For a long time, my Facebook friend Clay Gilbert has been wanting me to get into The Grateful Dead. I have listened to two of their albums, American Beauty and Live/Dead. But I’ve been reluctant to dive headlong in because of the countless albums, compilations, and bootleg copies in their discography. He proposed that since I ignore concerts and compilations anyway, it wouldn’t be impossible to do a ranking. Granted, The Dead do have a reputation for being better live than they were in the studio, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the studio discography altogether. So, as both a Christmas present and a birthday present, I’ve decided to rank their albums.
The Grateful Dead were formed in 1965. Originally, the band was called The Warlocks, but instead changed their name when Jerry Garcia discovered the phrase in a dictionary. The band discovered it was part of an Egyptian prayer, and history was made.
The lineup for the debut is as follows:
Jerry Garcia: lead vocals, guitar
Bob Weir: vocals, rhythm guitar
Phil Lesh: bass, vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan: organ, harmonica, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann: drums and percussion
- “The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)” This is a great opener, and Pigpen’s keys are nice. I enjoyed the harmonies.
- “Beat It On Down the Line”: This is a cover of a song originally written and recorded by Jesse Fuller. It’s one of the first songs the band performed live, during their phase as Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. The song references Georgia governor and president of the Dale Coal company Joe Brown. It’s one of the best songs on the album.
- ” Good Morning, School Girls”: This is a blues standard from John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. The Yardbirds also covered it. Pigpen plays a good harmonica solo.
- “Cold Rain and Snow”: This is a folk song dating back to 1917. Jerry’s vocals are excellent.
- ” Sitting on Top of the World “: Dipping into the country side of the band, this time covering the Mississippi Shieks. It’s the final cover on side one. Another one of my favorites.
- ” Cream Puff War”: I didn’t hate this one, but I wouldn’t call it a favorite.
- “Morning Dew”: Side two opens with a song originally written and recorded by Bonnie Dobson about a couple left behind after the apocalypse. Another one of my favorite songs.
- ” New, New Minglewood Blues”: Back to the jug band origins. Bob Weir sounds great here too.
- “Viola Lee Blues”: Side one closes with a great jam.
Final Verdict: Even though it’s loaded with covers, I thought this was a great debut. It truly showcases the many facets of the band’s sound.