Today’s Cool Album of the Day(#555 in the Series and #58 in the Live, Saturday Night Series) is The Band, Rock of Ages. (Capitol)
Rock of Ages is the first of four “official” live albums by The Band. Most people regard the expansive box set of The Last Waltz to be The Band’s most impressive live statement, but I think a closer listen to Rock of Ages will give an argument that this is not only The Band’s best live album but perhaps one of the top 10 live albums that has ever been released.
I’m usually a purist when it comes to original releases vs. reissues. I felt for years that the original double LP released in 1972 couldn’t be better, and subsequent reissues proved disappointing. The first CD release of Rock of Ages in fact dropped several tracks in order to cram the double LP on to a single CD. The remastered and expanded 2001 reissue got it right, this was not filler that was left off the original but six additional Band tunes and the four song, New Year’s Eve encore with Bob Dylan.
Recorded during a four night stand in the final week of 1971 at New York’s Academy of Music, Rock of Ages finds The Band at the peak of their game, joined by ” the best horn men in New York” under the direction of Allen Toussaint.
The album opens with a snap of Levon Helm’s snare drum and the rolling bass of Rick Danko on a cover of Marvin Gaye classic, “Don’t Do It.” You know this is going to be one fun ride as the Levon and Rick trade vocals and are pushed along by the horn section. Robbie Robertson’s solo sounds as if it could come from the last song of the night, not the first!
All four of the band’s first four albums are well represented. Six songs in, The Band is in rare form as Danko sings “Stage Freight” and Garth Hudson’s organ riffs behind him. Next, the horns give a plaintive opening to one of the truly great songs of the 1970’s, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Rock and roll probably never really got better than this. however on this night The Band was just getting started. “Across the Great Divide” gives way to a biting “This Wheels on Fire”, which then opens up into a rollicking version of “Rag Mama Rag” where the horn section absolutely shines – driven mainly by Garth Hudson’s tuba. Several more classic Band tunes follow including both “The Weight” from their second album and the more recent “Life is a Carnival” which had been the first collaboration with Allen Toussaint and the horn section. Robertson’s solo and call and response with the horns is simply amazing.
Garth Hudson’s organ solo improvisation on his song “The Genetic Method” took me some time to appreciate back in 1972 but is perfect for this record as it shifts into “Auld Lang Syne” to celebrate the new year and then into “Chest Fever” from The Band’s first album, Music from Big Pink. The show then closes with another cover – “(I Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes” by Chuck Willis. Remember what I said earlier about rock and roll never getting better than this? I was wrong. It doesn’t get any better than this.
This is where the original album closes and what a way to end the show and the record, however with the reissue we now have another entire CD. The bonus disc kicks off with another Motown cover, “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” by The Four Tops. Why this was left of the original album I’ll never know.
I’m shocked to realize I haven’t mentioned Richard Manuel’s contributions up until this point. His singing and keyboards are all over the original LP – especially on “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”, but he shines on the bonus disc’s versions of “I Shall Be Released.” The bonus disc doesn’t stop there however it also includes the four song encore with Dylan. No introduction, no big deal, the band kicks in to “Down in the Flood “and Dylan steps up to the mic. This is followed by “When I Paint my Masterpiece”, “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and a rollicking “Like a Rolling Stone.” Heck, even Dylan is in fine form and sounds like he’s enjoying himself. Who wouldn’t be? What a show and what an album.
–– Rob Henry, Bethesda, Maryland USA
- “Introduction by Robertson” 1:22
- “Don’t Do It” (Holland-Dozier-Holland) 5:00
- “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” 4:04
- “Caledonia Mission” 3:38
- “Get Up Jake” 3:33
- “The W. S. Walcott Medicine Show” 3:54
- “Stage Fright” 4:38
- “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” 4:34
- “Across the Great Divide” 3:59
- “This Wheel’s on Fire” (Rick Danko, Bob Dylan) 4:07
- “Rag Mama Rag” 4:33
- “The Weight” 5:32
- “The Shape I’m In” 4:14
- “The Unfaithful Servant” 4:48
- “Life Is a Carnival” (Levon Helm , Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko) 4:17
- “The Genetic Method” (Garth Hudson) 7:48
- “Chest Fever” 5:24
- “(I Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes” (Chuck Willis) 4:20
2001 bonus disc track listing
- “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” (Stevie Wonder, Ivy Jo Hunter) 3:28
- “I Shall Be Released” (Dylan) 4:03
- “Up on Cripple Creek” 4:38
- “The Rumor” 5:02
- “Rockin’ Chair” 4:06
- “Time to Kill” 4:07
- “Down in the Flood” (Dylan) 5:25
- “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (Dylan) 4:17
- “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” (Dylan) 4:38
- “Like a Rolling Stone” (Dylan) 5:24
- Rick Danko – vocal, bass, violin
- Levon Helm – vocal, drums, mandolin
- Garth Hudson – organ, piano, accordion, tenor saxophone and soprano saxophone solos
- Richard Manuel – vocal, piano, organ, clavinet, drums
- Robbie Robertson – guitar, backing vocal, introduction
- Howard Johnson – tuba, euphonium, baritone saxophone
- Snooky Young – trumpet, flugelhorn
- Joe Farrell – tenor and soprano saxophones, English horn
- Earl McIntyre – trombone
- J. D. Parron – alto saxophone and E-flat clarinet
- Bob Dylan – vocal, guitar on “Down In the Flood,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “Don’t Ya Tell Henry,” and “Like A Rolling Stone”