The Band – The Band

The Band (1969)


1. Across The Great Divide 2. Rag Mama Rag 3. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down 4. When You Awake 5. Up On Cripple Creek 6. Whispering Pines 7. Jemima Surrender 8. Rockin’ Chair 9. Look Out Cleveland 10. Jawbone 11. The Unfaithful Servant 12. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)


This is one of those albums that makes you wonder what the hell was wrong with the people who made it because half of it is comprised of A to A+ level, jaw droppingly classic material. Unfortunately, the other half is weak cutesy bullshit. FUCK YOU, INCONSISTENCY!

Sorry about that. I was just yelling at this guy I know named Inconsistency Jones. He said something really offensive to me just now. Something about how I have a small penis and can’t satisfy a woman. I thought he needed telling off for being such I wiseass. Though I suppose I can see how one could assume I was referring to the second, self-titled LP by Canada’s the Band. I mean, have you heard it? And I don’t mean, “have you only heard ‘Up On Cripple Creek,’ ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,’ and ‘King Harvest (Has Surely Come)’?” Because if that is the case and you assume the remainder of The Band is of similarly exceptional quality, you might imagine that this is one of the greatest albums in rock ‘n roll history. Well, YOU’RE WRONG. Just like Inconsistency Jones is about my penis.

OK, I realize those first two paragraphs were basically like me saying, “Hey, have you ever read Mark Prindle? I have!” so I’m going to stop writing like that and instead continue my review in the staid, intellectual, and 100% profanity and typo free manner you all know and love me for. I guess I’ll start by discussing the songs here I really like to prove that I don’t have some irrational vendetta against the Band. Because I do really like those songs. My favorite is “Rag Mama Rag,” which is exactly what I always figured the Band sounded like all the time before I bothered actually listening to all their albums: a gritty, intriguing reimagining of American roots music, infused with the funky rhythms of the devil’s music, rock ‘n roll. The triumphant fiddle motif (played by Rick Danko, I think!), strummed mandolin, honky tonk piano, really weird, off kilter drumming (by Richard Manuel), and Levon vocals combine to make one of the coolest fucking songs I’ve ever heard. WHY DON’T ALL OF THEIR SONGS SOUND LIKE THIS? Or, more realistically, WHY DON’T ANY OF THEIR OTHER SONGS SOUND LIKE THIS?

They make little overtures toward that style though, like with the beloved Rebel anthem “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” With lyrics that focus on the specific human struggle of its narrator, Virgil Kane, instead of resorting to grand moral proclamations, why, it’s enough to touch even a dirty Yankee like me and add shades of gray to the Civil War story in a manner typically reserved for Ken Burns documentaries. The fact that it’s sung by a genuine Southern Man certainly helps. Rumor has it that Levon even helped write the lyrics, which wouldn’t surprise me, seeing as they’re uncharacteristically visceral for Rockin’ Robbie. It’s the Band’s lyrical peak, anyhow, but a close second would be “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).” Richard Manuel delivers a strong vocal performance playing a misfortune-besotted farmer who just loves paying his union dues… man, what is the deal with Robbie Robertson’s whole agrarian Luddite thing? Is he one of those people who thinks like, “Man, modern times are so plastic and overwhelming! I wish I could have been a farmer in the 19th Century and spent my whole life smelling like pig shit.” Yeah, well, I wonder if he actually had the chance to experience that how favorably he’d compare being a 20th Century rock star to shitting in a bucket and dying of dysentery at age 28. In any case, regardless of his motivation, the herky jerky verse and understated choruses of “King Harvest” make for a nifty contrast. Another classic. You also know the goofy hillbilly saga “Up On Cripple Creek,” which provides me a second opportunity (the first being my discussion of “Chest Fever”) to compliment Garth Hudson. Hey, Garth: nice job with that neat doinky clavinet part. Don’t get used to me being nice to you. Further highlights include the bright “Across The Great Divide,” with its high stepping piano and congenial horn section, and the rocker “Jemima Surrender,” built off an uncharacteristically dirty guitar lick from Robbie.

So that’s the can’t-miss half. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is bogged down by Robbie Robertson’s obsession with hokey 20s Tin Pan Alley chord changes. I mean, how do people who like rock ‘n roll even stomach cloying, corny-ass turds like “Rockin’ Chair” and “When You Awake,” or awful ballads like “The Unfaithful Servant”? “Oh to be home again down in old Virginny/With my very best friend/They call him Ragtime Willie”? What is that crap? If “Dixie Down” is a soulfully nuanced take on the Civil War era, “Rockin’ Chair” feels like an old plantation owner reminiscing about drinking sweet tea on his porch in the Antebellum South and looking out over his cotton fields. Blech. I have no idea what the hell “Jawbone” is supposed to be other than an incoherent mess. I do know that “Look Out Cleveland” is supposed to be old fashioned Chuck Berry-style rock ‘n roll, but it does not succeed in achieving this goal, mostly because, firstly, those corny Robertson chords, and second, Rick Danko is about as convincing at singing Chuck Berry-style rock ‘n roll as Channing Tatum is at acting. And now that I’ve mentioned every other song on here, I guess I’ll admit that I can tolerate, but hardly love, the piano ballad “Whispering Pines”… it sounds like Neil Young at his most effete.

So there you have it: one frustratingly schizophrenic mother of an album. I have no choice but to recommend it, but with the caveat that you can probably get most or all of the good songs on a greatest hits album anyway.


  1. victoid wrote:

    Well done noble bloggist. It is most heartening to witness the the return of the perspicacious Mr Etc to the highest ranks of musical analysis. I have nothing to add or subtract from this spot on deconstruction of The Band’s finest album. Yes, these are timeless rock classics. Yes the weakies are obviously inferior to the cuts that form the pinnacle of this group’s legacy. Their influence on descendent generations of tunesmiths is powerful and undeniable. I do have a soft spot for Look Out Cleveland, and don’t quite understand the Chuck Berry reference, but hey..C’est la musique! I also agree with your antebellum slaver’s perspective in the weird Rockin’ Chair
    My favorite song in this vein is from the great Tom Lehrer’s I Wanna Go Back To Dixie.
    Some juicy lyric:
    I wanna go back to Dixie,
    Take me back to dear ol’ Dixie,
    That’s the only li’l ol’ place for li’l ol’ me.
    Ol’ times there are not forgotten,
    Whuppin’ slaves and pickin’ cotton,
    And waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee.
    I wanna go back to Dixie
    I wanna be a dixie pixie
    And eat cornpone ’til it’s comin’ outta my ears
    I wanna talk with Southern gentlemen
    And put my white sheet on again,
    I ain’t seen one good lynchin’ in years.
    Carry on Mr Etc. Your good works recommend you.

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