The title of the album is thought to derive from the novel Farn Mabul by Yiddish writer Sholem Asch; Dylan had a personal relationship with Moses Asch, son of Sholem and founder of Folkways Records, a record label hugely influential in the folk music revival. Another theory is that the title refers to the album arriving before the inevitable flood of bootlegs could saturate the underground market.
While Dylan and The Band had recorded the studio album Planet Waves prior to the tour, few of its songs were incorporated into the tour's setlist, and none are represented on Before the Flood. After the double album release, Dylan signed a new contract with Columbia Records in time for his next studio album, Blood on the Tracks, after returning label president Goddard Lieberson made a determined campaign to get Dylan back from Asylum. The Band continued to record on their own for Capitol Records.
Reviews for Before the Flood were positive. AllMusic has described it as "one of the best live albums of its time. Ever, maybe."Robert Christgau wrote, "At its best, this is the craziest and strongest rock and roll ever recorded. All analogous live albums fall flat."Greil Marcus commented, "Roaring with resentment and happiness, the music touched rock and roll at its limits."The Village Voice placed it at number six Pazz & Jop Critics Poll for 1974. In contrast, Dylan himself later disparaged the tour, feeling it overblown. "I think I was just playing a role on that tour, I was playing Bob Dylan and The Band were playing The Band. It was all sort of mindless. The only thing people talked about was energy this, energy that. The highest compliments were things like, 'Wow, lotta energy, man.' It had become absurd."
Sides one and four are performances by Bob Dylan and The Band; side two and tracks four through six on side three are by The Band; tracks one through three on side three by Dylan alone. "Blowin' in the Wind" is a splice of two separate performances. All dates from Los Angeles except as indicated. All songs written and composed by Bob Dylan, except where noted.