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Two years after his history-making 1965 electric performance, Bob Dylan holed himself up in a basement in upstate New York and played what became some of the most famous recordings never released.
The prolific singer and songwriter, who had emerged as a defining voice of the 1960s, suffered a motorcycle accident that forced him to take a break from the road. The involuntary convalescence ended up producing some of the most critically acclaimed work of his career.
The 1967 recordings became what is considered rock history's first bootleg record: "Great White Wonder," a title that was simply a name for the vinyl's plain white packaging but occasionally became a moniker for Dylan himself.
Nearly a half-century later, Dylan is releasing the entirety of the collection. The six-CD boxed-set, "The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series, Volume 11," goes on sale Monday in Europe and Tuesday in North America.
An official release announcing the exhaustive boxed-set described it as "a Holy Grail for Dylanologists."
The boxed-set comprises all known recordings, including several recent discoveries that have eluded Dylan's devoted fan base, from the summer sessions at the house dubbed Big Pink in West Saugerties, New York.
The collection includes multiple versions of numerous songs performed in the basement by Dylan with his touring ensemble, The Band, with some equipment borrowed from Peter, Paul and Mary.
- Changing concept of 'bootlegs' -
Columbia Records released a more concise and polished official version in 1975 as "The Basement Tapes," that also included tracks by The Band without Dylan.
In a sign of how far the music market has changed, Columbia is taking the opposite approach with the boxed-set. The 138 tracks, presented in chronological order, keep imperfections and the do-it-yourself feel, with the label billing the CDs as sounding just like the 1967 recordings.
"Great White Wonder" set off a bootlegging industry as fans swapped live recordings and studio outtakes, which carried an aura of authenticity untouched by record labels.
Early bootlegs were considered illegal but the practice gradually moved into the mainstream, with the Grateful Dead pioneering the embrace of bootlegs as a way to be closer to fans.
In the Internet era, everything from concert recordings to leaked studio albums are instantly available. With so much music to be found for free, labels have increasingly gone to their vaults to release artists' early recordings as collectors' items.
- Dylan refines sound -
The Dylan boxed-set shows the evolution of numerous Dylan classics, as well as his takes on songs by folk icons Pete Seeger and Johnny Cash.
Dylan had stunned the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 by going electric, helping usher in rock's dominance. The Big Pink sessions showed a further experimentation with form as Dylan became more eclectic.
The boxed-set shows Dylan and The Band, who sometimes recorded multiple songs a day, refining the musical form and playing with how to match the lyrics.
"I Shall Be Released," Dylan's song of redemption, appears even truer to its Gospel roots in the first take with an organ driving the tune. The song's first line -- "They say everything can be replaced / Yet every distance is not near" -- appears in the demo as a second verse and starts, "Everything is not misplaced."
Some tracks, however, may interest only the most avid Dylan connoisseurs. The boxed-set features two versions of "See You Later, Allen Ginsburg," a fleeting shoutout to the Beat poet playing loosely on Bill Haley and the Comets' song, "See You Later, Alligator."
While boxed-sets can be career-cappers, the 73-year-old Dylan maintains an active touring schedule. A note in the boxed-set announced that he will release his 36th studio album, "Shadows in the Night," next year.