Friday, July 10, 2015

Hippies vs. Punks: The Grateful Dead (1967)

I cast about at the beginning of the week for an album for this Friday's Hippies vs. Punks. At first, having recently finished Ed Sanders' The Family: The Story of Charles Manson's Dune Buggy Attack Battalion, my intention was to focus on Sanders' Truckstop (1969). But quickly I confronted the difficulty of immersing myself for an entire work week in Sanders' Country-&-Western send-up of Hippies vs. Squares.

As I was coming to grips with this realization I was in line at a Starbucks getting my morning coffee. Piped in over the PA was a song from Bob Dylan's Self Portrait (1970). I just happened to have The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969–1971) loaded on my iPod. So I decided that would be the album for this week.

But then I thought, "How can I ignore the 'Fare Thee Well' concerts of the the Grateful Dead?" The ultimate Hippie band officially reforming 20 years after Jerry Garcia's death in order to officially call it quits. The final football stadium shows in Santa Clara and Chicago received an ample amount of ink. Besides Jon Pareles' bloodless review, stories seemed to focus on the exorbitant ticket prices.

In any event, never a Deadhead, I decided to take another listen to the band's debut album, The Grateful Dead (1967). Recorded in Los Angeles for the Warner Bros. label during the month of January 1967, the most illuminating takeaway for me is how dated the record sounds. This is no American Beauty (1970) or Workingman's Dead (1970). A majority of the tracks are governed by a Go-Go dancer's beat, proving, like Moby Grape's debut, that the San Francisco Sound in 1967 was evolving out of a L.A.-dominated Sunset Strip Freak Scene. In the run-up to Monterey Pop and the Summer of Love, Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow (1967) is a far more innovative, defining record than The Grateful Dead.

Nonetheless "Viola Lee Blues" is certainly a statement of great things to come:

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