I need to start this post with a minor clarification. Yes, I am posting my five favorite bands this week, but after the Beatles at number one, the number ranking is kind of irrelevant. I love all these groups, but their relative positions on any list will shift and change with my moods. Which means stuff moves around a lot on this list.
Of course, the Band hold a place in my heart that’s almost as dear as the one the Beatles hold. For a few years, from around 1967 to around 1975, they were magical. It was like they could do no wrong. (Of course they did do some wrong; Cahoots was released in 71, and it’s virtually unlistenable.) Because of all the years they’d spent backing up first Ronnie Hawkins and then Bob Dylan, they were probably the finest live act ever to grace a stage. They were sharp and tight and practically telepathic with each other. Between Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz, they are responsible for some of the most electric and iconic live recordings this side of The Allman Brothers.
“Rag Mama Rag” sounds kind of ragged and chaotic, but if you listen carefully you can hear the perfect syncopation between the piano and drums and fiddle; the addition of the horns by the Tower of Power just makes it that much looser and more of a party (which makes sense, since this performance was recorded on New Year’s Eve). The Band excelled in making music that seemed simple and unstudied, but really they were masters at making it all look sloppy.
Unfortunately, like all magic, the Band couldn’t last. Robbie Robertson got too big for his britches (as undeniably talented as he is, he really could’ve been a better human being). The rest of the guys were either too passive or too wasted. Bad blood, addiction, and exhaustion took their toll and the Band fell apart. I’m leaving a lot out, obviously, but that’s the gist of it. Even when the majority of them played together in later years (after the official break-up in 1976), the feeling was never the same. There was just that one shining moment, and then poof . . . it was all gone.
There are more obvious songs I could’ve chosen for this post, but I picked “Rag Mama Rag” and “Look Out Cleveland” partly because they’re favorites and partly because they’re not the songs the Band is best known for. Dylan helped make the Band famous, but they stand just fine on their own merits.