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Bob Dylan’s Complete, Legendary ‘Basement Tapes’ Shall Be Released

A six-CD, 138-track Bootleg Series box set contains 30 songs fans have never heard before

Bob DylanBob Dylan

Bob Dylan

Elliott Landy

The 12th issue of Rolling Stone hit newsstands in June of 1968, with a cover story about a mysterious batch of 13 “rough but very listenable” Bob Dylan songs that had begun to circulate among fans. “There is enough material – most all of it very good – to make an entirely new Bob Dylan record,” wrote Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, noting that the material had been cut in Dylan’s upstate New York home with the Band. The headline read simply: Dylan’s Basement Tape Should Be Released.

The songs trickled out over the years –  on the 1975 double album The Basement Tapes and on bootlegs that fans have obsessed about endlessly. But on November 4th, Dylan will finally release the legendary sessions in their entirety: 138 tracks on six CDs, including 30 tracks that even fanatical Dylan fans never knew existed. (Hear one right now: our premiere of an alternate take of “Odds and Ends.”)

The previously unknown tracks include an epic, apocalyptic rocker, “Wild Wolf”; an early draft of “I Shall Be Released” with slightly different lyrics; a cover of Hank Williams’ 1949 classic “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It”; and country-fied versions of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “One Too Many Mornings,” featuring Band keyboardist Richard Manuel handling lead vocals on the first verse. “The stuff that people haven’t heard justifies, in every way, shape and form, all the hype, hubris and myth that surrounds these tapes,” says folk musician and writer Sid Griffin, who wrote the liner notes for this new collection (which is also being released as a two-disc version and three-LP set). “Some of this stuff is mind-boggling.”

Bob Dylan Basement Tapes

There are also many Dylan originals that have never been released outside of dodgy-sounding bootlegs, including “Sign on the Cross,” the trombone-heavy New Orleans ode “Bourbon Street,” the 1950s pop parody “I’m Your Teenage Prayer” and the jokey “See You Later Allen Ginsberg,” which ends with Dylan and the Band cracking up. Throughout the tapes, Dylan and the Band swerve from country to calypso to jazz to folk to rock and even Spanish music. “I’ve always heard them as a version of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music,” says Greil Marcus, a former Rolling Stone editor whose 1997 book Invisible Republic centers around the Basement Tapes. “Except this is five or six guys instead of dozens and dozens from all over the country.”

The Basement Tapes sessions began early in the late spring of 1967. Dylan had retreated to Woodstock with his young family. The Band (then known as the Crackers) had followed him there after a Blonde on Blonde tour that was called off when Dylan injured himself in a motorcycle accident. Informal recording began at Dylan’s home Hi Lo Ha, before moving to the basement/garage of a nearby house known as Big Pink. They wrapped in the fall of 1967 at bassist Rick Danko and drummer Levon Helm’s Woodstock pad.

Ostensibly, Dylan was cutting demos for other bands to record, but clearly a lot more was going on – especially considering the amount of time devoted to covering old standards. “We were playing with absolute freedom,” guitarist Robbie Robertson said. “We weren’t doing anything we thought anyone else would ever hear, as long as we lived. . . . It was like the Watergate tapes. A lot of the stuff, Bob would say, ‘We should destroy this.’ “

At the end of the sessions, Dylan’s camp sent a 14-track tape to various bands and publishing houses: Manfred Mann turned “Quinn the Eskimo” into a Top 10 hit, the Byrds tackled “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and Peter, Paul and Mary covered “Too Much of Nothing.” But people longed to hear Dylan’s versions. Marcus remembers getting a call from a stranger in early 1968, asking him to meet on a specific street corner in Berkeley at 2 p.m. sharp. “It was like a dope deal,” he says. “He handed me a cassette he got while working for the Rolling Stones. I invited 15 friends over to hear it. People were cracking up. People were crying. People were shocked.”

In the summer of 1969, a two-LP set titled Great White Wonder – the first bootleg of the rock era – hit record stores. About half the songs were Basement Tapes recordings. In 1975, Dylan allowed Robbie Robertson to oversee an official Basement Tapes release. Robertson collapsed stereo recordings into mono, overdubbed new drum, keyboard and guitar parts on many of the songs and added a few Band demos recorded years later. “It’s economical with the truth,” says Griffin. “I love what he did, but others saw it as painting on the Mona Lisa years after the paint dried.”

The 20 reel-to-reel tapes that hold the entire sessions sat in the Woodstock home of the Band’s Garth Hudson until about ten years ago, when made an arrangement with producer and archivist Jan Haust. Dylan’s office cut a deal with Haust that allowed the tapes to finally come out officially. “They had deteriorated some and a few reels were missing,” says a source close to the Dylan camp. “We had to find copies of a few on cassette and DATs.” Through painstaking research, and a little guesswork, the songs are presented in roughly the order they were taped, though a series of half-completed or poorly recorded tracks reside on the final disc. The material has also been remastered and sounds infinitely better than even the best bootlegs. “Everything is coming out, besides four or five things that just sound like distortion,” says the source. “We usually curate these packages more, but we knew the fans would be disappointed if we didn’t put out absolutely everything.”

Now that the Basement Tapes are finally being released, the Dylan camp is considering its next archival project. “We’re thinking we’ll revisit the 1975 era and Blood on the Tracks,” says the source. “The unheard stuff from there is crazy. You can hear the first day of recordings before they put all that echo on. It’s amazing.” A question about a possible follow-up to Bob Dylan’s 2004 book, Chronicles: Volume One, elicits a laugh and two words: “No comment.”

Here is the track listing for The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11

CD 1
1. “Edge of the Ocean”
2. “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” (written by Clarence Williams)
3. “Roll on Train”
4. “Mr. Blue” (written by Dewayne Blackwell)
5. “Belshazzar” (written by Johnny Cash)
6. “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” (written by Charlie A Feathers and Stanley A Kesler)
7. “You Win Again” (written by Hank Williams)
8. “Still in Town” (written by Hank Cochran and Harlan Howard)
9. “Waltzing with Sin” (written by Sonny Burns and Red Hayes)
10. “Big River (Take 1)” (written by Johnny Cash)
11. “Big River (Take 2)” (written by Johnny Cash)
12. “Folsom Prison Blues” (written by Johnny Cash)
13. “Bells of Rhymney” (written by Idris Davies and Peter Seeger)
14. “Spanish is the Loving Tongue”
15. “Under Control”
16. “Ol’ Roison the Beau” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
17. “I’m Guilty of Loving You”
18. “Cool Water” (written by Bob Nolan)
19. “The Auld Triangle” (written by Brendan Francis Behan)
20. “Po’ Lazarus” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
21. “I’m a Fool for You” (Take 1)
22. “I’m a Fool for You” (Take 2) 

CD 2
1. “Johnny Todd” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
2. “Tupelo” (written by John Lee Hooker)
3. “Kickin’ My Dog Around” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
4. “See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 1)”
5. “See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 2)”
6. “Tiny Montgomery”
7. “Big Dog”
8. “I’m Your Teenage Prayer”
9. “Four Strong Winds” (written by Ian Tyson)
10. “The French Girl (Take 1)” (written by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson)
11. “The French Girl (Take 2)” (written by Ian Tyson and Sylvia Tyson)
12. “Joshua Gone Barbados” (written by Eric Von Schmidt)
13. “I’m in the Mood” (written by Bernard Besman and John Lee Hooker)
14. “Baby Ain’t That Fine” (written by Dallas Frazier)
15. “Rock, Salt and Nails” (written by Bruce Phillips)
16. “A Fool Such As I” (written by William Marvin Trader)
17. “Song for Canada” (written by Pete Gzowski and Ian Tyson)
18. “People Get Ready” (written by Curtis L Mayfield)
19. “I Don’t Hurt Anymore” (written By Donald I Robertson and Walter E Rollins)
20. “Be Careful of Stones That You Throw” (written by Benjamin Lee Blankenship)
21. “One Man’s Loss”
22. “Lock Your Door”
23. “Baby, Won’t You Be My Baby”
24. “Try Me Little Girl”
25. “I Can’t Make it Alone”
26. “Don’t You Try Me Now”

CD 3
1. “Young but Daily Growing” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
2. “Bonnie Ship the Diamond” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
3. “The Hills of Mexico” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
4. “Down on Me” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
5. “One for the Road”
6. “I’m Alright”
7. “Million Dollar Bash (Take 1)”
8. “Million Dollar Bash (Take 2)”
9. “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Take 1)”
10. “Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Take 2)”
11. “I’m Not There”
12. “Please Mrs. Henry”
13. “Crash on the Levee (Take 1)”
14. “Crash on the Levee (Take 2)”
15. “Lo and Behold! (Take 1)”
16. “Lo and Behold! (Take 2)”
17. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Take 1)”
18. “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere (Take 2)”
19. “I Shall be Released (Take 1)”
20. “I Shall be Released (Take 2)
21. “This Wheel’s on Fire” (written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko)
22. “Too Much of Nothing (Take 1)”
23. “Too Much of Nothing (Take 2)”

CD 4
1. “Tears of Rage (Take 1)” (written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel)
2. “Tears of Rage (Take 2)” (written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel)
3. “Tears of Rage (Take 3)” (written by Bob Dylan and Richard Manuel)
4. “Quinn the Eskimo (Take 1)”
5. “Quinn the Eskimo (Take 2)”
6. “Open the Door Homer (Take 1)”
7. “Open the Door Homer (Take 2)”
8. “Open the Door Homer (Take 3)”
9. “Nothing Was Delivered (Take 1)”
10. “Nothing Was Delivered (Take 2)”
11. “Nothing Was Delivered (Take 3)”
12. “All American Boy” (written by Bobby Bare)
13. “Sign on the Cross”
14. “Odds and Ends (Take 1)”
15. “Odds and Ends (Take 2)”
16. “Get Your Rocks Off”
17. “Clothes Line Saga”
18. “Apple Suckling Tree (Take 1)”
19. “Apple Suckling Tree (Take 2)”
20.”Don’t Ya Tell Henry”
21.”Bourbon Street”

CD 5
1. “Blowin’ in the Wind”
2. “One Too Many Mornings”
3. “A Satisfied Mind” (written by Joe Hayes and Jack Rhodes)
4. “It Ain’t Me, Babe”
5. “Ain’t No More Cane (Take 1)” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
6. “Ain’t No More Cane (Take 2)” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
7. “My Woman She’s A-Leavin'”
8. “Santa-Fe”
9. “Mary Lou, I Love You Too”
10. “Dress it up, Better Have it All”
11. “Minstrel Boy”
12. “Silent Weekend”
13. “What’s it Gonna be When it Comes Up”
14. “900 Miles from My Home” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
15. “Wildwood Flower” (written by A.P. Carter)
16. “One Kind Favor” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
17. “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
18. “It’s the Flight of the Bumblebee”
19. “Wild Wolf”
20. “Goin’ to Acapulco”
21. “Gonna Get You Now”
22. “If I Were A Carpenter” (written by James Timothy Hardin)
23. “Confidential” (written by Dorina Morgan)
24. “All You Have to do is Dream (Take 1)”
25. “All You Have to do is Dream (Take 2)”

CD 6
1. “2 Dollars and 99 Cents”
2. “Jelly Bean”
3. “Any Time”
4. “Down by the Station”
5. “Hallelujah, I’ve Just Been Moved” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
6. “That’s the Breaks”
7. “Pretty Mary”
8. “Will the Circle be Unbroken” (written by A.P. Carter)
9. “King of France”
10. “She’s on My Mind Again”
11. “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
12. “On a Rainy Afternoon”
13. “I Can’t Come in with a Broken Heart”
14. “Next Time on the Highway”
15. “Northern Claim”
16. “Love is Only Mine”
17. “Silhouettes” (written by Bob Crewe and Frank C Slay Jr.)  
18. “Bring it on Home”
19. “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies” (Traditional, arranged by Bob Dylan)
20. “The Spanish Song (Take 1)”
21. “The Spanish Song (Take 2)”

In This Article: Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes


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