Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Million Dollar Bash" - Bob Dylan and The Band

SONG: "Million Dollar Bash"


PERFORMED BY: Bob Dylan and the Band

APPEARS ON: "The Basement Tapes" (1975)

In 1966, 25 year-old Bob Dylan crashed his red and silver Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle outside of Woodstock, New York. His injuries were miraculously benign, but there was a marked change in the young singer-songwriter from that point forward. “When I had that motorcycle accident,” he recalls, “I woke up and caught my senses. I realized that I was just working for these leeches and I didn’t want to do that. Plus, I had a family and I just wanted to see my kids.” Dylan entered a period of seclusion that lasted for nearly seven years. During that time he continued to write and record some of his very best work. The material that formed “The Basement Tapes” came from this period.

“Million Dollar Bash” was first recorded in 1967 in the basement of a house in West Saugerties, New York. The house was, of course, the famous “Big Pink,” then occupied by Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson. As Robertson explains, “The Basement Tapes” started out as Dylan and The Band “just killing time”, but soon flourished into a creative outpouring of new material and inspired covers. The album was cobbled from these friendly jam sessions and officially released to the public on June 26, 1975. On “The Basement Tapes” Dylan sounds more playful and joyous then perhaps on any entry of his catalogue. It is an historical irony that this double LP ode to life’s simple pleasures came out just five months after his bleak divorce drama, “Blood on the Tracks”.

“Million Dollar Bash” stood out to me the very first time I heard “The Basement Tapes”. It seems like the spiritual summation of the entire affable affair. Dylan’s lyrics are as light-hearted as the tune is lovely. He sings as though he feels free for the first time in ages to revel in absurdity and humor just for the fun of it, as is only fitting for a song about the biggest party imaginable. But I see another side to the song that explains its curious and elusive poignancy. Over the course of two minutes and thirty-three seconds Dylan refers to no fewer than seven characters and two or three vaguely defined groups. He makes it clear that this isn’t just a big party it’s the biggest party to which “everybody from right now” is going. Near as I can tell, “Million Dollar Bash” is a little ditty about dying and heading off for a big party in the sky. It’s a song about resigning one’s self to fate, but enjoying the ride as you go and that’s what makes it so uplifting.

I suppose my theory is tenuous at best, but as such it reflects the key to Dylan’s staying power and that is his music’s tolerance for reinterpretation. Like many of his finest works, “Million Dollar Bash” stands as a blank slate for the listener’s imagination. The raw ingredients of a deeper meaning are temptingly displayed daring you to make something of them.


-Bob Dylan

Well, that big dumb blonde
with her wheel in the gorge
and turtle that friend of theirs
with his checks all forged,
and his cheeks in a chunk
with his cheese in the cash
they're all gonna be there
at that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Everybody from right now
to over there and back
the louder they come
the bigger they crack
come on now, sweet cream
don't forget to flash
we're all gonna meet
at that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Well, I took my counselor
out to the barn
Silly Nelly was there
she told him a yarn
then along came jones
emptied the trash
Everybody went down
to that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Well, I'm hitting it too hard
my stones won't take
I get up in the morning
but it's too early to wake
first it's hello, goodbye
then push and then crash
and we're all gonna make it
at that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash

Well, I looked at my watch
I looked at my wrist
I punched myself
in the face with my fist
I took my potatoes
down to be mashed
then I made it over
to that million dollar bash

Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee,
It's that million dollar bash.

c. 1967


I could only find three covers of "Million Dollar Bash" on youtube and none of them satisfied, so I recorded my own version. In the original's absence, here is the best I can offer.


  1. Awesome! Not to mention an original understanding of the song!

  2. Nice piece, man!

    The song's a great slice of playful absurdity - kind of like "Death is not the End" mauled and mangled by Flann O'Brien!

    Also, extremely oddly, there's a real Lenny vibe to the lyrics!

    Great recording too!

  3. Thank you so much. I had fun writing this one, but I was nervous about how it would turn out.

  4. Bob was fond of biblical allusions in his songs but I don't see it in this one. As Stupid and Contagious says it's really just playful absurdity with no deep meaning there.

  5. Pierre,

    I didn't mean to make this out like a bible song, more like a middle finger in the face of death.


  6. Saw Levon Helm the other day.

    Super show. His health isn't the greatest. In fact throat cancer nearly put him out for the count a few years back but he's out on the road making music. And while he can't sing as he once did he can play the drums as well as anyone ever did in rock even at age 70.

    His group was phenomenal featuring his daughter on vocals, a terrific horn section (Howard Johnson and Steve Bernstein from Sex Mob) and the wonderful Larry Campbell (Bob Dylan guitarist for much of the 00's) on vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin etc. and a guy named Brian Mitchell on keyboards and accordion. That guy could play.

    It was a treat. some Band tunes. Some Dylan. Some blues. Some rockabilly.

    Finishing with The Weight.

    If he comes to a town near you don't hesitate. Levon Helm remains one of the real giants.

  7. Beautiful version! Thanks both for the write-up & the good cover.

  8. Arthur: Nice to know that Levon can still bring it. A wonderful drummer and such an evocative vocalist. I recently watched the video of him singing "I Shall Be Released" with an all star cast of thousands. The caliber of the people on the stage shows how respected he is by his peers.

    Larry Campbell is downright protean. Before the Dylan days, he toured with John Prine and played every string instrument imaginable. I made a point of catching his name that night because I could tell I'd be hearing from him again.

    John: I wish I could say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree, except that he's a lot more talented than I am.

  9. Interesting thing about Levon.

    The story goes that after the fallout between he and Robbie, Robertson was hard at work in LA snorting mounds of coke and editing The Last Waltz with Martin Scorsese.

    As so many of the musicians filmed at the concert were in varying degrees of trashed as the lengthy event unfolded most had to be called back to dub their parts.

    With one notable exception. Levon Helm nailed his parts in the concert. Which is great as he swears he wouldn't have done them over for the film.

    One of the very best musical/celebrity memoirs I've ever read is
    'This Wheel's on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of the Band' by Levon Helm and Stephen Davis.

    Fantastic. A genuinely humble man with a remarkable story to tell. The parts around Richard Manuel's suicide in 1986 are particularly moving.

    I still never tire of listening to the group. Marvelous music. The three lead voices handing off verses and accompanying one another on harmony. Robertson's tight guitar. Levon 'in the pocket' and the vastly undervalued Garth Hudson enveloping the entire enterprise in gorgeous colors on keyboards and accordion.

    Remarkable. I've another particular favorite musician, the jazz/Americana/bluegrass guitarist Bill Frisell and if I were wealthy I'd put him and Hudson in the studio and give them as long as they needed.

    It's nice to dream.

    In case you don't know this site this is the repository of all things Band.

  10. If I can be a bit self-serving here, you can find my recent column on The Band (with music) at

  11. Nice work Pierre.

    Interesting comment about 'Stage Fright'. One of the highlights of the recent concert I attended was 'All La Glory' with Amy Helm on vocals on one of Levon Helm's signature pieces.

  12. 'well that big dumb blonde with her wheel in her gorge turned to her friend with his cheques all forged... everybody made it over to that million dolar bash