A Song For Now, Verse 1 – “I Shall Be Released”

“Music is the best medicine.”

That line is from “Best Medicine” – a 2014 song by Maya de Vitry when she was with the wonderful acoustic trio known as The Stray Birds.

My thought behind this series is to offer up some songs that I’ve been thinking about, listening to and singing quite a bit these days. It is my hope that these small doses of musical medicine will be a source of comfort, joy, hope and sanity for you as they have been for me.

Give a listen and, if you’re so inclined, sing along!

“I Shall Be Released” was written by Bob Dylan in the summer of 1967.

He first recorded it with The Band (though they weren’t called that yet) sometime during what have become known as The Basement Tapes sessions. These legendary recording and songwriting sessions were held in a rented house called “Big Pink,” located in West Saugerties, New York, from June through October of 1967.

(The Basement Tapes recording of “I Shall Be Released” was not officially released until 1991. It was included in Bob Dylan’s The Bootleg Series, Vol.1-3 under the title “I Shall Be Released – Take 2.”)

The first commercially-released recording of the song was made by The Band at one of two studios in Los Angeles, California in 1968.

It serves as the stunning closing track of Big Pink, their extraordinary debut album, released by Capitol Records on July 1, 1968.

For the guitar players among you, this slow, stately rendering is in 4/4 time and in the Key of E. The chord progression goes: ||: E            | F#m          | G#m    A  B | E             :||


The members of The Band and their contributions to that recording were:

  • Richard Manuel – Lead vocals, piano & harmony vocals
  • Rick Danko – Bass guitar & harmony vocals
  • Levon Helm – Drums & harmony vocals
  • Garth Hudson – Rocksichord organ
  • Robbie Robertson – Acoustic guitar

Bob Dylan finally recorded his decidedly more up-tempo rendition of “I Shall Be Released” on September 24, 1971. The location was Studio B at the Columbia Records Recording Studios in New York, New York. Accompanying Bob was his friend and fellow musician, Happy Traum.

This performance is in the Key of A. Dylan has his acoustic guitar capoed at the 2nd fret and fingers chords in G. ||: G      | G      | Am    | Am    | Bm    | D      | G      | G     :||


That recording of “I Shall Be Released” was included on the 2-LP set: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Volume 2, released on November 17, 1971.

The musicians and their contributions were:

  • Bob Dylan – Acoustic guitar, lead vocals & harmonica
  • Happy Traum – Acoustic guitar & harmony vocals.

There are dozens of cover versions of this song by a wide variety of artists. My favorites are by Nina Simone, Joe Cocker and Bette Midler. Check them out!

Stay safe, take good care and always, more than ever, add some music to your day.

“Music is the best medicine.”


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2 Responses to A Song For Now, Verse 1 – “I Shall Be Released”

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    A mythic masterpiece.

    Stay well.

    Regards Thom

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