Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

FrontCover1The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in Palo Alto, California. The band is known for its eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, country, jazz, bluegrass, blues, gospel, and psychedelic rock; for live performances of lengthy instrumental jams; and for its devoted fan base, known as “Deadheads”. “Their music”, writes Lenny Kaye, “touches on ground that most other groups don’t even know exists.” These various influences were distilled into a diverse and psychedelic whole that made the Grateful Dead “the pioneering Godfathers of the jam band world”. The band was ranked 57th by Rolling Stone magazine in its The Greatest Artists of All Time issue. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and a recording of their May 8, 1977 performance at Cornell University’s Barton Hall was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012. The Grateful Dead has sold more than 35 million albums worldwide.

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The Grateful Dead was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area amid the rise of the counterculture of the 1960s. The founding members were Jerry Garcia (lead guitar, vocals), Bob Weir (rhythm guitar, vocals), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (keyboards, harmonica, vocals), Phil Lesh (bass, vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (drums). Members of the Grateful Dead had played together in various San Francisco bands, including Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions and the Warlocks. Lesh was the last member to join the Warlocks before they became the Grateful Dead; he replaced Dana Morgan Jr., who had played bass for a few gigs. Drummer Mickey Hart and non-performing lyricist Robert Hunter joined in 1967. With the exception of McKernan, who died in 1973, and Hart, who took time off from 1971 to 1974, the core of the band stayed together for its entire 30-year history.[16] The other official members of the band are Tom Constanten (keyboards; 1968–1970), John Perry Barlow (nonperforming lyricist; 1971–1995), Keith Godchaux (keyboards; 1971–1979), Donna Godchaux (vocals; 1972–1979), Brent Mydland (keyboards, vocals; 1979–1990), and Vince Welnick (keyboards, vocals; 1990–1995). Bruce Hornsby (accordion, piano, vocals) was a touring member from 1990 to 1992, as well as a guest with the band on occasion before and after the tours.

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After the death of Garcia in 1995, former members of the band, along with other musicians, toured as the Other Ones in 1998, 2000, and 2002, and the Dead in 2003, 2004, and 2009. In 2015, the four surviving core members marked the band’s 50th anniversary in a series of concerts that were billed as their last performances together. There have also been several spin-offs featuring one or more core members, such as Dead & Company, Furthur, the Rhythm Devils, Phil Lesh and Friends, RatDog, and Billy & the Kids.

American Beauty is the fifth studio album by rock band the Grateful Dead. Released November 1, 1970, by Warner Bros. Records, the album continued the folk rock and country music style of their previous album Workingman’s Dead, issued earlier in the year. Though the Americana approach is still evident in the songwriting, comparatively the sound focused more on folk harmonies and major-key melodies, showing influence from Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

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Upon release, American Beauty entered the Billboard 200 chart, ultimately peaking at number 30 during a nineteen-week stay in January 1971. On July 11, 1974, the album was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, and it later reached Platinum and Double Platinum certification in 1986 and 2001, respectively. In 2003, the album was ranked number 258 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, 261 in a 2012 revised list, and 215 in a 2020 revised list. (wikipedia)

“American Beauty” promo pic:
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With 1970’s Workingman’s Dead, the Grateful Dead went through an overnight metamorphosis, turning abruptly from tripped-out free-form rock toward sublime acoustic folk and Americana. Taking notes on vocal harmonies from friends Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the Dead used the softer statements of their fourth studio album as a subtle but moving reflection on the turmoil, heaviness, and hope America’s youth was facing as the idealistic ’60s ended. American Beauty was recorded just a few months after its predecessor, both expanding and improving on the bluegrass, folk, and psychedelic country explorations of Workingman’s Dead with some of the band’s most brilliant compositions. The songs here have a noticeably more relaxed and joyous feel. Having dived headfirst into this new sound with the previous album, the bandmembers found the summit of their collaborative powers here, with lyricist Robert Hunter penning some of his most poetic work, Jerry Garcia focusing more on gliding pedal steel than his regular electric lead guitar work, and standout lead vocal performances coming from Bob Weir (on the anthem to hippie love “Sugar Magnolia”), Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (on the husky blues of “Operator”), and Phil Lesh (on the near-perfect opening tune, “Box of Rain”).

Review

This album also marked the beginning of what would become a long musical friendship between Garcia and Dave Grisman, whose mandolin playing adds depth and flavor to tracks like the outlaw country-folk of “Friend of the Devil” and the gorgeously devotional “Ripple.” American Beauty eventually spawned the band’s highest charting single — “Truckin’,” the greasy blues-rock tribute to nomadic counterculture — but it also contained some of their most spiritual and open-hearted sentiments ever, their newfound love of intricate vocal arrangements finding pristine expression on the lamenting “Brokedown Palace” and the heavenly nostalgia and gratitude of “Attics of My Life.” While the Dead eventually amassed a following so devoted that following the band from city to city became the center of many people’s lives, the majority of the band’s magic came in the boundless heights it reached in its live sets but rarely managed to capture in the studio setting. American Beauty is a categorical exception to this, offering a look at the Dead transcending even their own exploratory heights and making some of their most powerful music by examining their most gentle and restrained impulses. It’s easily the masterwork of their studio output, and a strong contender for the best music the band ever made, even including the countless hours of live shows captured on tape in the decades that followed. (by Fred Thomas)

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Personnel:
Jerry Garcia (guitar, pedal steel-guiar, piano, vocals)
Mickey Hart (percussion)
Bill Kreutzmann (drums)
Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan (keyboards, harmonica, vocals)
Phil Lesh (bass, guitar, piano, vocals)
Bob Weir (guitar, vocals)
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David Grisman (mandolin on 02., 06.)
Ned Lagin (piano on 05.)
Dave Nelson (guitar on 01.)
Dave Torbert (bass on 01.)
Howard Wales (organ on 05.+ 09., piano on 06)

Thanks to The New Riders Of The Purple Sage

GratefulDead04Tracklist:
01. Box Of Rain (Lesh/Hunter) 5.16
02. Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter) 3.23
03. Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter) 3.15
04. Operator (McKernan) 2.24
05. Candyman (Garcia/Hunter) 6.08
06. Ripple (4.10) /  Brokedown Palace (4.18) (Garcia/Hunter) 8.17
07. Till The Morning Comes (Garcia/Hunter) 3.07
08. Attics Of My Life (Garcia/Hunter) 5.12
09. Truckin´ (Weir/Garcia/Lesh/Hunter) 5.02

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