Pazz and Jop 1971 -#16

Grateful Dead – Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses)

I have aggressively resisted the Grateful Dead for pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of their existence, for two reasons. First, the passion of their fan base is anathema to my broader tastes when it comes to art. Second, I mostly just shrugged at what I did hear through passive exposure (though I owned a 45 of their 1987 hit “Touch of Grey”, I was buying just about everything that made the charts back then, and rarely played it). (Also, 45s were the worst – I don’t need (well, I do, but that’s a different conversation) to be doing interval training while listening to music.) I can’t say there’s much chance of me seeking out other of their records, but after more shrugging initially, I ended up enjoying this album. It’s odd for a live record in that you are barely aware of the presence of an audience. I couldn’t find the answer (Google, you failed me!) but it would have been on brand to ask for quiet to enhance the quality of much-encouraged bootleg recordings. 

As for the songs themselves, the five-minute eight-second long drum solo at the beginning of “The Other One” was more interesting than any five-minute eight-second long drum solo deserves to be. This turns out to be noteworthy, because the Dead had two drummers until two months before the first of these tracks was recorded, so it seems someone took the opportunity to show off. Their poppy cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” is a delight (Kristofferson was EVERYWHERE in 1971), as is their faithful rendering of “Johnny B. Goode”, and I enjoyed the original “Wharf Rat”. You definitely come away understanding how much fun it might have been to see them live – there’s no better way to listen to an 18-minute song than stoned and in the company of fellow travellers. The Dead were as much a religion as a rock band, and this seems like a pretty decent introduction to their creed.

(Originally posted on Facebook, April 24, 2021)

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