Yet another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.
Most copies of this album do not have a boosted bottom or top, which means that at normal listening levels — depending on how you define that term — they can sound pretty flat. This is one album that needs to be turned up, obviously not to the levels of a live rock concert, but up about as loud as you can until you can get the bass and the highs to come out. We found ourselves adding more and more level in order to get the sound to come to life, and it was playing pretty loud before the sound was right.
But it’s SO GOOD when it’s loud. Why the hell would you not want to crank it up and ROCK OUT?
It should go without saying that this is wonderful music that belongs in any popular music collection. My favorite song here is “I Don’t Want To Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes”. It’s The Band at their best — playing LIVE.
One of my good friends had a chance to see the band — The Band — back in the day, before they had released their second album and nobody knew who the hell they were. He was astonished when, after about every second or third song, they would all get up and switch places and instruments, a fact alluded to in the Wikipedia entry for the group. “Superbly talented multi-instrumentalists” barely begins to convey how good these guys really were.
What to Listen For (WTLF)
The most obvious problems with the sound of this album are ones common to many if not most rock records of the era: lack of presence, too much compression, opacity, smear (easily heard on the brass), blurry bass, lack of weight from the lower mids on down — we hear lots of Classic Rock records with this litany of shortcomings.
But it’s not the fault of the master tape, it’s probably not even the fault of the mastering engineer most of the time. It’s just plain bad pressing quality. The sound simply doesn’t get stamped onto the vinyl right and the result is one or more of the problems above. And if you don’t know how to clean your records properly, forget it, you have virtually no chance of hearing good sound on ROA.
What We Thought We Knew
In 2006 we put up a copy with with what we implied were Hot Stampers (before we were using the term regularly) on at least one side:
Side One sounds tonally right on the money! This is as good as it gets… Robert Ludwig mastered all of the originals of these albums, but some of them have bad vinyl and don’t sound correct.
I only played side one of the album, so I can’t speak for the other sides, but what I heard was sound about as good as I think this album can have.
There are some truths along with some half-truths in the above comments, and let’s just say we would be quite a bit more careful in our language were we writing about that copy today. One side is no indication whatsoever as to the quality of the other three, and without the kind of cleaning technologies we have available to us today I wouldn’t want to make a “definitive” sonic assessment for any of them. When you play uncleaned or poorly cleaned records you’re hearing a lot of garbage that has nothing to do with the sound of the actual vinyl. (Note that we are joking above: there is no such thing as a definitive sonic assessment of a record, from us or anybody else.)
Wikipedia Background on Rock of Ages
Rock of Ages: The Band in Concert is a live album by The Band, released in 1972 on Capitol Records, catalogue SABB 11045. It was compiled from recordings made during their series of shows at the Academy of Music in New York City, from December 28 through 31, 1971. It peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart.
The Band booked a residency at the Academy of Music for the last week of 1971, culminating in a New Year’s Eve performance. Robbie Robertson had commissioned New Orleans songwriter and arranger Allen Toussaint to compose horn charts for their recent single “Life Is A Carnival” from the album Cahoots, and decided to have Toussaint write special charts for a five-man horn section to augment the group on their upcoming concerts. Charts written by Toussaint in New Orleans were in luggage lost at the airport, and a new set were composed in a cabin near Robertson’s house in Woodstock after a late-autumn snow had blanketed the area. Robertson selected eleven songs to receive horn charts, and all are included on the released album. The horns do not play on “Get Up Jake”, “Stage Fright,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “The Weight,” “The Shape I’m In,” and “The Genetic Method.” Selections on the bonus disc also do not feature horn arrangements, with the exception of Dylan’s “Down in the Flood.”
The repertoire consisted of material from all four of The Band’s studio albums up to that point, which were framed on the album by covers of the 1964 Motown hit single “Baby Don’t You Do It” by Marvin Gaye, and the b-side “(I Don’t Want to Hang Up) My Rock and Roll Shoes” to the final single by Chuck Willis in 1958, “What Am I Living For.” The bulk of the recordings on the released album were derived from either the December 30 or the December 31 show, while the tracks on the bonus disc come from December 28 and 29 as well. Since Garth Hudson interpolates “Auld Lang Syne” into his solo piece “The Genetic Method,” it can be assumed that track and “Chest Fever” were played at midnight, December 31. Their previous employer Bob Dylan made a surprise visit on the New Year’s Eve show, playing four songs with the group in the early morning hours of January 1, 1972.
The band’s discography through 1978 is as follows.
Music from Big Pink (1968)
The Band (1969)
Stage Fright (1970)
Rock of Ages (1972)
Moondog Matinee (1973)
Northern Lights – Southern Cross (1975)
The Last Waltz (1978)
Wikipedia on The Band
The Band’s music fused many elements: primarily old country music and early rock and roll, though the rhythm section often was reminiscent of Stax or Motown, and Robertson cites Curtis Mayfield and the Staple Singers as major influences, resulting in a synthesis of many musical genres. As to the group’s songwriting, very few of their early compositions were based on conventional blues and doo-wop chord changes.
Every member was a multi-instrumentalist. There was little instrument-switching when they played live, but when recording, the musicians could make up different configurations in service of the songs. Hudson in particular was able to coax a wide range of timbres from his Lowrey organ; on the choruses of “Tears of Rage”, for example, it sounds like a mellotron. Helm’s drumming was often praised: critic Jon Carroll declared that Helm was “the only drummer who can make you cry,” while prolific session drummer Jim Keltner admits to appropriating several of Helm’s techniques.
Singers Manuel, Danko, and Helm each brought a distinctive voice to the Band: Helm’s southern voice had more than a hint of country, Danko sang in a tenor, and Manuel alternated between falsetto and baritone. The singers regularly blended in harmonies. Though the singing was more or less evenly shared among the three men, both Danko and Helm have stated that they saw Manuel as the Band’s “lead” singer.
Robertson was the group’s chief songwriter, but he sang lead vocals on only three studio songs released by the Band (“To Kingdom Come”, “Knockin’ Lost John” and “Out Of The Blue”). This role, and Robertson’s resulting claim to the copyright of most of the compositions, would later become a point of much antagonism, especially that directed towards Robertson by Helm, who, in his autobiography This Wheel’s on Fire – Levon Helm and the Story of The Band, disputes the validity of Robertson’s place as chief songwriter, as the Band’s songs were often honed and recorded through collaboration between all members.
Robertson for his part angrily denied that Helm had written any of the songs attributed to Robertson and his daughter later pointed out in a letter to the Los Angeles Times that Levon Helm’s solo work consists almost entirely of songs written by others. Strains appeared in the 1980s, when the bulk of songwriting royalties were going to Robertson alone while the others had to rely on income from touring. This had not arisen as an issue in the late sixties and early seventies, when a number of Band songs, mostly credited to Robertson alone, were covered successfully by other artists – such as Smith’s version of “The Weight” for the Easy Rider soundtrack LP and Joan Baez’s cover of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in 1971.
Producer John Simon is cited as a “sixth member” of the Band for producing and playing on Music from Big Pink, co-producing and playing on The Band, and playing on other songs up through the Band’s 1993 reunion album Jericho.