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Rob Greaves

Cream of The Crate: CD #44- Grateful Dead: American Beauty

Rating: 20 votes, 5.00 average.

1 Not allowed! Not allowed!
"For once a truly beautiful album cover is more than matched by the record inside.." (Andy Zwerling - Rolling Stone - Dec 24, 1970)

"American Beauty it has some of the first things I’ve written, and that we’ve performed as a band, that in my opinion are genuinely beautiful." (Jerry Garcia)

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CD Cover

This is number fourty four in the series of retro-reviews of Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called,
"Cream of The Crate (CD's)", and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The name of the group is the Grateful Dead and the CD is American Beauty. It was released on the Warner Bros label in 1989 and its code is 7599-27190-2. The Cd is a reissue of the original vinyl album released in 1970. This version of the Cd is the German release. There have been 25 various releases on vinyl, and 12 Cd releases as well as releases on cassette, DVD, reel to reel and MP3!

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This surely makes it one of the most released albums ever. It is also arguably, the very best release of the many by the Grateful Dead.

While this album was released in 1970 it really was the culmination of a lot of work throughout the five years the group had existed prior to its release. The Grateful Dead formed in 1965 (interestingly the Cd liner notes say they formed in 1967), but Wikipedia claims,"The first show under the new name Grateful Dead was in San Jose, California on December 4, 1965, at one of Ken Kesey's Acid Tests."

It has always been my understanding that the "Dead" formed during late 1965/ early 1966, and on the Grateful Dead web site there is the following picture, labelled "Grateful Dead December 1965".

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In fact the group was formed out of the remnants of an earlier jug band and took the name the Warlocks.

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The Warlocks - 1965

Having discovered another group by the same name had a recording contract, the decision to change the name was easy and according to the stories, it was suggested by Jerry Garcia who legend has it, opened up a dictionary and found the name. He was taken by the definition which said, "
the soul of a dead person, or his angel, showing gratitude to someone who, as an act of charity, arranged their burial." Mind you, there are a number of contradictory stories of how the name came about but this one seems to have the cred!

The founding members of the Grateful Dead were Jerry Garcia (guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (guitar, vocals), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). The band membership changed a number of times with a total of thirteen different musicians at some stage being in the group.

In 1970, the year of this album, the Grateful Dead consisted of that same lineup with the addition of Mickey Hart.

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The group has fairly worn the label of a psychedelic music group, after all they played at many gigs where Owsley Acid was freely available. Owsley, probably the most famous LSD maker in the US, was also the bands Sound Engineer. The group, like most Californian "alternate" groups, were heavily involved in all forms of drug taking and in fact it was a bust in New Orleans when the local police raided their hotel on Bourbon Street, and arrested and charged a total of 19 people with possession of various drugs, that gave rise to one of their most loved tracks, Truckin.

So, what is the track listing on this album?

1. Box of Rain
2. Friend Of The Devil
3. Sugar Magnolia
4. Operator
5. Candyman
6. Ripple
7. Brokedown Palace
8. Til The Morning Comes
9. Attics Of My Life
10. Truckin

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This is the original Cd from the period, and I can only hope that more recent re-releases have some sort of booklet that can tell a little more of the story behind the tracks. As it is the Cd only has a double page insert.

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It is very easy, and in many circles compulsory, to make fun of the Dead. In fact for a long time the music listening world seemed to have two entrenched camps - those that loved everything about the Grateful Dead (known as "Deadheads"), and those that loathed the group!

Jokes abound that are directed to those who are passionate about the Grateful Dead, such as - “What does a "Deadhead" say when the drugs wear off? ‘This music sucks.’ ” The Dead, more than any band of their stature, have legions of haters—real hostility—as typified by Dave Marsh’s remark, in Playboy, that they were “the worst band in creation.” [
"Deadhead: The Afterlife by Nick Paumgarten]

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Jerry Garcia - 1967

Now I have to be honest about this album, while many Dead albums have some, let's be kind, and just say "not so good tracks", this one is a winner! The weakest track for me is track #7 , Brokedown Palace, and yet it is still a decent track. But that leaves 9 tracks that vary between simply brilliant in composition/lyrics and or music skills and very good! Not too many albums can you say that about 90% of the tracks.

Picking four tracks to share is not easy, some of the tracks a rockin' good pieces of music, others have the most sublime lyric lines. So I will try and make sure I present two of each. There will be "Deadheads" reading this who might disagree with the four I have chosen, but really, they are all worthy of listening to.

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Grateful Dead - 1970

Track # 2 - Friend Of The Devil, is indeed a track that is hard to go past. Opening with a line and counter line on steel and what I think is a nylon string guitar, the fat sounding bass kicks in and before we know it, the track is off and rockin'! Sometimes, the simplest guitar riffs result in the most memorable arrangements and this track is memorable for all the right reasons.

I just love the beautiful laid back middle eight guitar break - not guitar dueling! More like guitars dancing together in wonderful harmony. Written by Jerry Garcia and songwriter John Dawson, its an outlaw track, a song about escaping from the law with the help of the devil, who in fact ends up pursuing our "hero" with even more intent than the police.

Unbelievably, or is it, during the 1980's the song was reviled by the extreme christian groups in the US for it supposedly being sympathetic to the devil. WTF!!!

Friend Of The Devil

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Playing a Martin D18 - as used on American Beauty

I moved right down the CD stopping at track #6 - Ripple. There is some seriously nice "wordsmithing" going on here. Robert Hunter wrote the lyric for “Ripple” in London in 1970—a prolific period for him. The Dead first performed it in an acoustic set at the Fillmore West on August 19, 1970. I can only image this track must be toward the top of the list of the best tracks recorded by the Dead, that was not written by them. having said that, their interpretation of the lyrics via their music, is a beautiful synergy.

Google "Ripple" and you will find descriptors like"haiku", "Zen", "Buddhism" and the like. This all refers to the evocative and quite superb lines of "poetry". It is quite possibly, as strange as it sounds, that this is one of the most "spiritual" tracks written in this period. Look, here are the lyrics and they make beautiful reading.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It's a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they're better left unsung.
I don't know, don't really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple i
n still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

La dee da da da,
La da da da da,
Da da da, da da, da da da da da
La da da da,
La da da, da da,
La da da da,
La da, da da.

Maybe, if a picture is worth a thousand words, I should simply present you with the track, and allow you to form your own pictures, in your mind.


Track # 9 - Attics Of My Life, is likewise a most beautifully crafted song, both is music construction and lyric construction. The harmonies are simply among the best of the Dead tracks, anytime anywhere! The playing is restrained, that should not be construed as me meaning "just ok" - not at all - the music supports the lyrics, but that is its strength, the music is there simply to provide a gentle but firm platform for the storyline - and what a storyline!

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Another Garcia/Hunter track, it demands to be listened to. David Dodd, a Research Associate in the Music deparment at the University of California, actually provides an annotated set of the lyrics, that allows the reader to investigate the meanings behind the words.

Personally the very first time I heard this song I was immmediately grabbed by the lyrics, "Full of tastes no tongue can know, And lights no eye can see, When there was no ear to hear, You sang to me"

I mean to say - this is some serious lyric writing, and the shame of it is, that so many people were quick to rubbish the Grateful Dead without really understanding the depth of their work - I guess for some folk its hard to get by image!

In the attics of my life
Full of cloudy dreams unreal

Full of tastes no tongue can know
And lights no eye can see
When there was no ear to hear

You sang to me

I have spent my life
Seeking all that's still unsung
Bent my ear to hear the tune
closed my eyes to see
When there were no strings to play
You played to me

In the book of love's own dream
Where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days
And all my lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly

You flew to me

to me

In the secret space of dreams
Where I dreaming lay amazed
When the secrets all are told
And the petals all unfold
When there was no dream of mine

You dreamed of me

Attics Of My Life

My final choice is in fact, the final track on this Cd, track # 10 - Truckin. This is the story of the adventures and "mishaps" of the Grateful Dead. it might have been the story of any number of groups, and indeed, the story of many people in these very "heady" days. The music credit is shared by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh. Robert Hunter gets the credit for the lyrics.

I found reference to this track on a Grateful Dead web site. Written by David Dodd, and on reading it I thought - this is a really good summary. Why reinvent the wheel? So here is the story of this track as told by Dodd.

"The country is criss-crossed: Chicago, New York, Detroit, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Buffalo, then, without being named, California—“I’m goin’ home…”

Along the way, the band encounters the reality of life on the road, where all the cities blend into a single city—“it’s all the same street.” They stick together, more or less in line, as they determinedly lay down their cards: taking their music to every corner of the country, whether they be welcomed or not. They encounter hostility in New Orleans, with their famous arrest— in talking about the song he says, that their early touring days pre-dated the “rock and roll bubble,” whereby major rock bands would get something of a free pass for infractions of many kinds. They spend time in hotel rooms. It’s tiring and boring—maybe it’s time to settle down? And when it’s all over, and they are finally home, licking their wounds and patching their bones—hey! it’s time to start the whole process over again." [Greatest Stories Ever Told - Truckin]

In listening to the song, anyone who has even played around the edges of the "alternate life style" - hear you can read. had an involvement with the drug scene, cannot help to be struck by the lyrics - "I’d like to get some sleep before I travel/But if you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in.” Busted! Oh yes.... "Busted down on Bourbon Street, Set up like a bowling pin, Knocked down, it gets to wearing thin, They just won’t let you be..."

In fact the lyrics are so suggestive of a shared journey that many, many have had during that period, mid 1960's through to mid 1970's and beyond. For myself, I keep thinking of the relevence of the penultimate lines of this song, and how appropriate on my own gravestone.

"Sometimes the lights all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it’s been

But there is more to the track than the story and its familiarity for many listeners, its a damn fine piece of music with some fine playing and some fine singing. For the muso's it's in the key of E, 12/8 time and has the following chords. E, A, B, Bsus4, G, D, F#, Amaj7

It is almost a boogie style and personally, I think its a great track to "boogie" to.

Finally, if you are still not convinced of the brilliance of this track, maybe this helps. It was recognized by the United States Library of Congress in 1997 as a national treasure.

Once again David Dodd provides an anotated version of the lyrics.

Truckin' - got my chips cashed in
Keep Truckin - like the
doodah man
Together - more or less in line
Just keep Truckin on

Arrows of neon and flashing marquees out on Main Street
Chicago, New York, Detroit it's all on the same street
Your typical city involved in a typical daydream
Hang it up and see what tomorrow brings

Dallas - got a soft machine
Houston - too close to
New Orleans
New York - got the ways and means
but just won't let you be

Most of the cats you meet on the street speak of True Love
Most of the time they're sittin and cryin at home
One of these days they know they gotta get goin
out of the door and down to the street all alone

Truckin - like the doodah man
once told me you got to play your hand
sometime - the cards ain't worth a dime
if you don't lay em down

Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been

What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same
Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine
all a friend can say is "ain't it a shame"

Truckin' -- up to Buffalo
Been thinkin - you got to mellow slow
Takes time - you pick a place to go
and just keep Truckin on

Sitting and staring out of a hotel window
Got a tip they're gonna kick the door in again
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel
but if you got a warrant I guess you're gonna come in

Busted - down on Bourbon Street
Set up - like a bowling pin
Knocked down - it gets to wearing thin
They just won't let you be

You're sick of hanging around and you'd like to travel
Tired of travel, you want to settle down
I guess they can't revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door - light out and look all around

Sometimes the light's all shining on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
what a long strange trip it's been

Truckin - I'm goin home
Whoa-oh baby, back where I belong
Back home - sit down and patch my bones
and get back Truckin on


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The Grateful Dead produced 51 albums during their existence, including compilations and had six tracks chart in the USA on the Billboard Top 100. The band for all intents and purposes folded with the tragic death of Jerry Garcia in 1995. There have been some "reunion" shows - but the Grateful Dead without Garcia would be like the Stones without Mick Jagger! It just wouldn't work.

That last lineup consisted of:

  • Jerry Garcia – lead guitar, vocals
  • Bob Weir – rhythm guitar, vocals
  • Vince Welnick – keyboards, vocals
  • Phil Lesh – bass, vocals
  • Bill Kreutzmann – drums
  • Mickey Hart – drums

In fact the Dead perform their 2,314th and final concert, at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The last songs performed were a medley of “Black Muddy River” and “Box of Rain.”

Very sadly Jerry Garcia died from a heart attack on Aug. 9, a week after his 53rd birthday, at a rehabilitation clinic in Forest Knolls, California.
He lived hard, played harder, and I guess a lifestyle that involved the pressures of constantly being on the road, the pressure of playing, of drug taking all took their toll.

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Now I have to 'fess up. For many years I had been convinced through the words of a close friend, himself a musician, that there was little to this band. It took me a revisit a group in my collection called the New Riders of the Purple Sage some five years ago, to reintroduce me to the playing of Jerry Garcia and from there, to buy this album and rediscover how good this group was. Interestingly, I reviewed an album by the New Riders just a few weeks ago, and knew immediately I had to pull American Beauty off the shelf and make it a Cream Of The Crate album.

This is a great album for any music collection, and a very, very good album to (re) introduce any reader to the Grateful Dead.

The album is available on Ebay in its vinyl form for around $40+, but the Cd is available from $12.00 (reissue). What are you waiting for?

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VIDEOS - Once again, you might expect there to be many videos of live performances by the Grateful Dead in their early years, but given their cult following for a while, and lack of popular appeal, this is reflected in Youtube videos. As the years progress, and their popularity became more acceptable, then the videos increase. I have found what early videos I could, and supplemented them with one's i think are in character with this album and period.

Jack Straw (1972)

Truck (1972)

Sugar Magnolia (1978)

Previous Cream of the Crate Albums

If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click HERE

Cream of The Crate CD Reviews

#1 - The Fugs: The Fugs First Album

#2 - Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings

#3 - Bob Dylan: Biograph

#4 - Robin Trower: Essential

#5 - Sixties Down Under: Various Artists

#6 - The Big Ol' Box Of New Orleans: Various Artists

#7 - Hugh Masekela: African Breeze

#8- The Last Poets: The Legend

#9 - Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Down The River Side

#10 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 2): Various Artists

#11 - The Beatles: On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2

#12 - The Rolling Stones: Singles Collection The London Years

#13 - Girl Groups Of The '60s: Various Artists

#14 - The rds: There Is A Season

#15 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 3): Various Artists

#16 - The London Howling Wolf Sessions

#17 - The Who: Thirty Years of Maximum R&B

# 18 - Thomas Dol: Hyperactive

#19 - Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965 -1970

#20 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 4): Various Artists

#21 - 2nu: Ponderous

#22 - Eric Clapton: The Great Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds

#23 - The Sue Records Story: New York City - The Sound of Soul

#24 - The Encyclopedia of Boogie Woogie: Various Artists

#25 - Cam-pact: Psychedelic Pop 'n Soul 1967 - 1969

#26 - The Clash: The Singles

#27 - Arthur Brown : Fire-The Story of Arthur Brown

#28 - Red Hot and Blue: Cole Porter tribute (Various Artists)

#29 - Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros: Global A Go-Go

#30 - Jeff St John's Copperwine: Joint Effort

#31 - John Lee Hooker: Boogie Man

#32 - Jefferson Airplane - Jefferson Airplane

#33 - The Ultimate Guitar Survival Guide: Various Artists

#34 - Muddy Waters: The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues

#35 - Dave Hole: The Plumber

#36 - Sly and The family Stone: Stand

#37 - The Pretty Things: Latest Writs (Greatest Hits)

#38 - Fats Waller: Aint Misbehavin'

#39 - The Kinks: The Ultimate Collection

#40 - Ross Wilson: Now Listen (The Best Of)

#41 - New Riders Of The Purple Sage: New Riders Of The Purple Sage

#42 - Spirit : Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus

#43 - Women of Blue Chicago : Various Artists

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  1. John Taylor's Avatar
    Good one, Rob. I liked the way you laid it out with the song clips in there so (we) can hear what you're talking about. They were a great band that I nearly missed out on coz a school mate was seriously British music. It took joining a band of guys who also loved The Band & Rye Cooder (etc) for me to 'discover' the Dead.

    1 Not allowed! Not allowed!
  2. Rob Greaves's Avatar
    Thanks John, I have worked at refining the layout since the first Cream blog some 100 reviews ago. Always an on-going process, and always nice to get some feedback

    1 Not allowed! Not allowed!