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Anthem of the Sun—7           

 

Released: 1968

1) That’s It For The Other One: I. Cryptical Envelopment  II. Quadlibet For Tender Feet  III. The Faster We Go, The Rounder We Get  IV. We Leave The Castle 

2) New Potato Caboose 3) Born Cross-Eyed 4) Alligator 5) Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)

 

The Dead’s second studio release is actually a mixture of both studio and live recordings, but not in the normal half-studio/half-live kind of way.  Nah, this was the 60s man, and the Dead were coming up with all sorts of acidy type ideas, including hiring chemist and virtual LSD inventor Bear Owsley as their new SOUNDMAN.  To go along with this, bassist Phil Lesh suggested the band overlay tapes of 17 different live performances on top of studio recordings to give “Anthem of the Sun” the illusion of many Grateful Deads all playing at once.  A very interesting idea, but unfortunately the band was still too young and inexperienced in the studio to actually pull it off and this album suffers from a general lack of focus and weak songwriting.  However, “Anthem of the Sun” does have “something.” 

 

Exactly what, I’m not sure, as there isn’t even one great song on it.  Maybe that “something” is how hard they try to entertain, pulling out all the stops including using two drummers (Mickey Hart was picked up to join forces with Bill Kreutzmann), and adding a second keyboard player, Tom Constanten.  Or maybe that “something” is that they use a harpsichord, gongs, chimes, voice modulations, and even kazoos in their extended, crazy jams.  But probably what makes this album so strangely appealing is that it is the Dead’s first release of psychedelic music.  Not in a English Yardbirds way, but in an American, San Francisco, Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, Merry Pranksters way.  Freeform, jam music with no real formula---just a band playing as one instrument.

 

The album begins with a long song suite that encompasses the entire first side of the LP.  The suite is four songs long, but the first tune, “That’s It For The Other One” is broken down further into four parts.  This sounds confusing, and well, so does the music, as there is numerous time changes and random soloing all the way through.  It does begin on a promising note though, as Garcia’s “Cryptical Envelopment” section is a moving ballad in the “Morning Dew” mode.  The melody is catchy and Jerry sings it with emotion.  After a few versus though, the song turns into what was eventually called “The Other One” which was the first song Bob Weir ever wrote.  It moves and has a steady beat for a while, but then swoops into loopy music for acidheads with all sorts of crazy noises and freaky sounds.  Phil Lesh’s 8-minute jam, “New Potato Caboose” is next in the suite and features Jerry at the beginning playing almost the exact riff from his later masterpiece “Bird Song.”  Lesh, though, establishes himself as musical co-leader here, and this album represents his most inventive and best work.  All throughout this song, and the entire album, Lesh anchors the music as much as possible and his bass playing matches Garcia’s guitar as the most prominent instrument in the band at this point.  Weir’s offbeat “Born-Cross Eyed” brings the strange song suite to a rock and roll end with an unusual, but catchy chorus.

 

Alligator” begins side two and introduces lyricist Robert Hunter into the Dead.  Although not even close to his best work, his imagery provided the catalyst for Phil Lesh and Pigpen to create the swampy feel of the music.  The kazoos and off key singing add to the atmosphere, Jerry has an excellent solo, and this song is fun.  Well as much fun as an eleven and a half minute jam about an alligator can be.  Alligator” gradually turns into the peculiar “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks).”  Sung by Pigpen, this is an unmitigated jam complete with cowbell and a four-minute feedback section.  It brings the album to a weird but telling close, as this is one of the strangest albums ever produced.

 

Overall, this is a must listen for any Dead fan, but this is not to say that you will enjoy it.  With their next studio album, “Aoxomoxoa,” the Dead began their transformation into a progressive folk/country band and didn’t really reinvest in the psychedelic vibe in the studio until “Blues For Allah” seven years later.  While “Anthem for the Sun” is dated, boring at times, unlistenable at others, and truly bizarre, it is easily the Dead’s most groundbreaking effort.  You might hate it, but historically speaking, this is the best way to see what American acid rock in the late 1960s was really like.                     

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