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Author Topic: The Band  (Read 4927 times)
Sheriff John Stone
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« on: July 13, 2008, 05:54:11 PM »

I am way late in coming to appreciate The Band. I'm familiar with some of their stuff, but not a lot. I don't have any albums; been thinking about the latest "Greatest Hits" as a starter. The Last Waltz was on VH1 last night, so I had to watch it. And, everytime I watch it, more questions arise. Here they are:

1. Were The Band fair, good, or great musicians?

2. What is the real reason they broke up in 1976?

3. Why didn't the solo members have any commercial success? Or did they?

4. I read/hear so many musicians from that era praise The Band. Why?

5. I know Ricard Manuel and Rick Danko had substance abuse problems; what about the others?

6. Why is The Last Waltz so great? I watch it everytime it's on TV.
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the captain
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« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2008, 06:02:55 PM »

I'm nowhere near an expert, and can't really speak to the personal lives or problems of any of the Band. As to their musicianship, I'd say they were all very good musicians of a sort. None were what I'd call virtuosos blowing people away with technique. But they were all crack musicians in practical, working-band terms. Several guys were more than competent on multiple instruments, letting them do creative arrangements to suit the tunes. And Levon Helm, in my opinion, was just a motherfucker. And that's a compliment. I love the Band's first two albums and their 60s work with Dylan. I also like the '73 or '74 tour with him, somewhat, but not so much their studio work in the 70s, largely because I just don't like the production or sound choices engineers and producers were going with at the time.
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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2008, 06:12:22 PM »

Thanks for the info, Luther. Yeah, I really like Levon Helm, too. I always thought he was in the Dennis Wilson/Ringo Starr mode of drummer - solid but not fancy; but I enjoy his drumming. And singing. I'm starting to appreciate his voice more.

I also like Before The Flood, but I am not familiar with The Band's 70's studio work. There is a song, Acadian Driftwood, which I think is great, but I don't where/when it's from.
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8o8o
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« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2008, 12:47:36 AM »

A fantastic band, fully agree with Luther's words. These guys could play, and when they played together they brought out the best in each other. With Helm, Danko and Manuel they had three exceptional singers in the band, which only added to the diversity and variety of their material.

However, Sheriff, if I were you I'd start with "Music From Big Pink" (1968) or "The Band" (1969), the "Best-Of" & "Hits" collections that are circulating aren't always the best place to start, as they omit a lot of key albums tracks, and the two albums I mention are both classics, must-haves, "The Band" being my favourite.

I'm sure you already know "The Basement Tapes" too, as a Dylan fan. As far as I know Robbie Robertson was the only one to score a couple of minor "solo hits", such as "Somewhere Down The Crazy River" in 1988, but I have to admit that I only have a couple of Rick Danko solo albums, and I still haven't picked up the latest one by Levon Helm, so that makes it impossible to say anything about the strength of their solo output.

Personally I also like "Stage Fright" (1970, engineered by a young Todd Rundgren), which is often overlooked, and "Northern Lights Southern Cross" (1975), which is also excellent (and features "Acadian Driftwood"!), and probably their last truly great offering.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2008, 12:52:01 AM by 8o8o » Logged
CosmicDancer
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« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2008, 08:54:39 AM »

The Band were so increadible!  Like others have said, they were definitely a band where the sum was much better than the individual members.  I do LOVE Levon's drumming though.  He has such a tight groove yet he still plays loose as well.  There aren't many drummers who can do both so well.    Also, Levon is probably the most kind and genuine celeb that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  Really cool guy.  They were all great musicians, perhaps not virtuosos, but that's overrated anyway. 

They all had substance abuse issues as far as I know, but some to larger degrees.

I think a big reason, but perhaps not the only one, for their split was the fact that Robbie Robertson dominated the songwriting, often times not giving other members credit for their contributions.  At least that seems to be Levon's opinion.

My personal opinion on other musicians praising them is that they didn't over do anything musically speaking.  They played the parts that were perfect for the songs and played them with skill and precision.  Plus, as stated before, they all could play multiple instruments.

I agree with 8o8o in that a greatest hits type album doesn't do The Band justice.  Music From Big Pink and the self titled 2nd record are absolute must haves, so I would start there.  Not a bum track on either of them.  Like Luther said, the production of the 70's records at times can leave a bit to be desired, but there are still some great songs on them.  If you like the first two, then dive in a little deeper.  Stage Fright and Northern Light's Southern Cross are very good as well.

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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2008, 04:11:14 PM »

Thanks for your insights, 8o8o and Cosmic Dancer.

Anybody wanna give a quick comment/review of The Last Waltz? It's strange, I don't necessarily care for many of the artists in the movie, or the particular songs they chose to sing, yet, whenever I stumble across The Last Waltz on TV - I watch it!
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TdHabib
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« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2008, 06:05:02 PM »

Thanks for your insights, 8o8o and Cosmic Dancer.

Anybody wanna give a quick comment/review of The Last Waltz? It's strange, I don't necessarily care for many of the artists in the movie, or the particular songs they chose to sing, yet, whenever I stumble across The Last Waltz on TV - I watch it!
I'll take a stab:
I've always had a moderate liking to the Band, but never in a way that I can muster a lot of passion for. Richard Manuel is mainly the reaosn why I like them so much, not only did he have a great voice during the early days, he also was a terrific piano player. The Last Waltz does not show The Band at their peak, but rather winding down for one more glory moment.

The reason why it's so alluring is Martin Scorsese's direction. While I agree Robertson is shown far too much, he turns it into a cinematic event that has prestige and class. It's a completely effective concert appearance. Neil Young is in great form (coming from a huge Young fan), Muddy Waters is sensational, everybody's loving him at the show including this reviewer in his arm chair! Dylan's also in startlingly good vocal form, and also doesn't appear to be dragging his feet like he would usually do in front of the cameras. Van Morrison is a national treasure and sounds great as usual.

The rest of the acts I feel no particular emotion for, but I think it's Martin's beautiful cinematic direction, the sound mix and the strength of the performances that makes it a near-classic. Flawed, but a near-classic.
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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #7 on: July 15, 2008, 05:10:45 AM »

Anybody wanna give a quick comment/review of The Last Waltz? It's strange, I don't necessarily care for many of the artists in the movie, or the particular songs they chose to sing, yet, whenever I stumble across The Last Waltz on TV - I watch it!
The reason why it's so alluring is Martin Scorsese's direction. While I agree Robertson is shown far too much, he turns it into a cinematic event that has prestige and class. It's a completely effective concert appearance.

...but I think it's Martin's beautiful cinematic direction, the sound mix and the strength of the performances that makes it a near-classic. Flawed, but a near-classic.

Yes, I think you hit on it. That has a lot to do with why I like it also....
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Music Machine
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« Reply #8 on: July 15, 2008, 12:23:17 PM »

I agree with the others, the best introduction you can get is the first few albums. An album I also think would work well as a starting point is the excellent Rock of Ages live album. It has most of the best material from the first few Band albums in stellar arrangments with horn parts created by Allen Toussaint.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_of_Ages_(album)
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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #9 on: July 16, 2008, 06:19:59 PM »

I agree with the others, the best introduction you can get is the first few albums. An album I also think would work well as a starting point is the excellent Rock of Ages live album. It has most of the best material from the first few Band albums in stellar arrangments with horn parts created by Allen Toussaint.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_of_Ages_(album)

Thank you, Music Machine, for that link. I checked it out, and I like what I saw, especially that 2CD reissue from 2001. I'm tempted to buy it, 'cause I like live albums and I like live greatest hits albums. May I ask how is the sound and the performance?
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Music Machine
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« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2008, 11:12:52 AM »

I think it's a good buy, the performance is tight and is well recorded. Every instrument has good defenition and the horn parts shows off the good acoustics of the venue they were playing (NYC Academy of Music.)
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JimC1702
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« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2008, 07:07:23 AM »

I've always liked The Band from way back in the 60's.  "Cripple Creek", "The Weight", etc.  Saw them live in the 90's (without Robbie), but they were excellent.  Levon Helm is great and very personable.  He has made many movies and just won a Grammy for his latest solo album "Dirt Farmer".   

Garth Hudson (keyboards) has performed with many other artists, including some local artists here in upstate NY.  When we saw The Band in the 90's, he sat in a swivel office chair and was very animated, rolling and swiveling to his various keyboards.  Fun to watch.

Savoy Brown was on the same show as well as local blues artist Rory Block.
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donald
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« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2008, 09:32:54 AM »

Lots of personality and talent in the Band.  The last Waltz was the best rock documentary up until that time.  Still stands among the best.   Some beautiful performances (Emmy Lou) and some weird ones (VanMorrison) and some very substance abuse impaired performances (Neil Young).  Opening shot of pool balls being broken (recently reprised in the new Stones movie) also Scorsese.

Levon recently won a grammy.   Garth Hudson did some beautiful supporting work on Neko Case' Fox Confessor album a couple of years ago. 

These guys were just plain cool and least we forget, deserve some credit for the evolution of Bob Dylan.

My favorite voice in the Band had be Levon Helm.  Raw and powerful....even now as a survivor of cancer.

And Levon and Robbie had their moments on the Big Screen.  My favorites were Robbie in Carny costaring with Gary Busey, and Levon as Loretta Lynns father in Coal Miners Daughter, with Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek.

As I think about the movie, I fondly remember the performance of the instrumental Last Waltz.  Very moving.
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Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2008, 08:55:22 PM »

Other than Robbie Robertson, did any of the other Band members want a Last Waltz?
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donald
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« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2008, 11:10:41 AM »

Regarding did any of the others want it to be a last waltz;  I really don't know.  I always thought it was mostly Robbie.

When they got back together later, most everyone else came aboard except for Robbie, as I recall.
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picassosson
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« Reply #15 on: August 05, 2008, 06:09:56 PM »

1. Were The Band fair, good, or great musicians?

Great, without a doubt.  Check out the first disc to the A Musical History Boxset to hear how they got their chops playing R&B in merdaty little clubs as different variations of The Hawks for over a decade.  Their cover of "Honky Tonk" to me sounds better than anything they recorded later as The Band, and is worth the price of the steep admission alone.  They could play a groove like know one else, and at least early on (for the first two albums) everything that went in instrumentally always supported the concept of songcraft.  Watch the great Rhino documentary on the making of The Band to hear George Harrison explain just this.  Seeing that video is what caused me to really dig deeper into the group's albums (Music From The Big Pink is phenomenal, but can be a very oblique listen), and go on a serious kick that lasted over a year.  The greatest musician?  It depends on your definition - but for pure chops, diversity, and musicality look no further than the group's "musical instructor", classically trained Garth "Honeyboy" Hudson.  And that's not even mentioning that they had three distinct, incredible lead vocalists.

2. What is the real reason they broke up in 1976?

Hard to say.  The Band had some serious internal problems post "Stage Fright".  Richard Manuel basically spun further and further down into depression and drugs - and basically stopped writing songs.  For one of his last true gems check out the sublime "Sleeping" from that lp.  Everyone kinda got bogged down in the trappings of instant fame and success - and none of them handled it very well, although they all reacted differently.  Robbie took the lion's share of the songwriting credits, and thus, the lion's share of the royalties.  This is still hotly disputed today, and it's a sticky situation to wade through.  Robbie definitely had some sort of overall vision going on, but one can't deny that he took direct influence from his American band mate Levon (think Kerouac writing about Neal Cassidy) - not to mention that he could have never pulled off his visions without the strength of this incredible ensemble behind him.  In the case of this group, the sum without a doubt outweighed its parts.  This really sowed some seeds of bitterness, mostly betwixt Robbie and Levon.  Throw in some really belligerent behavior and you have a recipe for disaster.  In the end I think Robbie just had enough, wanted to move on to things he was in more control of, and didn't want to stick around to see Richard finally self-destruct. 

3. Why didn't the solo members have any commercial success? Or did they?

One could argue that both Robbie and Levon did.  Robbie had mild solo success in the 80's as an artist and a producer.  Robbie is currently the head of Dreamwork's music division.  Levon has garnered a lot of acclaim in recent years, and I highly recommend his last album "Dirt Farmer".  If you ever get the opportunity to see him at one of his intimate Midnight Rambles upstate I say run, don't walk.

Interesting sidenote for Beach Boys fans:  In the eighties Blondie Chaplin replaced Robertson as the Band's lead guitarist on the road.  He played in his own fluid style, much in contrast to Robertson's restraint.  There's a tape floating about of him, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel performing "Sail On Sailor" live to a bunch of college kids that's pretty damn special.

4. I read/hear so many musicians from that era praise The Band. Why?

Buy the first two albums and listen, listen, listen.  They are amongst the best marriages of lyrics/message/instrumentation/vocals out there.  This is the reason why their version of "Tears Of Rage" is definitive - not Dylan's. 

5. I know Ricard Manuel and Rick Danko had substance abuse problems; what about the others?

It's said the Levon really liked downers, and crashed some cars and assaulted some police of his own.  His ex-girlfriend and ex-woodstock scenester Libby Titus also accuses them of all being serious heroin users at one point.  Robbie Robertson during the Last Waltz period allegedly left his wife to hole up with fellow bachelor Marty Scorsese, where they preceded to board up the window's of the latter's mansion and go on a year's cocaine binge.  Garth is the only one who seems to have been on the level in regards to substance abuse. 

6. Why is The Last Waltz so great? I watch it everytime it's on TV.

It's like watching some sort of crazy train wreck, or eating a cake that's too rich.  It's indulgent, and largely an unfair representation of Rick, Richard, and Garth - who are often quoted as looking like escaped extras from "Deliverance".  Richard by far got the worst of it, and you can't completely blame Robertson or Scorsese for his portrayal...  but for those who remembered Richard "The Beak" clean shaven and handsome, charismatic and refusing movie roles in the late sixties have a really hard time viewing this footage.

« Last Edit: August 05, 2008, 06:12:43 PM by picassosson » Logged
Sheriff John Stone
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« Reply #16 on: August 05, 2008, 07:33:13 PM »

Thanks, picassosan. Good stuff.
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The Heartical Don
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« Reply #17 on: August 18, 2008, 05:09:09 AM »

Difficult. I was a huge fan in the '80s, and then my enthusiasm waned a bit, year by year. I still want to admire them as much as I did back then. But my problem is hard to pin down.
Perhaps they were, after all, too self-conscious... in that they knew too well that they were creating history and thereby almost felt themselves to be more scientists than artists. Sounds silly, I know...
Same with the Last Waltz. I adored the movie then. Don't so much anymore.
That is all I can say on the matter. For now.
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KokoMoses
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« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2008, 07:52:45 AM »

I think the main reason they broke up was because Robbie Robertson simply wasn't that great of a songwriter and had a Dylan complex but was never going to be Bob. He didn't have it in him and shot his wad with the first two albums but his ego just got bigger and bigger. The other guys in the band were incredible musicians/singers who gave great weight to Robertson's songs and had the muscle to pull them off and sell them as authentic. Without them, I can't see Robertson ever amounting to much other than a guitarist credit on Blonde On Blonde (no small feat in itself). Also, with the first two albums, Richard Manuel was completely functional and was writing great stuff..... Tears Of Rage is my favorite Dylan song, and who co-wrote it?Huh Why, Mr. Manuel.... Just listen to his voice on the Big Pink version. More emotion and heartbreak there than anything Robbie ever wrote. Don't get me wrong, the guy DID write a few classics, but you take the Band's performance aspect of the songs away, and they're simply not as great..... Levon put it rightly in saying himself and the others were 'pencil whipped" by Robertson and the money men. They didn't deserve it. Robbie rightly deserved credit for the majority of lyrics, but the others should have gotten a "music by" credit and their due share of those royalties.

I'll completely respect anyone who disagrees. This is just my (educated) opinion.
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The Heartical Don
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« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2008, 08:17:35 AM »

I think the main reason they broke up was because Robbie Robertson simply wasn't that great of a songwriter and had a Dylan complex but was never going to be Bob. He didn't have it in him and shot his wad with the first two albums but his ego just got bigger and bigger. The other guys in the band were incredible musicians/singers who gave great weight to Robertson's songs and had the muscle to pull them off and sell them as authentic. Without them, I can't see Robertson ever amounting to much other than a guitarist credit on Blonde On Blonde (no small feat in itself). Also, with the first two albums, Richard Manuel was completely functional and was writing great stuff..... Tears Of Rage is my favorite Dylan song, and who co-wrote it?Huh Why, Mr. Manuel.... Just listen to his voice on the Big Pink version. More emotion and heartbreak there than anything Robbie ever wrote. Don't get me wrong, the guy DID write a few classics, but you take the Band's performance aspect of the songs away, and they're simply not as great..... Levon put it rightly in saying himself and the others were 'pencil whipped" by Robertson and the money men. They didn't deserve it. Robbie rightly deserved credit for the majority of lyrics, but the others should have gotten a "music by" credit and their due share of those royalties.

I'll completely respect anyone who disagrees. This is just my (educated) opinion.

Good call. I refuse to accept anytime that Robertson told Hudson or Helm what parts to play. Hudson is a madcap genius in his own right, as is Helm.
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Buckethead
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« Reply #20 on: March 25, 2018, 09:21:52 AM »

Yeah, from everything I've read, Garth was the fully-formed/trained musician/multi-instrumentalist in the band who is respected in the industry as such. His parents did not like him hanging with the others in the band, so the guys had to pay him for "lessons!" As far as issues between Robertson and the rest (mainly Helms), I guess we'll never know the whole story. But some who were close to the situation do indicate that Robbie, who was married with babies at the time of say, Big Pink, did not indulge in extreme substance abuse, as did Helms, Manuel, an Danko, until toward the end of the band and after (See info on Robertson and Scorcesse, who became big coke-heads). As such, it was he who did the consistent grunt work in terms of pushing through the songwriting/creative process and took credit. For example, when the guys were in Helm's hometown of Arkansas, Helms told Robertson about the experience of the poor White Southern man surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction, and directed Robbie to the local library, where he took it from there. In Helm's mind, that was enough participation in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to warrant a co-writing credit. As someone who has had to work with people actively engaged in substance abuse, addicted or not, I understand how difficult it is to take control when no one else is able to participate in a meaningful way, back off when they decide to not be under the influence, then clean up the mess and continue on when they check out again. Yet in each case, they would certainly claim that they were part-and-parcel to the process.
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« Reply #21 on: March 25, 2018, 09:41:59 AM »

For what it's worth, this thread brings back memories of one of the best concerts I've ever seen, at the Tower Theater outside of Philadelphia. It was in the mid 80s (or so) and featured members of the Byrds, the Band, and the Beach Boys. I clearly remember that it was shortly after Richard Manuel took his life, and included Rick Danko and Blondie Chaplin; no Robertson or McGuinn, of course, but some others. They did a mix of songs from all three bands are were just incredible. I missed Manuel, though, as he was, in my mind, the most beautiful singer.
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« Reply #22 on: March 25, 2018, 12:41:05 PM »

Wow, so there's a Band topic----thanks, B. :=)

There aren't many bands (no pun intended) where everyone is on absolutely equal footing musically. The UK band Free is one and The Band is another.

I love the first three albums. My favourite track? There are so many, beginning with this astonishing album opener:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMqJ2V6zOd0
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« Reply #23 on: April 14, 2018, 05:21:08 AM »

Here's another great favourite, "We Can Talk". I often think their debut album is their best. I love the way they throw vocal lines at each other, sort of catch-as-catch-can. That perhaps is what makes them totally unique, that and the timeless quality of their best music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCWiQrkNp2M
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« Reply #24 on: April 15, 2018, 10:06:56 PM »

I find it interesting that everybody likes the first 2 albums, and not much after that. I never got into "Big Pink" that much. Let's take the opener, "Tears of Rage", for starters. I compare it side by side with Dylan's version on "Basement tapes", and there's no comparison, Bob's version wins hands down. There are a few performances i like on "Big Pink", but a lot of those songs they did better live. I love the second album, though. Strong from start to finish. Second favorite album of theirs is "Northern Lights Southern Cross". That contains my all time favorite song of theirs, "It Makes No Difference". If that isn't the best song ever about heartbreak, i don't know what is.
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