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‘Bangla Desh’: Aura of History

TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

“The Concert for Bangla Desh,” which was held 20 years ago this month at New York’s Madison Square Garden, remains one of rock’s most celebrated events.

Organized by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to raise money to help refugee children in Bangladesh, the concert was one of the first dramatic examples of using rock ‘n’ roll star power for charitable purposes--a tradition that in the ‘80s would expand to include such gala projects as “We Are the World” and “Live Aid.” The Madison Square Garden lineup also featured Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and--most significantly--the first U.S. concert appearance in years by Bob Dylan.

Because of its benefit nature, the concert album carried a strong emotional wallop. Released late in 1971, it spent 41 weeks on the national pop charts and won a Grammy for best album of the year.

“The Concert for Bangla Desh” album has finally been released in CD and one of the interesting things about listening to the album after all these years is the chance it gives us to better separate the emotional spirit of the concert from the actual music.

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It seems clear now that the urgency of these major musicians rallying together gave the album considerable more power than the music alone would have done. Other collections from the period, notably the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” stand as more commanding musical works.

Still, there is an aura of history about the album and some of the music is quite stirring, including Harrison’s frisky “Awaiting on You All” and the Harrison-Clapton teaming on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

It’s the Dylan sequence, however, that is the most moving. Though he had released several albums, including “John Wesley Harding,” since adopting an extremely low profile following a motorcycle accident in 1966, the concert served in many ways as Dylan’s formal return to action.

Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes: “YESYEARS,” from Atco Records, is a four-disc commemorative box set featuring all of Yes’ greatest hits (including “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart”), some new material and some previously unreleased live tracks and demos.

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