I Shall Be Released: Rolling Stones #6 of 100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs (1968)

I Shall Be Released
Song: The Band
Album: Music from Big Pink
Released: July 1, 1968
Genre: Roots rock
Songwriter: Bob Dylan

Rolling Stones magazine lists "I Shall Be Released" as number 6 of the 100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs. Dylan wrote it in 1967, and the Band released it on their 1968 debut album, Music from Big Pink. Near the end of their 1976 farewell concert, The Last Waltz, all the evening's musicians except Muddy Waters—plus Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood—performed the song on the same stage. 

The Band (1968)
I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east.
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released.
"I Shall Be Released" could be an anti-death penalty or a metaphor for awaiting release from Hell on Earth, a type of wrongful imprisonment. It's a solemn dirge, an apocalyptic hymn referencing "My light come shining from the west unto the east."

The Band backed Dylan on his first electric tour. When Bob Dylan hired them, they were known as the Hawks. At those first shows, audiences who felt Dylan sold out his folk fans booed them. On July 29, 1966, while on break from touring, Dylan was injured in a motorcycle accident and secluded himself in Woodstock, New York. 

While he recuperated, The Band rented a big pink house in upstate New York where they recorded demos in the basement. Dylan recorded "I Shall Be Released" with them but didn't release this version until his Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 album in 1971. The first official rendition of the tune came from The Band's debut album, Music From Big Pink.

Nina Simone (1969)
"Ya'll pushin', you're pushin', you're pushin'. 
Just relax, relax. You're pushing it. It'll go up by itself. 
Don't put nothin' in it unless you feel it."

Nina Simone was born in North Carolina, the sixth child of a Methodist preacher. Her musical roots were in the church. She began playing the piano at 3 years old. By age seven, she set a goal to become a concert pianist. She explained to Hit Parader: 

"I had been playing by ear, and when I was seven, a white woman heard me playing in a theatre and went to my mother with an offer to give me piano lessons. That's a very high goal: studying to be a concert pianist eight hours a day. I didn't even think about it. I just got into it."

Nina Simone
Nina Simone

After high school, Simone took a piano course at New York's prestigious Julliard School of Music but couldn't afford to stay. She took her stage name from French actress Simone Signoret. Nina was a nickname from her Hispanic boyfriend, meaning "little one." The pseudonym kept her mother from discovering her nightly performances in Atlantic City. 

The singer's first hit on the pop chart was a 1959 rendition of George Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy." It went to number 18 on the US pop chart and remains her highest-charting hit. Her take on "I Shall Be Released" is from the 1969 album To Love Somebody. In 1992, Frank Lords made the documentary Nina Simone: The Legend in France.

Tim Buckley (1947–1975)
"He cared, but he'd made a choice early on:
family or music. He chose music."
Lee Underwood
Jeff Buckley's father was Tim Buckleya guitarist, singer, and songwriter who left before Jeff was born. Jeff's mother and stepfather, Ron Moorehead, raised him, and he went by the name "Scotty Moorehead."  He met his biological father once when he was eight years old. Tim Buckley's longtime guitarist Lee Underwood recalled to Uncut:  

"Several times, he told me of having abandoned Mary to fulfill his destiny as a musician. Tim intended to explain his leaving when Jeff came of age. Meanwhile, he wrote 'Dream Letter' as a kind of love song reaching across the years to a son he hardly knew. He cared, but he'd decided early on family or music. He chose music." 
Jeff later penned a song for his Grace album, "Dream Brother," for a pal considering leaving his pregnant girlfriend. Jeff didn't want his friend to become like his own father.

Tim Buckley in 1970
Tim Buckley

Tim Buckley's music changed dramatically over the years. He began in folk music, but his later albums experimented with jazz, psychedelia, funk, soul, and the avant-garde. A DVD-video collection of his live appearances, Tim Buckley: My Fleeting House, was released in 2007. It features footage from his 1967 performance of "Song to the Siren" on The Monkee's final TV episode - The Frodis Caper (aka "Mijacogeo") - and ends with a performance from May 21, 1974, of "Dolphins" for The Old Grey Whistle Test. He died at 28 years old from a heroin and morphine overdose in 1975. A concert celebrating his legacy launched his son's musical career.

Jeff Buckley (1966–1997)

Jeff Buckley moved often as a child. He trained in guitar in Hollywood, California, before moving to New York in the early 1990s. Known as "Scotty Moorehead," Jeff took the Buckley name after he played his father's tribute concert, "Greetings from Tim Buckley," in Brooklyn in 1991. That performance kicked off Jeff's own musical career. He amassed a following in Manhattan Village at an Irish nightclub where he recorded a four-song EP, Live at Sin-é.

Herb Cohen, his father's manager, signed Jeff with Columbia Records. Buckley flew back to Los Angeles for the deal, recruited a band, and recorded Grace. Before launching the album, Jeff did a national junket of smaller venues supporting the Live at Sin-é EP. Those sets, followed by the release of Grace, led to a recognition of Buckley's songwriting talent. Stand-out tracks -  like "Last Goodbye," "Lilac Wine," based on the version by Nina Simone, and the Leonard Cohen cover "Hallelujah" - became some of Buckley's most well-known tunes.

The Band toured the US and internationally - in Europe, Japan, and Australia -  to promote Grace. In 1996, they stopped performing. Buckley moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1997 to work on a second album. On May 29, 1997, while awaiting the arrival of his Band from New York, Buckley drowned during a spontaneous evening swim in the Mississippi River. His body was found -  fully clothed -  on June 4. 

Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley

Grace was Buckley's only studio album. It sold poorly and received mixed reviews upon release. However, the LP's critical reputation rose dramatically in recent years. An extended "Legacy Edition" celebrating its tenth anniversary was released on August 23, 2004. The album reached number 44 in the UK and entered at 44 on Australia's album chart. Critics cite it among the greatest albums of all time. Live at Sin-é was re-released as an expanded "Legacy Edition" in 2003. One of its added tracks was Buckley's version of "I Shall Be Released." A documentary, Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley, was made in 2009 as a tribute to Buckley's musical influence.

The Last Waltz (1976)

The Last Waltz
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producers: Robbie Robertson,
Jonathan Taplin, Bill Graham
Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, 
Richard Manuel, Robbie Robertson
Music by The Band (with special guests)
Release date: April 26, 1978
"It's a god-d*mn impossible way of life."
"It is, isn't it?"
"No question about it."
The Last Waltz was a concert by The Band on Thanksgiving Day 1976 at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. It was advertised as The Band's "farewell concert appearance." The Band was joined by more than a dozen special guests, including Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Paul Butterfield, Bobby Charles, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Muddy Waters, Ronnie Wood, and Neil Young

The concert was filmed by director Martin Scorsese, who made it into a documentary of the same title. The movie is considered one of the greatest documentary concert films ever made. In 2019, it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."  It begins with The Band performing the last song of the evening, their cover version of the Marvin Gaye hit "Don't Do It," as an encore. Towards the end, The Band and all their guests sang "I Shall Be Released."


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