"I'll do this one more time and if I can't do it, we'll do another song. I'll do any song as good as I can do it the first time." Bob Dylan says these words once his first solo take of "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" breaks down after a minute. Dylan's definition of "good" is fluid, of course. Sometimes, a first take satisfied him – "Maggie's Farm" and "Gates of Eden" are two prime examples – but often he'd find he could do a song better or at least do it differently, swapping out words, speeding up the tempo, and changing the feel, occasionally radically transforming his song.
Preserving newly written Bob Dylan songs for copyright is the reason why the Band's Garth Hudson rolled tape at Big Pink but The Basement Tapes were something much more than songwriting demos. Greil Marcus dubbed it a celebration of the "Old, Weird America" in his 1997 book Invisible Republic, connecting these songs to Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music, adding an extra layer of myth to tapes that were shrouded in mystery from the moment bootlegs started to circulate. The Basement Tapes Complete strengthens portions of that legend while simultaneously puncturing it. Certainly, the six-disc box – its first five discs assembled according to Hudson's numbering system, with the sixth disc collecting sessions discovered later – feels substantially different from the LP released in 1975, where the overall picture was distorted by Robbie Robertson adding sometimes significant overdubs and including Band recordings that weren't cut during those seven months in 1967.