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Thread: Where Should I Start With The Grateful Dead?

  1. #1
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    Where Should I Start With The Grateful Dead?

    I'm embarrassed to admit that I've managed to be a huge music fan up to the ripe old age of 55 without ever really listening to the music of The Grateful Dead.

    If I were to start with one CD or DVD, what should it be?

    N

  2. #2
    Anthem of the Sun (1968) - their coolest and most overtly experimental release.
    Live/Dead (1969) - presenting their extraordinary live approach full-blown; more acidic greatness here.
    American Beauty (1971) - their folky/rootsy/country'ish masterwork of fantastic songwriting.
    Blues for Allah (1975) - going jazzy and "progressive".
    Terrapin Station (1977) - furthering down the "semi-progressive", save for a throwaway "Dancin' in the Streets".
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

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    I'd start with "Live/Dead".

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by JJ88 View Post
    I still way prefer what other bands like The Band and The Flying Burrito Brothers were doing in this style.
    But honestly, this would be like actually comparing Badfinger to The Beatles; TFBB were the greatest country rock group of all time - no question about it. And for "roots" in general, Little Feat.

    The Byrds - whom I regard as one of the most important rock groups ever - came nowhere close to the country stylings of TFBB, not even on Sweetheart or (Untitled). IMHO.
    "Improvisation is not an excuse for musical laziness" - Fred Frith
    "[...] things that we never dreamed of doing in Crimson or in any band that I've been in," - Tony Levin speaking of SGM

  5. #5
    Member Cuz's Avatar
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    i would suggest Europe 72 - you get a lot of short songs, and there are some jams on there as well.

  6. #6
    W.P.O.D. Dan Marsh's Avatar
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    Live/Dead is the best way to start.

  7. #7
    From The Mars Hotel or American Beauty are good studio starters. So many live choices. I'd go to YouTube and start watching any of the dozens of complete concerts that are posted there.
    "I got an idea, an idea so smart my head would explode if I even began to know what I was talking about."
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  8. #8
    Moderator Sean's Avatar
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    Blues For Allah is one most prog fans would like first. Some of Terrapin Station is like that too...

  9. #9
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    I say Anthem of the Sun--if you are wanting to hear their more psychedelic side of things. It's crazy good, and though I think at the time was considered a failure?? irrc. It took them a long time in the studio to complete it. I love it though.

    For an overall cross section of their sound, from the psych to jams to some country, I'd go with their self title album: Grateful Dead or sometimes referred to as the skeleton and roses album. It has Mama Tried by Merle Haggard, Me & My Uncle by John Phillips, Me & Bobby McGee by Kristofferson, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry, and the psych jam, The Other One on it among other choice cuts.

    Live/Dead is good, but a bit slower tempo with the tunes. Of course you can always sample songs on Amazon.

    If you want more tighter songs in the country genre go with Workingman's Dead or American Beauty.

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    Live/Dead (esp Dark Star and St. Stephen).

    Europe 72 and Skull'n'Roses (officially just called The Grateful Dead) are live albums with good stuff on, but also with easy-going, good-timey tracks that are only so-so.

    Workingman's Dead and American Beauty are good in their way, but they don't have the psychedelic potency of the Dead when on form live.

    Aoxomoxoa is good, underrated.

  11. #11
    My suggestions:

    Grateful Dead Movie: most of the band's best songs, performed during their best era, including some very sweet improvisation. Great animated sequence opens the film, and the DVD has a bonus disc with something like 90 minutes of bonus material. Still my favorite version of Morning Dew. There's a five disc "soundtrack album" that came out a few years ago, which is well worth having as it features most of the jams and improvisations unedited. I say most, because they still had to leave a few of my personal favorites off, and the version of Eyes Of The World had several has several minutes edited out (thank goodness for bootlegs). That's it still a great collection of music, particular discs one and two.

    Anthem Of The Sun: a psychedelic classic, and a very innovative album. They kinda sorta caused the producer David Hassinger to have a nervous breakdown while making this record. Reportedly, at one point Bob Weir asked for "the sound of thick air", which caused Hassinger to walk out of the studio, repeatedly muttering "Thick air, now he wants thick air!", which apparently was the last the band saw of the guy.

    Aoxomoxoa: the other psychedelic classic, so long as you skip over What's Become Of The Baby, which tries even my patience. Mountains Of The Moon, Cosmic Charlie, St Stephen are particular favorites here.

    American Beauty: really just for two songs, Ripple and Box Of Rain, two of the best songs written by anyone, anywhere, anytime, and never played as good onstage as they were on this album.

    As far as the original live albums go, Live/Dead is the best of them, I think. Every other live album suffers from them choosing the wrong material. I think sometimes that's the result of them not wanting to repeat stuff that was on previous live albums (ie "We used Dark Star on Live/Dead so we can't use it this live album we're putting together from the Europe tour" or whatever), but there's also a lot of facepalm worthy decisions, like leaving Weather Report Suite and the 10/19/74 Eyes Of The World/China Doll suite off Steal Your Face (more on that in a minute), or leaving both Terrapin Station and Scarlet Begonias off Dead Set.
    Skullfuck is worth having, mainly for the version of The Other One that originally comprised side two (but you have to fast forward through the drum solo that inexplicably opens the LP side) and the Not Fade Away/Going Down The Road Feeling Bad suite. The rest of the album is bogged by mediocre cover tunes and what I feel is a poorly chosen version of Playin' In The Band (it would have been fine if the song had remained a 4 minute song, but it quickly evolved into an improv vehicle, and including it on this record meant it was exempt for consideration for subsequent albums, which I think was unfortunate). Oh, btw, the reason I call this album Skullfuck is that's the title the band wanted to use, but Warners 86ed that idea for obvious reasons, so it came out with an eponymous title, but that gets confusing because their first album also was self-titled.

    Steal Your Face is the definition of non-essential. Phil Lesh was in charge of the project, and decided he wanted a "collection of songs" rather than "a collection of jams" or whatever. So all the epic improvisations and jams that occurred during that five night run weren't even considered for the album, and in their place there's a bunch of cover tunes (and not the good ones either) and a couple worthy sort of semi-jammy type things. Combine that with a lousy audio mix, and you've got a real head scratcher of a bad album. I've forgotten which record critic it was who said in his review, "Steal your money is more like it".

    As for the myriad archival releases that have appeared over the last 20 years, the Dick's Picks releases from 72-74 highlight what I consider to be the apex of the band's career (with Volumes 7, 12, 28, and 31 being my favorites).

    As for the Road Trips releases, Vol. 2 No. 2 is a great show from February 14, 1968, which again highlights the band's early psychedelic sound. Vol. 2 No. 3 features highlights from two shows in June of 1974, which again is from my favorite part of the band's career. Vol 1 No. 2 covers the October 77 Midwest tour, and has some nice things on it, too.

    If you can afford it, I'd also say get the Complete Europe '72 set.

    Do you want me to talk about the bootlegs? There's lots of great music that's never appeared on any of the official releases, or only on limited edition sets like the Fillmore West 69 set.
    Last edited by GuitarGeek; 07-26-2013 at 04:10 PM.

  12. #12
    W.P.O.D. Dan Marsh's Avatar
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    Nice posting!

  13. #13
    Pikachupacabra spellbound's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris
    Grateful Dead Movie
    Can this be the swan song? The final elbow?

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    Thanks to all for your suggestions - esp. GuitarGeek for filling in some detail as well, more than I was asking for.

    I've got plenty to think about now.... :-)

    Norman

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thebigdipper View Post
    I'm embarrassed to admit that I've managed to be a huge music fan up to the ripe old age of 55 without ever really listening to the music of The Grateful Dead.
    You've just described me (same age too). It's really wierd, I guess I was just a shade young when I was exposed to them and it never really clicked with me. My brother, whose 3 years older was already into Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead when I was still listening to AM Top-40 pop radio. For some reason the San Francisco groups of that classic era just never clicked for me. My brother was fanatical about the Dead. He had everything up to Working Man's Dead and American Beauty.

    I've seen this album at Barnes & Noble in their discount bin:



    I always loved the cover. I don't remember any of the songs. I remember sitting and looking at those great album covers and all that crazy music from the first 3 albums. Then they went "country" and my brother just followed them further into that folky/country/jug band world of their's, and I discovered Led Zeppelin. That was it. My brother and I went off in different directions musically. For years I couldn't stand Bob Dylan, then a couple years ago I started buying all his early albums (I found 'em all at B&N cheap). At some point I'll get into The Dead even if it's just to look at the album art and for nostalgia.

  16. #16
    PE Member Since 4/9/2002 NeonKnight's Avatar
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    The Dead are a LIVE band. (Is that a contradiction?)

    So naturally you should go live, if you want to understand their essence. I would go with Skull and Roses or Europe 72 to capture the band at their peak with Pigpen.

    There's also the Dick's Picks series, which you can move on to once you understand your own GD preferences.

    One last suggestion, if you must have studio Dead, there are always collections like The Best of the Grateful Dead, which was my own intro to the GD, decades ago, before I saw them like 20 times with Garcia.
    “Where words fail, music speaks.” - Hans Christian Anderson

  17. #17
    Geriatric Anomaly progeezer's Avatar
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    From a non-Dead fan's perspective, there's sometimes one album you really dig by a band you don't.

    Terrapin Station (again, for the non-Dead fan who is familiar with a lot of their catalog & even saw them live in 1966 at Winterland in SF) is imo nothing at all like any of their other massive output. I think it's a killer album, but except for the distinctive vocals of both Garcia & Weir it doesn't sound like a Dead album.

    I admit I have a soft spot for the "Morning Dew" debut album, as well as both Workingman's Dead & American Beauty, but not enough that I need to own them.
    "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician, and to tell the truth, there's hardly any difference"

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  18. #18
    Anthem of the Sun\Aoxomoxoa and LiveDead(though the 15 minute Turn on your lovelight is just brutally bad and hamfisted it's worth it for the other tracks)

  19. #19
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    If you must, I agree with progeezer and start with Terrapin Station. This was my first GD album way back when, and always wondered why the rest of their music didn't sound like that. As others have said, skip Dancing in the Streets. Stupid song.
    The rest of the album is pretty good.

  20. #20
    I started with the double album "what a long strange trip its been" and I got just about everything I could ask for there. I supplemented that with Mars Hotel and then In the dark. Sweet!
    I got nothin'

    ...avoiding any implication that I have ever entertained a cognizant thought.

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    Start here...


  22. #22
    Member Oreb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thebigdipper View Post
    I'm embarrassed to admit that I've managed to be a huge music fan up to the ripe old age of 55 without ever really listening to the music of The Grateful Dead.
    I made it to about 49 in the same condition. An acquaintance at work lent me some stuff (Europe 72 and American Beauty) and I was completely underwhelmed. I suspect Banquo's advice is the best.

    Does it matter that this waste of time is what makes a life for you?

  23. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Vic2012 View Post
    You've just described me (same age too). It's really wierd, I guess I was just a shade young when I was exposed to them and it never really clicked with me. My brother, whose 3 years older was already into Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead when I was still listening to AM Top-40 pop radio. For some reason the San Francisco groups of that classic era just never clicked for me. My brother was fanatical about the Dead. He had everything up to Working Man's Dead and American Beauty.

    I've seen this album at Barnes & Noble in their discount bin:



    I always loved the cover. I don't remember any of the songs. I remember sitting and looking at those great album covers and all that crazy music from the first 3 albums. Then they went "country" and my brother just followed them further into that folky/country/jug band world of their's, and I discovered Led Zeppelin. That was it. My brother and I went off in different directions musically. For years I couldn't stand Bob Dylan, then a couple years ago I started buying all his early albums (I found 'em all at B&N cheap). At some point I'll get into The Dead even if it's just to look at the album art and for nostalgia.
    That's the first album, which is an ok album. Most of the material is cover tunes. The two original songs, The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) and Cream Puff War are not bad given the band were new to the process of songwriting. Viola Lee Blues is pretty cool here (though the live versions, as usual, are better). The rest of the album is nothing special.

    If you want an album cover to stare at, I think Anthem Of The Sun, Aoxomoxoa, American Beauty, From The Mars Hotel, and Terrapin Station are better for that purpose than the first album.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by progeezer View Post
    Terrapin Station (again, for the non-Dead fan who is familiar with a lot of their catalog & even saw them live in 1966 at Winterland in SF) is imo nothing at all like any of their other massive output. I think it's a killer album, but except for the distinctive vocals of both Garcia & Weir it doesn't sound like a Dead album.
    The reason it doesn't sound like a Dead album is because it was produced by Keith Olsen, a guy normally associated with the likes of Fleetwood Mac and other MOR types. Olsen was put on the project by Clive Davis who was convinced that he could make the Grateful Dead into something "big" ya know in terms of chart topping hit singles, etc.

    Hence, the plan was to make a record that was radio friendly and "glossy" as possible, including overdubbing a Lyricon player on Estimated Prophet, horns on Dancing In The Street (more on that in a second), and perhaps most infamously an orchestra and choir on Terrapin Station itself. According to Mickey Hart, Olsen even erased a timbale solo Mickey had played on Terrapin Station, and replaced it with strings! The orchestra on Terrapin Station sounds pretty good to my ears, very cinematic, but the choir was going overboard.

    As much as I'd like to blame the pop music record producer for that disco arrangement of Dancing In The Streets, apparently the band did that on their own accord. There's tapes that allegedly date from 75 or 76 where they're toying around with the basic motifs you hear in that arrangement, but without anything that obviously identifies as Dancing In The Streets (thus suggesting they had the arrangement first, and later someone thought of sticking the Dancing In The Streets melody and lyric on top of it).

    There's also a story of how Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart drove across state lines, whilst the band was on tour, to see Saturday Night Fever, with the upshot being that when they rejoined the tour, the two of them convened a meeting in one of the hotel rooms where Jerry and Mickey demonstrated Travolta's dance moves to everyone.

  25. #25
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    Many people are recommending "Terrapin Station" as a starting point, which is understandable on a prog forum. But it's hardly one of The Grateful Dead's better studio records and won't really gauge whether or not the band is for you. Likewise, the wealth of archival live material would be completely daunting to a newbie. If I was going to go with a small handful of albums, I'd begin with some combination of "Live Dead", "Europe 72", "S/T" (The Skull & Roses album) and/or "American Beauty" as some of their best and most accessible albums. If you like those albums, you have a hell of a journey ahead of you. If you don't like them, The Grateful Dead is probably not for you.

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