Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) 2) Beat It On Down The Line 3) Good Morning, Little School Girl 4) Cold Rain and Snow 5) Sitting On Top Of The World 6) Cream
Puff War 7) Morning Dew 8)
New, New Minglewood Blues 9)
Viola Lee Blues
This is the self-titled debut
of the Grateful Dead and should not be confused with the live album of the same name released in 1971 (Apparently, the Dead
wanted to name that album “Skull Fuck” but the record company wouldn’t allow it). Listening to this record is like listening to Dylan’s first album or the Beatles “Please,
Please Me.” Like those first efforts, this album is jammed full of
covers, and only barely begins to hint at the direction their music would take in future years.
Despite the linear
notes naming the Dead’s lead guitarist as Jerry “Captain Trips” Garcia, this album sounds like the Dead
were on speed, not psychedelics. Virtually every song here is up-tempo 1960s
pop with a few blues tunes thrown in the mix. They play fast even on the two
originals, and the 10 minute jam that closes the album is all blues, with not even a glimpse of the spacey jams the Dead would
be known for. Reviewing this album is difficult because this isn’t the
Grateful Dead most are familiar with. Here they are not the Kings of Hippieland,
but simply an upstart rock band with an excellent lead guitarist and energetic keyboard player with a pretty good blues voice.
Golden Road” kicks the album off to a great start. It is credited to
McGannahan-Skjellyfetti, the Dead’s early pseudonym (just thought that was pretty strange). It was thought highly enough to be included on their Greatest Hits “Skeletons in the Closet”
compilation years later, an honor it obviously deserves. This is 2 minutes of
pure excitement. It’s straight-ahead 1960s rock and roll and is one of
the Dead’s all-time best efforts.
It On Down The Line,” “Cold Rain and Snow,” and “Cream Puff War” follow and
each displays the San Francisco beach sound with bouncy keyboards and backing vocals.
They are all around 2 minutes long and are fun 60s pop, but nothing too memorable (save for “Cream Puff War,”
which was written by Jerry and does provide a strange contrast between his sadistic lyrics and aggressive soloing with
the pop background). “Good Morning, Little School Girl,” “New,
New Minglewood Blues,” and “Viola Lee Blues” show the Dead can play the blues. Each is well done and if you like blues, well these will satisfy you—again, not bad at all, but nothing
two songs on the album are the most prophetic. “Morning Dew”
in fact, would become a concert staple throughout the Dead’s career. It
is a long, slow folk ballad with excellent lyrics and poignant guitar fills. “Sitting
On Top Of The World” is a great little 2-minute country tune with a catchy chorus and an excellent bass line. Each foreshadows many of the songs found on “Workingman’s Dead”
and “American Beauty.”
All and all this
album is far from essential. However, it is very interesting in the historical
sense to listen to the Dead before they developed their Hippie stereotype and there is not one bad song on here. Honestly, ALL of these songs are pleasant and enjoyable (something only a handful of latter Grateful Dead
albums can claim—read on).