The Band's "Music From Big Pink" arrived with songs that sounded as if recorded by a 19th century group in which Herman Melville, John Brown, Stephen Foster and Stephen Crane played.
In opposition to rock pretentions, the group with its minimalist name had retreated to upstate New York to bond and create music with Bob Dylan, whom they had backed before Dylan suffered a serious motorcycle accident. Dylan painted the primitive artwork on the album's cover.
As Rolling Stone writer Jordan Runtagh outlines, the retreat from the spotlight led to an album that stood apart from the rock mainstream.
With classics like "The Weight," "Chest Fever," Tears of Rage," and Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," the album's virtuosity shone with echoes of country, Tin Pan Alley, gospel, vaudeville tunes, jazz, the blues, bluegrass, classical music, and old-time rock and roll.
The voices of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel and Rich Danko sounded like American pioneer prophets and story tellers. They were also consummate musicians.
Manuel's piano evoked frontier bars, roadhouses and New Orleans whorehouses, and Helm's drumming merged Memphis, New Orleans and New York City.
Robbie Robertson's brilliant songwriting and guitar work was another signature. Classically trained Garth Hudson was the group's musical master, with technical innovations and arrangements drawing on sources from Mozart to Chuck Berry.
They would go on to put out another history-soaked classic, "The Band," before entering their own wilderness of rock excessiveness. Then they would say goodbye with the San Francisco concert captured in Martin Scorsese's "The Last Waltz."
As the country fell to pieces in the summer of 1968, "Music From Big Pink" lit a lamp of hope.