The album feels even more like a collection of singles (instead of an actual movie soundtrack) than Help! or A Hard Day's Night, but maybe that's because every song sounds like it could have been a hit single–with the natural exception of the goofy/weird instrumental "Flying." Even George's "Blue Jay Way" paints a vivid sound-portrait in fascinating detail. (I consider Joni Mitchell's "Car on the Hill" from Court and Spark to be a companion piece about sitting in the Hollywood Hills, waiting for somebody to show up.) And although the goofy TV movie may have been mostly Paul's baby, this album features the two 45 rpm masterpieces that sum up the quintessential best of Lennon and McCartney at this stage of their development: Paul's "Penny Lane" and John's "I Am the Walrus." –Jim Emerson
Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were (and are) two of the main stems of jazz. Any way you look at it, just about everything that's ever happened in this music leads directly – or indirectly – back to them. Both men were born on the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries, and each became established as a leader during the middle '20s. Although their paths had crossed from time to time over the years, nobody in the entertainment industry had ever managed to get Armstrong and Ellington into a recording studio to make an album together. On April 3, 1961, producer Bob Thiele achieved what should be regarded as one of his greatest accomplishments; he organized and supervised a seven-and-a-half-hour session at RCA Victor's Studio One on East 24th Street in Manhattan, using a sextet combining Duke Ellington with Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars.
None of the Band's previous work gave much of a clue about how they would sound when they released their first album in July 1968. As it was, Music from Big Pink came as a surprise. At first blush, the group seemed to affect the sound of a loose jam session, alternating emphasis on different instruments, while the lead and harmony vocals passed back and forth as if the singers were making up their blend on the spot. In retrospect, especially as the lyrics sank in, the arrangements seemed far more considered and crafted to support a group of songs that took family, faith, and rural life as their subjects and proceeded to imbue their values with uncertainty. Some songs took on the theme of declining institutions less clearly than others, but the points were made musically as much as lyrically. Tenor Richard Manuel's haunting, lonely voice gave the album much of its frightening aspect, while Rick Danko's and Levon Helm's rough-hewn styles reinforced the songs' rustic fervor.