Top 10 Grateful Dead Albums
The Grateful Dead have a large legacy of recorded work that only continues to grow - you've heard about that 73 CD 'Europe '72' box set, right? It's a lot to consider, so to celebrate the late great Jerry Garcia's birthday (Aug. 1), we decided to narrow it down to this list of the Top 10 Grateful Dead Albums:
Two years after Bob Dylan and The Grateful Dead teamed up for a stadium tour in 1987, this live album, 'Dylan And The Dead' was released, collecting performances from the tour. Surprisingly, critical reaction to the recordings of the historic pairing was quite harsh, with a reviewer offering sympathy to “anyone who actually sat through one of these concerts with a clear head.” Ouch. We disagree - when exploring the vast catalog of music from the Dead, this one's worth at the very least, a pit stop, for educational reasons.
Not many people would have this album on a list of the top Grateful Dead albums. In fact, one review calls 'Go To Heaven' “the most under-appreciated album of the Dead's canon,” which is a big thing to say about the band's first album with new keyboardist Brent Mydland. The heavenly cover art doesn't do a lot to sell the music on the album within, but the songs themselves are consistently solid.
'In The Dark' was a Grateful Dead album made up of material that the band had been performing live for a number of years. The title references the band's real-life attempt to capture their live sound by recording the basic tracks in a darkened theater with no audience. Unexpectedly, they grabbed their only Top Ten hit ever with 'Touch Of Grey,' which brought the Dead's music under the microscope for a whole new audience of music fans.
The debut album from the Dead took shape in only four days. Bassist Phil Lesh says that the band had no experience with recording prior to cutting the album, and that the Dead faced additional pressure from their label, Warner Brothers, who forced them to edit several tracks to make them shorter. The album's original mono mix was reissued this year for Record Store Day after being unavailable for nearly 45 years.
'Blues For Allah' brought an end to a brief touring hiatus for the band, and also saw the return of drummer Mickey Hart to the lineup after a four year absence. 'The Music Never Stopped' was the band's highest charting single since 'Uncle John's Band,' reaching #81 on the pop charts. The title track was performed several times during the band's touring in 1975 and then subsequently retired from their setlists.
Little Feat's Lowell George was behind the boards for 'Shakedown Street,' and he can be heard singing vocals on an alternate version of 'Good Lovin'' that was released on a 2004 reissue. 'Good Lovin'' and 'All New Minglewood Blues,' which had been staples in the Dead's setlist, were finally committed to an official album. 'Shakedown' also officially ushered in 'Fire On The Mountain' and 'I Need A Miracle.' Comic artist Gilbert Shelton provided the cover art.
Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of one of the Grateful Dead's most revered live sets. The Dead celebrate that milestone this fall with the release of the massive 73 CD box set featuring the un-doctored original recordings of the 22 shows that 'Europe '72' was culled from. 'Europe '72' was the first recorded appearance of Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux. It was also the final tour for keyboardist Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan before his tragic passing.
Could the Dead handle prog rock? 'Terrapin Station' suggests that the answer to that question is “yes.” The sprawling 'Terrapin Station Part 1' occupies the second side of the album, rolling for more than 16 minutes as part of a connected suite. Side two also featured future favorite 'Lady With A Fan,' a Dead rendering of the traditional folk song 'Lady of Carlisle' which provided the inspirational backbone for the entire piece. Longtime Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics for 'Terrapin' in the midst of what he termed as a “flamboyant lightning storm.” Fan reaction to the album was mixed, with some feeling that the album was overproduced in comparison to the band's previously recorded work, but over time it has come to be acknowledged as one of the top Grateful Dead albums.
Hunter appears somewhat appropriately as the seventh “member” on the cover art for 'Workingman's Dead,' an album title which was inspired by a quip by Garcia, who said to Hunter that “this album was turning into the Workingman's Dead version of the band.” Recorded in nine days, we meet Casey Jones and Uncle John for the first time. Harmonies take on an expanded role on this album, a side effect of time that members had spent hanging out with Crosby, Stills and Nash in the time prior to entering the studio to record.
1970 was a pretty good year for "deadheads," with two of the top Grateful Dead albums ever being released within six months of each other. 'American Beauty' found Garcia contributing a lot of pedal steel to the album, which marked his first work with David Grisman, who would become an important collaborative presence in Jerry's world. 'Beauty' was (temporarily) the final album for drummer Mickey Hart, who took a four year hiatus from the group before returning in 1975. Several signature Dead songs are represented here in studio form, including 'Truckin',' 'Friend Of The Devil' and 'Sugar Magnolia.'