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Grateful Dead—7
 
Released: 1971

1) Bertha 2) Mama Tried 3) Big Railroad Blues 4) Playing in the Band

5) The Other One 6) Me & My Uncle 7) Big Boss Man 8) Me & Bobby McGee 9) Johnny B. Goode 10) Wharf Rat 11) Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad

 

(Originally included in this album was a brief note that basically started the Deadheads: “DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who are you? Where are you? How are you? Send us your name and address and we’ll keep you informed.”  This is yet another reason why it so hard for people [myself included] to understand the power of the Dead.  At this time in history, for a band to welcome its followers as equals…well it was just so hippy-like and 60ish that Americans were entranced, and quite literally the Dead became America’s live band.  They no longer just gave concerts, but each show became an event—a calling of hippies).   

 

This double live album complements “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” very well.  Bob Weir dominates the album as he sings lead on most of the tracks, but this frees up Jerry to play lead guitar—and play he does.  Garcia performs some extraordinary fills, and solos very well throughout (Not a Clapton or Hendrix solo-but this is country rock, not blues).

 

The album is covered with covers (bad pun).  Most of these are good sounding, very attractive, easy listening music with nothing amazing about them.  It sounds like a band having fun playing songs they love.  Mama Tried,” “Big Railroad Blues” and “Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” all are fun and fast paced with a great live feeling.  They each make you understand why you see so many pictures of people dancing at Dead shows.  Me & My Uncle” has an excellent guitar lick and is very easy to like with interesting enough lyrics (It also has the distinction of being the song most often played live by the Dead in their long career).  Johnny B. Goode” sounds exactly as it should from a country/folk band.  It is restrained and is a pale comparison to Chuck Berry, but it shows the Dead are capable of rocking out a little.  The only truly bad/boring cover is “Me & Bobby McGee.”  It is overlong and monotonous and makes me long for Janis to add some needed bite.

 

Most of the originals would have fit in on “American Beauty” very well, which is a pretty strong statement.  Bertha” gets the album off to a moving start and has some good organ work.  It is a little long, but is fun and really demonstrates the general just-gonna-play-some-good-music feel of the whole album.  Playing in the Band” keeps you interested with its tempo changes and has some fine Hunter lyrics: “Some folks look for answers, others look for fights, some folks up in treetops just look to see the sights.”  Typical Hunter in that he slyly comments on the 60s generation, but the political connotations get buried in the country-fun musical treatment of his words. 

 

“Wharf Rat” is a very long song (8 and a half minutes) that is slow and demands a mellow mood to appreciate.  But if you can stomach it, it will be a nice surprise.  The lyrics talk of an encounter with a homeless, drunk bum who tells a passer-buyer his story.  Included is one of the very few times the Dead ever curse on record:  “Half of my life I spent doing time for some other fucker’s crime.”  Not played amazingly well and it ends abruptly, but a great, meandering Dead tune nonetheless.

 

“The Other One” is an 18-minute jam session.  This is what you’d expect from every Dead song if you believed all the hype.  It isn’t really bad, but it isn’t the type of thing you’d want to listen to a lot either.  It starts with a 5-minute drum solo and goes right into a 5-minute guitar solo over some backing chords.  Lyrics are sung over these chords for one minute and then the band goes into a “spacey jam” the Dead are known for, which basically lasts until the last minute or so of the song—somewhat impressive, but not at all for everyone.

 

Overall, this is a very good live record.  Not perfect by any means, but enjoyable throughout.  However, if you go into this album thinking since this is the Dead live, it must be amazing… you will be disappointed.  Take it for what it is, and you will frequently put this album on your stereo and relax on those lazy summer days. 

 

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