I Shall Be Released
|"I Shall Be Released"|
|Song by The Band|
|from the album Music from Big Pink|
|Released||July 1, 1968|
|"I Shall Be Released"|
|Song by Bob Dylan|
|from the album Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II|
|Released||November 17, 1971|
|Recorded||September 24, 1971|
|"I Shall Be Released"|
|Song by The Heptones|
"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 in 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 (with the exception of 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 eventually released on The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 in 1991. (A remixed version of this 1967 take was rereleased, along 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 had said, "Curiously enough the music in this song and the high pleading sound of Dylan's voice reminds one of the Bee Gees." Dylan recorded the song a second time (with a significantly different arrangement and altered lyrics, and accompanied by Happy Traum) in 1971, releasing this new version on Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II.
In 1969, the Jamaican harmony group the Heptones covered "I Shall Be Released" as a reggae tune for Studio One and then later on in 1976 at Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark studio and label for the album Party Time.
Style and content
The song is influenced by gospel music, combining imagery of religious redemption, or release from sin, with implied literal release from prison. David Yaffe describes it as a song about "redeemed prisoners". The singer describes life behind a wall reflecting on every man "who put me here" and a man "who swears he's not to blame" who is "crying out that he was framed". He repeats that "any day now" he will be released. Mike Marqusee says that "the first person narrator speaks from a prison cell. Prison—and more broadly the cruelty of the justice system—is a leitmotif in Dylan's work", but that Dylan broadens the idea of imprisonment to link social issues with a seemingly ancient urge for freedom. Clinton Heylin writes in his book Revolution In The Air:
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.
Like a number of Dylan's greatest songs—including that other reluctant rabble-rouser, "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door"—its solipsistic self would be turned inside out by simpletons (after the Band, that is) as this highly personal song was made a communal anthem by organizations like Amnesty International, for which it was always a song with one meaning alone.
"I Shall Be Released" has been covered by many artists. It has been recorded: by The Youngbloods; The Earl Scruggs Revue; Jeff Buckley; The Marmalade; Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary; 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; 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; Mahotella Queens; Jacob Miller; Bobby McFerrin; Black Oak Arkansas; Marion Williams; Lera Lynn; Wilco; Jack Johnson; Lisa Loeb; Zac Brown Band; Kesha; Half Moon Run; and by Elvis Presley.
Personnel on the Band version
- Richard Manuel – lead vocal, harmony vocals on chorus, piano
- Rick Danko – bass guitar, harmony vocal on chorus
- Levon Helm – drums (snare drum strings strummed by hand), harmony vocal on chorus
- Garth Hudson – Rocksichord organ
- Robbie Robertson – acoustic guitar
- Rise Up Singing page 102, states copyright 1967 and 1976.
- Jann Wenner (1968-06-22). "Dylan's Basement Tape Should Be Released". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2013-06-06.
- David Yaffe, The Many Roads of Bob Dylan, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 15
- Mike Marqusee, Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s, Seven Stories Press, 2005, pp. 238-40.
- Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air (The Songs of Bob Dylan 1957–1973)