I Shall Be Released

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"I Shall Be Released"
Song by The Band
from the album Music from Big Pink
ReleasedJuly 1, 1968 (1968-07-01)
GenreRoots rock
Length3:19
LabelCapitol
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)John Simon
"I Shall Be Released"
Song by Bob Dylan
from the album Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II
ReleasedNovember 17, 1971 (1971-11-17)
RecordedSeptember 24, 1971
Genre
Length3:03
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)Leon Russell
"I Shall Be Released"
Song by The Heptones
Released1969
Recorded1969
GenreReggae
LabelCoxsone/Studio One
Songwriter(s)Bob Dylan
Producer(s)C.S. Dodd

"I Shall Be Released" is a 1967 song written by Bob Dylan.

The Band recorded the first officially released version of the song for their 1968 debut album, Music from Big Pink, with Richard Manuel singing lead vocals, and Rick Danko and Levon Helm harmonizing on the chorus. The song was also performed near the end of The Band's 1976 farewell concert, The Last Waltz, in which all the night's performers except Muddy Waters, plus Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood, appeared on the same stage. Additional live recordings by The Band were included on the 1974 concert album Before the Flood and the 2001 expanded CD reissue of Rock of Ages.

Dylan recorded two primary versions. The first recording was made in collaboration with The Band during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967, and released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 in 1991. A remixed version of the 1967 recording was rereleased with a preliminary take on The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete in 2014. Of the initial demo, Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner said, "Curiously enough the music in this song and the high pleading sound of Dylan's voice reminds one of the Bee Gees."[1]

In 1971, Dylan recorded the song a second time with a different arrangement and altered lyrics. He was accompanied by Happy Traum and the song was released on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II.

Style and content[edit]

The song is influenced by gospel music, combining images of religious redemption with implied literal release from prison. David Yaffe described the song as a song about redeemed prisoners.[2] The song describes life behind a wall, hearing a man who "swears he's not to blame" and is "crying out that he was framed". While the narrator reflects on "every man who put me here", and says that "any day now I shall be released".

Author Mike Marqusee observed that the cruelty of the justice system is a recurring theme in Dylan's work, but that Dylan broadens the idea of imprisonment to social issues with an urge for freedom.[3] Clinton Heylin writes in his book Revolution In The Air:[4]

Prisons of the body and the mind seem to have preyed on Dylan's mind throughout his time spent with the boys on retainer. Among the songs recorded at early basement sessions were covers of "Folsom Prison Blues" and "The Banks of the Royal Canal" (the latter is particularly affecting), both songs written—metaphorically—from inside prison walls. Dylan then takes a leaf from Johnny Cash and Brendan Behan (brother of Dominic Behan), authors of those earlier songs, by writing his own prison song, "I Shall Be Released." He is characteristically careful not to confuse simplicity of construction with a commensurate simplicity of meaning. The release that he is singing about—and that Richard Manuel echoes—is not from mere prison bars but rather from the cage of physical existence, the same cage that corrodes on "Visions of Johanna".

Reception[edit]

Rolling Stone magazine ranked "I Shall Be Released" 6th on a list of the "100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs". An article accompanying the list calls it a "simple, evocative tale of a prisoner yearning for freedom" and a "rock hymn [that] was part of a conscious effort by Dylan to move away from the sprawling imagery of his mid-Sixties masterpieces". It also describes the original Basement Tapes version thusly: "The rough church of the organ and guitar frame Dylan's urgent nasal prayer, until Richard Manuel's keening harmony illuminates the chorus, like sunlight pouring through a stained-glass window".[5]

Live performances[edit]

According to his website, Dylan performed the song 491 times in concert between its live debut in 1975 and its last outing in 2008.[6] It has been common for Dylan to perform it as a duet with touring partners or musical artists he is sharing a bill with. This has been the case with, among others, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Band and Amos Lee.

Notable covers[edit]

Photograph of The Last Waltz. The Band with Bob Dylan and other guests performing I Shall Be Released.
seated behind instruments: Garth Hudson (organ), Ringo Starr (drums), Levon Helm (drums)
standing: Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell (hidden), Neil Young, Rick Danko (Bass), Van Morrison, Bob Dylan (guitar), Ronnie Hawkins, Robbie Robertson (guitar)
not shown: Richard Manuel, Eric Clapton, Ron Wood

"I Shall Be Released" has been recorded by Joni Mitchell, The Youngbloods, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Jeff Buckley, The Marmalade, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Sun Araw, Joe Cocker, Tremeloes, Bette Midler, The Box Tops, The Byrds, Ricky Nelson, Aaron Neville, Melissa Etheridge, Coheed and Cambria, Tom Robinson Band, Nina Simone, The Slackers, The Heptones, Paul Weller, Jerry Garcia Band, Sting, The Deftones, The Hollies, Trinitones, Pearls Before Swine, OK Go, Beth Rowley, Ken Lazarus, Big Mama Thornton, Chatham County Line, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jack Johnson, Gov't Mule, Martin Harley, Kiosk, Dino McGartland with Laurence Jones, James Blundell, Miriam Makeba, Boz (first release of that song, May 1968), Mahotella Queens, Jacob Miller, Bobby McFerrin, Black Oak Arkansas, Marion Williams, Lera Lynn, Wilco, Lisa Loeb, Zac Brown Band, Kesha, Half Moon Run, Greta Van Fleet, Hideki Saijo, Michael McDonald, Grace Potter, and Elvis Presley. On 2 January 1969, The Beatles jammed the song during their Get Back / Let It Be recording sessions.[7]

Personnel on the Band version[edit]

Credits are adapted from the liner notes of A Musical History.[8]

Published print[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Jann Wenner (1968-06-22). "Dylan's Basement Tape Should Be Released". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
  2. ^ David Yaffe, The Many Roads of Bob Dylan, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 15
  3. ^ Mike Marqusee, Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s, Seven Stories Press, 2005, pp. 238-40.
  4. ^ Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air (The Songs of Bob Dylan 1957–1973)
  5. ^ Rolling Stone (2020-05-24). "100 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2021-05-14.
  6. ^ "I Shall Be Released | The Official Bob Dylan Site". www.bobdylan.com. Retrieved 2021-04-15.
  7. ^ The Beatles' "I Shall Be Released" demo (1:54) available at 24:01 on the YouTube video "The Beatles - Get Back/Let It Be Recording Session, January 2 1969 (Part #1)" (1h17:52)
  8. ^ The Band: A Musical History (CD). The Band. Capitol Records. 2005. 72435-77409-0-6 CCAP77409-6.CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)

External links[edit]