The Beatles were the best rock and roll group ever. I mean, there's really no serious question about that. But second best? Maybe the Rolling Stones? Or the Grateful Dead? Perhaps. But, in my mind, the second best rock and roll group ever is The Band. With Robbie Robertson, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Richard Manual, the Band made some of the best music ever from the late 1960s until the late 1970s.
The Band started as part of the supporting cast for Ronnie Hawkins. They soon morphed into Levon and the Hawks and then the Canadian Squires. (All of the members of the group were Canadian except for Levon Helm.) And then Bob Dylan asked them to tour with him in 1965 and 1966, and that led to the group recording The Basement Tapes with Dylan in 1967. And finally in 1968, the group settled on The Band as their name and they released Music From Big Pink, the first of their 10 studio albums.
In 1969, the group recorded their self titled album, The Band, and then in 1970 they followed that up with Stage Fright. These two albums, released during my early high school years, were played on my record player too many times to count. So much so that I eventually bought second copies of those records (well before the CD era).
Robbie Robertson wrote most of The Band's songs (although there were some internal disputes about that) and played lead guitar. Rick Danko usually played bass guitar (although he also played the fiddle and trombone) and was one of the group's three lead singers. Garth Hudson, a particularly accomplished musician, played organ, keyboards, saxophone, accordion, woodwinds and just about anything the group needed. Richard Manual played piano, organ, steel guitar and occasionally drums and was considered by the group to be the main lead singer. And Levon Helm played the drums and percussion, along with the mandolin and guitar, and had the distinctive lead voice on many of the group's songs. And, of course, the harmonies of The Band were part of their very distinctive country rock sound.
Richard Manual committed suicide in 1986. Rick Danko died of heart failure in 1999. And Levon Helm died of cancer in 2012.
But the music of second best rock and roll group of all time is with us forever. Which is a great thing. So here is Song 24: With Richard Manual singing lead and Rick Danko and Levon Helm harmonizing, one of my favorite songs by The Band: The Shape I'm In from their studio album, Stage Fright.