Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane

Surrealistic Pillow
by Jefferson Airplane

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Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson AirplaneJefferson Airplane reached an early peak with their second LP Surrealistic Pillow. The album was the first album to feature vocalist Grace Slick, who made an immediate impact by bringing with her a couple of songs from her former group, The Great Society. Combined with these indelible tunes is a fine mix of folk, rock and psychedelic experimentation which made this record a quintessential work of the 1960s counterculture.

After the Beatles-led British Invasion of 1964, folk singer Marty Balin decided to open a club in San Francisco and start a folk-rock band in residency. The first to sign on was guitarist Paul Kantner and a multitude of shifting lineups followed. When blues guitarist Jorma Kaukonen joined he came up with the group name based on his own nickname “Blind Thomas Jefferson Airplane”, which in turn was influenced by one of Kaukonen’s blues influences, Blind Lemon Jefferson. The group performed its first public show in August, 1965 and within months they were fielding offers from recording companies, signing with RCA Victor in November 1965, The group’s debut, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off was released in September 1966 with a mix of covers and folk originals, but it did not make many waves outside of the San Francisco Bay area.

In late 1966, the group’s lineup shifted once again as Spencer Dryden replaced original drummer Skip Spence and Slick replaced vocalist Signe Anderson at the invitation of bassist Jack Casady. This new lineup entered the studio late in the year to record to record Surrealistic Pillow.

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Surrealist Pillow by Jefferson Airplane
Released: February 1, 1967 (RCA Victor)
Produced by: Rick Jarrard
Recorded: RCA Victor’s Music Center, Hollywood, October-November, 1966
Side One Side Two
She Has Funny Cars
Somebody to Love
My Best Friend
Today
Comin’ Back to Me
3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds
D.C.B.A.–25
How Do You Feel
Embryonic Journey
White Rabbit
Plastic Fantastic Lover
Group Members
Marty Balin – guitars, vocals
Grace Slick – piano, keyboards, recorder, vocals
Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitars, vocals
Paul Kantner – guitars, vocals
Jack Casady – bass, guitars
Spencer Dryden – drums, percussion

Dryden’s drum pattern borrowed from Bo Diddly introduces the opener “She Has Funny Cars”, with later sections featuring a duet between Balin and Slick. Grace’s brother-in-law Darby Slick composed the pop hit “Somebody to Love”, while both were members of The Great Society in 1965. This song became Jefferson Airplane’s first and biggest charting single as it reached the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. “My Best Friend” is sing-songy and laid back with rich vocal harmonies and subtle lead guitar throughout, while “Today” features beautiful, layered guitars and great vocals by Balin.

The mellow mood continues on the extended “Comin’ Back to Me”, a laid back folk ballad sans rhythm section, In contrast, “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds” is Balin’s driving rocker which features some great lead guitar by Kaukonen and nice bass interplay by Cassady. Kantner’s “D.C.B.A.–25” is a pleasant folk rocker with intricate rhythms and dual vocals, followed by the uplifting love tune “How Do You Feel” and Kaukonen’s Celtic-flavored acoustic piece, “Embryonic Journey”.

The album’s highlight is Slick’s “White Rabbit”, a single direction vector of a song which builds from a simple thumping rhythm and builds into a a strong crescendo as a definitive icon of the late 60s sound. The lyrics draw from the Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland series and the single and became another Top 10 hit from the album. Balin’s “Plastic Fantastic Lover” closes the record with an almost Velvet Underground feel to it, an edgy vibe which ends a bit abruptly.

Surrealistic Pillow peaked at number three on the Billboard album chart and has been certified Platinum by the RIAA. Soon after it’s release, Jefferson Airplane performed at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, further solidifying their legacy as a central act in the Summer of Love.

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Part of Classic Rock review’s Celebration of 1967 albums.

Wake of the Flood by Grateful Dead

Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead

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Wake of the Flood by Grateful DeadThe Grateful Dead‘s long awaited sixth studio album, Wake of the Flood, marked a new era for the California band. Their first studio album in nearly three years, this was the first album on their independent Grateful Dead Records label as well as the first to feature the couple Keith Godchaux on piano and keyboards and Donna Jean Godchaux on backing vocals. This seven track album features compositions which draw from a blend of influences, ranging from the roots genres of country, folk and ragtime to a seventies modern fusion of funk and jazz rock.

In 1970, the Grateful Dead released two critically acclaimed studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, where they scaled back their sound with heavy folk and country influences. Following this breakthrough success, the band did extensive worldwide touring and would release three live albums in three years – Grateful Dead in 1971, Europe ’72 in 1972, and Bear’s Choice in 1973. Keith Godchaux joined the group in 1971 as a pianist alongside founding keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, when Pigpen was moved exclusively to Hammond B3 organ at the time. In 1972, McKernan’s health deteriorated, leaving him unable tour, and  ultimately lose his life in March 1973 due to complications from liver damage. Percussionist Micky Hart also temporarily left the band during this era, leaving drummer Bill Kreutzmann as the sole member behind the skins.

In August 1973, the Grateful Dead took a break from touring to record studio versions of new songs which had been in live rotation. The band chose to record Wake of the Flood at the Record Plant in Sausalito, California, near their Bay area home base. The band self produced the album along with help from staff engineers and recorded everything is less than two weeks.


Wake of the Flood by The Grateful Dead
Released: October 15, 1973 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: The Grateful Dead
Recorded: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, August, 1973
Side One Side Two
Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo
Let Me Sing Your Blues Away
Row Jimmy
Stella Blue
Here Comes Sunshine
Eyes of the World
Weather Report Suite
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

Sonically, Wake of the Flood moves from very simple to more complex as the album moves along. The opening “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” has a real loose, live feel as a down-home bluegrass track featuring the fiddle of guest Vassar Clements throughout. Jerry Garcia‘s lead vocals are somewhat low in the mix of this track which likely got its title as a play on “Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champs”, a mid-sixties bluegrass group started by Garcia, McKernan and guitarist Bob Weir. “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away” introduces Keith Godchaux to the listening audience as lead vocalist and co-writer with lyricist Robert Hunter. The first single from this album, this song has some strong melodic ideas and harmonies which are not completely formed on this recording.

Garcia’s complex and rhythmic “Row Jimmy” is the first sonically satisfying song on the album as a ballad accented with clavichord and percussion to complement the usual fine bass by Phil Lesh along with dual guitar licks. The exquisite “Stella Blue” is the best showcase of Garcia’s emotional vocals and is an overall well produced and tight ballad with an original and beautiful vibe with Hunter’s lyrics telling a story of lost love and sadness.

Grateful Dead in 1973

The album’s second side starts with the song that gives album its title. “Here Comes Sunshine” features another rich musical mix with an optimistic story of better days to come. The funky track “Eyes of the World” furthers the group’s sonic advancement into the fine mixes which they would display later in the 1970s, with great chord progressions, rudiments, rhythms and lead guitar. This leads to the album closer, Weir’s fantastic, three part “Weather Report Suite”, which showcases incredible, layered guitars and a smoothly put together and exquisitely produced jazz-influenced musical journey throughout. The “Prelude” section is an acoustic instrumental with slowly building rhythmic accompaniment, leading to “Part I”, featuring lyrics by guest Eric Andersen. The song addresses the seasons, and their relationship to the narrator’s state of mind. “Part II (Let it Grow)” feature’s Weir’s longtime lyrical partner John Perry Barlow and is the most upbeat part of the suite with music is perfectly laid out with various elements, including rich horns and a closing dual sax and harmonica lead, all making for a fine closing of this album.

Reaching the Top 20, Wake of the Flood fared better on the pop charts than any previous studio album. The Grateful Dead Records did not last all that long, collapsing in 1976, which resulted in this album all but disappearing from the marketplace for about a dozen years until it was issued on CD in the late 1980s.

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Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead

Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead

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Terrapin Station by Grateful DeadBy the mid 1970s, the fiercely independent Grateful Dead decided to make a radical turn towards more conventional music business practices. Foremost in this new direction was the decision to abandon their own record label by signing with Clive Davis’s then-new Arista Records as well as work with an outside producer for the first time in nearly a decade. The initial studio release following this new direction was 1977’s Terrapin Station, which remains a highly regarded yet polarizing album four decades after its release.

In 1974, the Grateful Dead decided to take a hiatus from live touring and, for the next two years, the only band activity was the recording and release of the eccentric 1975 studio album Blues For Allah. In June 1976, the group resumed touring under new management and their Spring 1977 tour has been held in high regard as some of the best performances of their long career.

Terrapin Station was produced by Keith Olsen and recorded at Sound City Studios in Southern California. Olsen made a concerted effort to deliver a song cycle which could break through commercially. This included some post-production overdubs of strings, horns, saxophone and and choral vocals which caused some differing opinions among group members with the end results.

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Terrapin Station by Grateful Dead
Released: July 27, 1977 (Arista)
Produced by: Keith Olsen
Recorded: Sound City Studios, Van Nuys, CA, November 1976 – May 1977
Side One Side Two
Estimated Prophet
Dancin’ in the Streets
Passenger
Samson And Delilah
Sunrise
Terrapin Station (Part 1)
Group Musicians
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux – Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Percussion

 

The album begins with one of its most indelible tracks, “Estimated Prophet”, written and sung by guitarist Bob Weir with lyrics by poet John Perry Barlow. This track is filled with great melodies, overt sonic riffs, jazzy leads and lyrics which seem to scorn the faithful optimist. Drummer Bill Kreutzmann forged a beat in the 14/8 time signature while session man Tom Scott added lyricon and saxophone to jazz up the song’s arrangement.

The remainder of side one features eclectic song styles intended to be more radio-friendly material. “Dancin’ in the Streets” is a full fledged, funk/disco cover of the Martha and the Vandellas hit but almost sounds like it belongs in some corny school play rendition in comparison. “Passenger” was written by bassist Phil Lesh and features harmonized lead vocals by Weir and Donna Jean Godchaux in an upbeat pop/funk song which was released as a single. “Samson & Delilah” is a traditional song arranged by Weir and it starts with some fine, oddly timed drums before settling into a signature Dead groove with guitars and bass. The first side concludes with “Sunrise”, a folk ballad by Donna Godchaux with some added orchestrations behind.

Grateful Dead in 1977

The entirety of side two is dedicated to the sixteen and a half minute, seven part “Terrapin Station” suite. It was written by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter and is a musical breath of fresh air in contrast to the somewhat disjointed first side of the album. The first part, “Lady with a Fan”, was based on a traditional English folk song known as “The Lady of Carlisle”, and features a theme of seduction and foolish bravery with a fantastic, harmonized guitar lead in between the Garcia-led verses. The next three “Terrapin” parts are more upbeat and climatic while remaining very pleasant and melodic. During “Terrapin Transit” the jam breaks into a slight psychedelic motif with synths, bass and much percussion by Mickey Hart, while “Terrapin Flyer” features richer production over the percussion motifs. “Refrain” includes an opera-like chorus as the final act of the adventure. This suite was actually Part 1 of a two part composition, the second of which was never recorded or performed by the Grateful Dead.

Terrapin Station was far from the hoped for commercial breakthrough for the group (that would not come for another decade with In the Dark), but it did reach the Top 30 on the Pop Albums charts and was eventually certified Gold. The Grateful Dead followed this album with a similar approach on Shakedown Street in 1978 before changing direction in the 1980s.

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Blues For Allah by Grateful Dead

Blues for Allah by
TheGrateful Dead

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Blues For Allah by Grateful DeadA unique album in the Grateful Dead‘s vast catalog, Blues for Allah, is made up of four proper songs, three instrumentals, and the bizarre, Avant Garde title suite. Produced and released following a year-long break by the group (the first such hiatus of their then 10-year career), the music features a crisp and energetic approach which captures the band’s seven members at their most natural while still maintaining an inspired edge which is usually only associated with the Grateful Dead’s live performances.

Mickey Hart temporarily left the Grateful Dead in early 1971, following their two hugely successful 1970 albums. This left Bill Kreutzmann as the sole drummer/percussionist for nearly four years. During this same time, keyboardist Ron “Pigman” McKernan lost his life and was replaced by Keith Godchaux, with his wife Donna Jean Godchaux later joining as a vocalist. The Dead released a couple of critically acclaimed live albums during the early 1970s as well as the studio albums, Wake of the Flood (1973) and From the Mars Hotel (1974), both of which were released on their new Grateful Dead Records label.

In the Spring of 1975, the band convened at Ace Studios, owned by guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, to begin production on Blues for Allah, which would become their eighth studio album and the first to feature Hart since 1970’s American Beauty. The album’s (and song’s) title was a tribute by lyricist Robert Hunter to Saudi King Faisal, a fan of the Grateful Dead who was assassinated during the time of recording.


Blues for Allah by Grateful Dead
Released: September 1, 1975 (Grateful Dead)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Ace Studio, San Rafael, CA, February–May 1975
Side One Side Two
Help On the Way
Slipnot!
Franklin’s Tower
King Solomon’s Marbles
The Music Never Stopped
Crazy Fingers
Sage and Spirit
Blues for Allah
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Donna Jean Godchaux – Vocals
Keith Godchaux – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Mickey Hart – Drums

The album commences with the pleasant and melodic, “Help On the Way”, complete with plenty of complex riffing by Weir and bassist Phil Lesh and a clear and assertive lead vocal by Jerry Garcia. The fusion of riffs and melodies, licks and leads soon morphs into the jazzy, “Slipnot!”, where Keith Godchaux gets into the act with a short electric piano lead before a searing electric guitar by Garcia. This fine interlude climaxes with the danceable funk of “Franklin’s Tower”, the third tune in the opening medley and, ultimately, the most popular song from this album. Here Garcia again takes the lead vocals, softly crying out Hunter’s fine lyrics on music and freedom, albeit with a slight foreboding tone;

“God help the child who rings that bell,
it may have one good ring left, you can’t tell…”

“King Solomon’s Marbles” is an exciting and upbeat jam, built from the bottom up by the group’s rhythm section, Lesh, Hart, and Kreutzmann. Distinguished in two parts, the second part builds intensity with additional layers, while maintaining the same complex rhythmic patterns. “The Music Never Stopped” starts with a basic drum beat followed by Lesh’s bass and the two rhythm guitars as it reaches an orchestrated groove. Weir takes lead vocals through the verses with Donna Godchaux leading the chorus sections and a slight saxophone added throughout by guest Steven Schuster. This track features lyrics by John Perry Barlow and breaks into a bit of a waltz after the final chorus before coming back to the main rhythm for one final guitar lead. The original second side starts with the fantastic “Crazy Fingers”, featuring a very slow reggae musically with Garcia reciting some of Hunter’s best lyrics. On this track, every musician plays a pleasant riff or phrase which at once clash and harmonize for a beautiful musical effect. There is a freedom and easiness about the whole song as well as a theme of serenity to one’s place;

“Gone are the days we stop to decide where we should go, we just ride…”

From this point, the fine danceable grooves and rock arrangements dissipate. “Sage and Spirit” is an asymmetrical piece by Weir, featuring mainly acoustic guitar and piano throughout and lacking any sort of real rhythmic definition. The piece does seem to dip into a mellow bit in the middle, before coming back with full folk intensity. This all leads to the totally off-the-wall title track which starts with a very short, harmonized riff before falling into monk-like chants harmonized by Garcia and Donna, along with some Indian-style hand percussion. The interesting middle section, credited to all seven members of the group, is an ad hoc jam of no form before the track reaches the third and final phase of the suite, which is closest to an actual song with richer harmonies accompanying Donna’s scat vocals, a loose guitar and bass riff, and an actual drum beat. The opening chants do return at very end but with some traditional rock instrumentation to close out the album.

Blues for Allah reached number 12 on the pop albums chart in 1975 but, until recently, had not been heralded as a Grateful Dead classic. The group resumed touring in 1976 and returned to more traditionally formatted albums in the years to follow.

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Grateful Dead 1970 albums

Grateful Dead 1970 Albums

Buy Workingman’s Dead
Buy American Beauty

Grateful Dead 1970 albumsWith the arrival of a new decade, the Grateful Dead decided to shift towards scaled back folk and country style rock. This proved to be a wise endeavor as their two 1970 releases, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are both regarded among the finest studio albums of their long career. These albums were recorded and released just a few months apart with each expanding further into the realm of Americana as tracks on each album explicitly cite locations throughout the United States.

Prior to producing Workingman’s Dead, members of the Grateful Dead were facing tumultuous times. The cost of recording their ambitious 1969 album, Aoxomoxoa had put the band in significant debt and they were also dealing with the aftermath of a drug bust while on tour in New Orleans. The new musical direction was at least partially influenced by the group’s friendship with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, who inspired the harmonized vocal approach above simple, acoustic-based music. The title of Workingman’s Dead was coined by Jerry Garcia when describing the new sound of the band. The album was recorded front to back in just nine days in February 1970.

American Beauty takes an even more reserved approach, with just four of the six band members recording the vast majority of the album. Co-produced by Steve Barncard, who was brought on board when the group’s normal sound crew was off working on the Medicine Ball Caravan Tour in Canada. Guitarist Bob Weir describes the approach as a total abandonment of the San Francisco sound that they helped establish in the mid 1960s but was co-opted by the press hyped “summer of love”. On this latter album, the group’s compositions, melodies and harmonies were all better formed and more brilliantly refined, making this perhaps the finest overall Grateful Dead album.


Workingman’s Dead by Grateful Dead
Released: June 14, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, & Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific High Recording Studio, San Francisco, February 1970
Side One Side Two
Uncle John’s Band
High Time
Dire Wolf
New Speedway Boogie
Cumberland Blues
Black Peter
Easy Wind
Casey Jones

American Beauty by Grateful Dead
Released: November 1, 1970 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Steve Barncard & Grateful Dead
Recorded: Wally Heider Studios, San Francisco, August–September 1970
Side One Side Two
Box of Rain
Friend of the Devil
Sugar Magnolia
Operator
Candyman
Ripple
Brokedown Palace
Till the Morning Comes
Attics of My Life
Truckin’
Band Musicians (Both Albums)
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Banjo, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron McKernan – Keyboards, Harmonica, Vocals
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion

Workingman’s Dead commences with “Uncle John’s Band”, built on moderate, acoustic chords and an overdubbed lead acoustic guitar. There are exquisite harmonies during first half of each verse, with Garcia taking solo lead at sporadic parts beyond that. The dual drummers, Bill Kreutzmann and Micky Hart have a strong presence throughout the song, which was written by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, like the majority of songs on this album.

Workingman's Dead by Grateful Dead“High Time” is an almost pure country song with a strummed acoustic waltz and vocals to match by Garcia. Here the harmonies are a little off and bass a bit too deep sonically, but the later pedal steel works really well on this track. “Dire Wolf” is an upbeat folk ballad with very active pedal steel along with other lead guitar licks over the strummed acoustic backing. This colorful tale features the catch phrase “don’t murder me”, which makes it dark and accessible at once. “New Speedway Boogie” leans more towards British-style blues of the 1960s with rumbling bass and hand clap-like percussion, while the lyrics tackle the tragic events of the December 1969 Altamont concert in the group’s home region.

The second side of Workingman’s Dead begins with a couple of unheralded gems. “Cumberland Blues” was co-written by bassist Phil Lesh and is a fun, rambling song where Garcia’s banjo and Lesh’s bass drag the adventurous music along as the group’s new direction towards Americana and roots music fully materializes. “Black Peter” is a slower country track where Garcia’s reverb-drenched vocals are strong but sweet, bringing the sad song up to a higher level of quality. Dual acoustics, bass, and brushed drums set the sparse backing that gives the vocals the room they deserve. On “Easy Wind” keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan takes the helm, with his vocal style matching Hunter’s laboring lyrics and the rocky beat dual drum beats. Mckernan’s harmonica lead after first chorus commences a long middle section with sporadic guitar leads interspersed throughout.

The album concludes “Casey Jones”, starting with an infamous “snort” and unabashedly narrating a tale of cocaine abuse. Musically, the group launches into the most popular and accessible song on Workingman’s Dead with great electric guitars throughout that compliment Garcia’s fine vocal melodies along with great, animated rhythms by Weir, Lesh, and Kreutzmann, making this the most complete group performance on the album.

American Beauty by Grateful DeadAmerican Beauty starts with “Box of Rain”, a collaboration between Hunter and Lesh where the bassist takes a rare shot at lead vocals above bright and jangly music and a chorus of harmonized vocals. The song is constructed with subtle chord changes which give it an air of unidirectional originality. “Friend of the Devil” is a more straight-forward rendition of bluegrass-inspired Americana with a consistent, descending riff and fine vocal melody by Garcia. An exceptionally well produced track, the song features a mixture of guitars, bass, and a lead mandolin by guest David Grisman and lyrics about an outlaw on the run. “Sugar Magnolia” ia a quintessential Dead “hippie” song and a rare collaboration between Weir and Hunter. Written as a souped-up love song by Weir, it features a definitive groove on guitars and well-defined drums by Kreutzmann with lyrics speak of an extraordinary woman in beauty and character;

“She can dance a Cajun rhythm, jump like a Willys in four wheel drive / She’s a summer love in the spring, fall and winter, she can make happy any man alive…”

“Operator” is the fourth track on American Beauty with a fourth different lead vocalist, McKernan, who also wrote the tune. This song has an Arlo Guthrie feel with root acoustic and a bright electric lead and is the only song to include all six band members as Hart adds some cool percussion effects. “Candyman” completes the album’s first side as a slow, bluesy ballad with an exception slide guitar lead with weird tremolo effects which, combined with Hammond organ of guest Howard Wales, give it a real spacey and surreal effect.

Grateful Dead

“Ripple” may be the sweetest overall song recorded by the Grateful Dead with exquisite lyrics by Hunter which are poetic and quasi-religious. Musically, a consistent drum shuffle by Kreutzmann is complimented by Lesh’s potent and sharp, yet extraordinarily complementary bass and rapid mandolin notes by Grisman. But, by far the best element here is Garcia’s voice, as he delivers the haiku phrased lyrics masterfully. “Brokedown Palace” is almost a medley from “Ripple” as it starts during the dissolve of that song. However, where the previous track was so effortless, this ballad almost tries too hard, especially during the closing harmonized scat section.

“Till the Morning Comes” is an upbeat acoustic with various lead guitar phrases and harmonized vocals throughout, while “Attics of My Life” bring the harmonies to a whole new level while the song is musically rhythm driven with Lesh, and Kreutzmann moving to the forefront. American Beauty concludes with “Truckin'”, the quintessential song about touring. An autobiographical song which was a complete band collaboration, it was written to be an “endless tune” with future verses added as new experiences were had. The hook harmonies are complimented by Weir’s verse vocals, almost like a Greek chorus response, and the bridge is the payoff, where the group almost employs a traditional rock riff and coins the famous phrase “What a long, strange trip its been…”

Following the release of American Beauty, Hart briefly left the Grateful Dead, returning in 1974. The year before that, McKernan lost his life to alcoholism and Garcia lost his life in 1995. In July 2015, the remaining band members will play select shows to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary as a band. These shows have been dubbed as the “Fare Thee Well” tour after a lyrical phrase in the song “Brokedown Palace.”

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Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead

Buy Go To Heaven

Go To Heaven by Grateful DeadLong derided as one of the most unpopular albums among the Grateful Dead faithful, Go To Heaven is ,nonetheless, a solid record musically. The biggest change in the group’s sound comes with the arrival of keyboard player Brent Mydland, who replaced the late Keith Godchaux and provided the band with a wide array of piano, organ, synth, vocal, and composition style unlike anything they had before. Beyond this, Go To Heaven is, perhaps, the Dead’s most diverse album and is positioned squarely at the crossroads of their sonic evolution from the beginning of the 1970s to the beginning of the 1980s.

The Grateful Dead’s original keyboardist, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, died in March 1973 due to complications from alcohol abuse. He was replaced by pianist Godchaux, who had begun touring with the group as early as 1971. Through the mid seventies, the Grateful Dead put out a series of albums which explored differing styles, including the jazz influenced Wake of the Flood, the experimental and meditative Blues for Allah, the prog-rock influenced Terrapin Station, and Shakedown Street, which incorporated some disco influence.

Go to Heaven touched elements from each of those previous styles, along with a slight return to the band’s core grooves while incorporating some modern funk and synth motifs. Produced by Gary Lyons, these diverse styles and deliberate motifs are held together by the consistent but reserved drumming by the duo Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. While this may be a far cry from the group’s lauded stage improvisation, it made for an enjoyable studio album which holds up decades later.


Go To Heaven by Grateful Dead
Released: April 28, 1980 (Arista)
Produced by: Gary Lyons
Recorded: Club Le Front, San Rafael, CA, July 1979–January 1980
Side One Side Two
Alabama Getaway
Far From Me
Althea
Feel Like a Stranger
Lost Sailor
Saint of Circumstance
Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)
Easy to Love You
Don’t Ease Me In
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Guitars, Vocals
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Micky Hart – Drums, Percussion
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion

The album opens with the simple rocker “Alabama Getaway”, penned by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter. This short blues rock jam contains a couple of nice guitar leads by Garcia and adventurous lyrics. Mydland’s first and finest track is the amazingly catchy and steady rocker “Far From Me”. While Mydland’s piano drives the rhythm, a blend of crunchy guitars march in the background complimented by a cool background chorus. Garcia’s “Althea” is, perhaps, the most indelible Grateful Dead track from Go To Heaven. The track sounds like a quiet room being penetrated by pinpoint notes, beats, and other sonic candy, including percussive effects and the brilliant, buzzing bass by Phil Lesh. This track also actually hits a pleasant bridge (a rarity for Dead tunes) with some really bluesy slide guitar in the latter part of the song and gets ever-so-slightly intense during the final guitar lead. Lyrically, Hunter draws from some classical pieces including Shakespeare’s Hamlet;

You may be the fate of Ophelia, sleeping and perchance to dream. Honest to the point of recklessness, self-centered to the extreme…”

From here, the album takes a turn with three consecutive songs co-written by singer and guitarist Bob Weir and lyricist John Perry Barlow. “Feel Like a Stranger” is a cool funk/rocker with bright guitar chords and a wild analog synth by Mydland. This catchy tune works hard to fit its genre, even including some high-pitched, disco-influenced backing vocals but reaches an unnecessary, abrupt ending to close the album’s original first side. “Lost Sailor” is mellow and dark with some jazzy elements and deep, philosophical lyrics to compliment the overall moodiness. “Saint of Circumstance” is more upbeat and pop-oriented than the previous track, and the lyrics suggest this may be the default title song of the album. Musically, the song contains lots of catchy passages from the rock drive of the intro and chorus to the escalating piano runs by Mydland to the sparse but effective guitar licks by Garcia.

Grateful Dead

A half-minute psychedelic percussion piece by Hart and Kreutzmann called “Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)” leads to the final two tracks which nearly reflect the album’s first two, but in reverse order. Mydland’s “Easy to Love You” is a soft rocker with some signature Grateful Dead musical elements and the almost anti-Dead vocal smoothness which strongly reflects the style of Michael McDonald. The traditional track “Don’t Ease Me In” closes the album with a track that the band jammed to when they were still called “The Warlocks” pre-1965. Garcia leads the way with quasi-country vocals and bluesy guitar, while there is also a pretty entertaining Hammond organ lead by Mydland.

Go To Heaven reached the Top 30 on the American Pop Albums chart, which was a moderate success for the band which was almost completely non-top-40 until the late eighties. More importantly, it still sounds good today and shows that this band had some vast talent away from the stage.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1980 albums.

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Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead

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Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful DeadAoxomoxoa is the third studio album by Grateful Dead and, perhaps, the one most dominated by lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. Created under the working title of “Earthquake Country” (because the group wanted to create a “seismic shift” in popular music), the album’s unique name was a fabricated palindrome by lyricist Robert Hunter who co-wrote all of the songs, marking the commencement of a longtime songwriting partnership with Garcia. Aoxomoxoa was completely self-produced by the Grateful Dead and claims to be the very first recorded on a 16-track tape machine.

The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 as a five-piece group called The Warlocks consisting of Garcia, Bob Weir on guitars and vocals, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards and harmonica, Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. They changed their name to Grateful Dead for a performance at one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests in December 1965. With various influences mixed into a loose format, the group has been labeled “the Godfathers of the jam band”. Their self-titled debut album was released in March 1967 and consisted mainly of covers with only two band originals on that album. Later that year, the group added Mickey Harty as a second drummer. The second album, Anthem of the Sun was released in July 1968 and contained completely original material, with each of the (then) six band members contributing to the compositions. Keyboardist Tom Constanten joined the band in the studio to provide piano and “electronic tape” effects on Anthem of the Sun, which eventually led to his formally joining the band as a seventh member, although he would only be with the group for barely a year.

With this widely expanded lineup, one might expect rich, full, orchestral arrangements. However, Aoxomoxoa does have a strong emphasis on acoustic songs and simple arrangements, which give it a very accessible sound on most tracks. Still, the group put tremendous time, effort, and money into the production of this studio album, something they would focus much less on as their career unfolded and they became more focused on their legendary touring.


Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead
Released: June 20, 1969 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific Recording Studio, San Mateo, CA, September 1968-March 1969
Side One Side Two
St. Stephen
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Rosemary
Doin’ That Rag
Mountains of the Moon
China Cat Sunflower
What’s Become of the Baby
Cosmic Charlie
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – Keyboards, Percussion
Tom Constanten – Keyboards
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Drums, Percussion

With Garcia taking the lead on most of the recorded material, “St. Stephen” acts as an exception with some compositional work by Lesh and some strong vocals and guitars by Weir. The song feels its way around before it kicks in to proper verse and after three rapid renditions of verses, the tune enters a middle European folk section for the bridge, driven by instrumental motifs from keyboards, bass, and lead guitar. A couple of good jam sections dominate the ending sections of the song, which tell of 1st century martyr and saint of the new Christian religion. This is followed up by “Dupree’s Diamond Blues”, an entertaining carnival-like blues with ascending and descending single-note guitar riffs complimented by bouncing organ. Garcia delivers rapid vocal verses which are melodic and entertaining, built on his advanced sense of jug band songcraft.

“Rosemary” Is a short acoustic ballad with emotional, flanged vocals by Garcia. Beginning immediately with no lead-in, the lyrics are hard to decipher because of the heavy vocal treatment and, after three brief verses and a couple of bare guitar phrases, the song quickly ends. “Doin’ That Rag” contains very interesting musical arrangements and great drumming by the team of Kreutzmann and Hart. With much melody and song craft, this piece goes through various style changes rotated through the verse, post-verse and chorus along with some well-timed sudden stops and starts. “Mountains of the Moon” closes the first side with a picked acoustic rhythm topped by harpsichord. This track has a definite Baroque feel musically, but Garcia’s vocals are more blues-based and Lesh’s sparse acoustic bass provides just enough variation to make it interesting.

Grateful Dead in 1969

An odd drum roll introduces “China Cat Sunflower”, which takes a few seconds to find its groove but when it does the great complementing riffs make this one of the most indelible Dead songs ever. Here the group also provides vocal choruses which actually harmonize decently (something they fail to do on many songs in their catalogue). A very popular song among “Deadheads”, “China Cat Sunflower” was one of the most performed songs in through the decades. In contrast, “What’s Become of the Baby” is one of their most forgettable tracks. Almost monk-like chanting by Garcia throughout with well-treated vocal effects, this song almost ruins an otherwise fine album with this ridiculous eight and a half minute indulgence, which was only really meant for use with the right chemical mix. Then, like landing back to Earth with fine rock blues, “Cosmic Charlie” finishes the album with fine rudimental harmonies during the bridge section and whining lead guitars throughout. Finishing things on a high note, this song sets the band up for the type of music they would forge and make famous the in 1970, when they produced two of their most famous albums.

Aoxomoxoa was not a tremendous commercial success, as it did not receive “gold” certification until 1997, nearly three decades after its release. However, it was a critical success and held in high enough regard by the band that they completely overhauled the mix in 1972 to catch up with technical innovations.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

In the Dark by Grateful Dead

In the Dark by Grateful Dead

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In the Dark by Grateful DeadIn the Dark was the first studio album by the Grateful Dead in over seven years (their twelfth overall) and was a comeback album on several levels. It was a return to the style of the band’s most famous albums in the earlier 1970s and became an unexpectedly popular success reaching the top ten on the Billboard album chart making it the highest charting album of the group’s long career. Further, the album comes in the wake of serious health issues with guitarist and primary front man Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s health declined through the early 1980s and he nearly lost his life in 1986 when he slipped into a diabetic coma for several days. Although he survived this incident, it caused some permanent memory loss and it is said that Garcia had to re-learn many of his established guitar techniques.

The album was recorded in an unusual fashion.  The band was constantly touring and had been performing much of the new material live for years so they decided to record the basic tracks live on stage in an empty and darkened Marin Veterans Auditorium. This process gave the album its title and helped the band achieve a more authentic sound, something the Dead had long struggled with on studio albums. Later overdubs were added in the studio, which gave the album’s sound a sonic, blended edge. In an interview, Garcia spoke about the recording process on this album;

Marin Vets turns out to be an incredibly nice room to record in. There’s something about the formal atmosphere in there that makes us work. Going in [Marin Vets] without an audience and playing just to ourselves was in the nature of an experiment…”

The band’s sound in the 1980s was also unique to any other era due to the unique talents of Brent Mydland, who possessed both a unique voice and great piano and keyboard skills. Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in 1980 and stayed with the group until his death from a drug overdose in July 1990, making him the third keyboardist in the band to die. Mydland also became a prominent songwriter on both 1980’s Go To Heaven and 1989’s Built To Last, but only contributed one song, “Tons of Steel”, to In the Dark.
 


In the Dark by Grateful Dead
Released: July 6, 1987 (Arista)
Produced by: Jerry Garcia & John Cutler
Recorded: San Rafeal, California, January-March 1987
Side One Side Two
Touch Of Grey
Hell in a Bucket
When Push Comes to Shove
West L.A. Fadeaway
Tons Of Steel
Throwing Stones
Black Muddy River
Band Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Mickey Hart – Drums

 
The album commences and is most identified with “Touch of Grey”, one of four compositions by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, a long time collaborator. This song became the band’s first and only Top 40 hit in their three decade-long career. Hunter had originally intended this song for a solo album in 1981, which was never completed. It was picked up by the Dead for their live shows starting in 1982 and serendipitously carried the central message of the band (and especially Garcia) in 1987 – “I will get by, I will survive”. Although the song became a live favorite by fans before it was issued on album, there was a later backlash after the song’s popularity brought an influx of pop-oriented faux “deadheads”, sometimes referred to as “touchheads” after this song.

The other Garcia/Hunter tunes on the album are the groove-driven “When Push Comes to Shove”, the John Belushi tribute “West L.A. Fadeaway”, and the closing ballad “Black Muddy River”. This last track contains some Gospel influence and great guitars, while “When Push Comes to Shove” contains a good rhythm driven by dueling drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
 

 
Guitarist Bob Weir also co-wrote and provided lead vocals for a couple of tracks. “Hell In a Bucket” is the best song on the album overall, as it fuses entertaining lyrics and a melodic hook with an excellent mixture of sound by all band members, especially Garcia on lead guitar and Phil Lesh on bass. Co-written by Brent Mydland, the song also contains a unique electric piano riff. “Throwing Stones” is an extended yet repetitive piece which became a minor hit on album-oriented radio. Lyrically, this song is written in much the same style of early Bob Dylan, but musically the band is able to add some real flavor, especially the long guitar lead by Garcia.

In the Dark was received like no other Grateful Dead album and gave the band a pop commercialism and acceptance like they had never received before. The band did eventually settle back into a regular touring routine and lived out their final years as a live jam band right up until Garcia’s death in 1995.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.