The Grateful Dead
Warner Bros. WS 1689
Most Deadheads dismiss their debut album, but of all their studio albums, it is the one I listen to the most. I understand the arguments against it as being unrepresentative of their true sound but I still really enjoy it. There are no bad songs on it and several are among the best the group ever did. This was the first Grateful Dead record that I got, I bought it in Berkeley in the late 1970s. I came to the Dead fairly late despite living in the San Francisco Bay Area where they were widely revered. Maybe that's part of the reason I resisted them so long. I was a fan of the San Francisco sound, I loved the defunct Jefferson Airplane, (although I despised the Starship), Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service, even It's A Beautiful Day, but because the Dead were still a big act and the abundance of Deadheads in the Bay Area, I think I rejected them just to be contrary. Actually I still don't really like many of their records from that era (mid-1970s) all that much, I mostly like the stuff from the earlier Warner Bros. era, particularly the 1960s stuff. The songs I heard on the radio like, "Casey Jones" and "Truckin'" didn't do much to convince me I was missing anything. However when I heard their rocking performance of "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" on KPFA, I was really impressed and sought out this record to hear it again. This album finally made me a convert. It is very much a song oriented record, there is only one extended jam on "Viola Lee Blues" which features some incendiary guitar runs from Jerry Garcia. There is some of the trippy folk-rock that characterized the early San Francisco sound like the excellent cover of Bonnie Dobson's "Morning Dew" and my favorite song on the record, "Cold Rain and Snow" as well as the blues-rock that was also well-represented in the repetoire of the San Francisco bands. Some of my other favorites on this album are the hard rocking "Cream Puff War" and the cover of Jesse Fuller's "Beat It On Down the Line." The music is a lot more kinetic and fast-paced than is typical for the Dead, which I consider an improvement. With the exception of "Moby Grape," I think this as good or better than any of the debut albums of any of the first generation San Francisco bands. I've heard a few concerts from the 1966-1967 era Grateful Dead so I know that their live sound was different, but I don't really care. This record sounds good enough to me and you don't have to get high to really appreciate it either. Recommended for Deadheads with short attention spans.