that came out in the late 90s. Everything that needs to be known about the album is heard in its horn, piano and guitar-filled of “Standin’ by your window in pain…” A great start to a great album.
“Rag Mama Rag” and, although it appears later on the album, “Up on Cripple Creek” are very similar in their swampy sound. The noises that Garth gets out of his instruments on “Up on Cripple Creek” should be held in a time capsule for future generations to admire. Levon’s “he he” is pretty good too.
Much time has been spent on writing and discussing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and, although I’m slightly tired of hearing it, it’s rightly so. The song could work both in a music and history class, with its details of the Civil War. Although Baez did change it from “there goes Robert E. Lee” to “there goes the Robert E. Lee,” referring to the boat.
“When You Awake” and “Whispering Pines” are the slow songs on the album and while they aren’t great, they’re not bad either. It just seems like a lot of The Band’s emotion had been stripped while recording “Up on Cripple Creek,” among others. But I will make this bold proclamation: The Band is one of the few albums that doesn’t have a single bad song on it. That’s very, very rare.
The next four tracks get largely overshadowed by the “hits” from the album but they’re arguably the heart and soul of it. Book ended around “Rockin’ Chair” and “Look Out Cleveland” are “Jemima Surrender” and “Jawbone,” and on all but “Rockin’ Chair,” (which instead features “Ragtime Willie”) Robbie finally gets a shot to prove his guitar expertise. One of the reasons I’m so fond of The Last Waltz is because Robbie really shines playing his guitar and for that same reason, these three are some of my favorite Band tracks. That, and it’s fun singing “Look Out Cleveland” whenever I travel to Ohio or Houston, Texas.
The album ends with “The Unfaithful Servant” and a song many call the best thing The Band ever recorded, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).” For me, I enjoy the song but it sounds like it’s missing something. It’s also an odd song to end an album. But for all my complaining, Levon’s vocals really shine on some of Robbie’s best lyrics.
“Temptation stands just behind the door,
So what you wanna go and open it for?”