Golden Road (1965-1973)
Part One: Birth of the Dead
The Music Box's #1 specialty package for 2001
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2002, Volume 9, #1
Written by John Metzger
Box sets unquestionably cater to the diehard fan. Often packed with previously available material as well as assorted outtakes, demos, and alternate versions, these packages equally can be as much of a boon for the avid collector as they are a bust to the casual observer. Few bands, however, are suited quite so readily for such extensive examination as the Grateful Dead. After all, the group's music has long been swapped among fans, often with rabid, obsessive compulsion.
The Golden Road 1965-1973 actually marks the second official box set to be released that focuses on the Grateful Dead's monumental legacy (following closely on the heels of So Many Roads) — and this doesn't include the myriad of multi-CD releases that make up the Vault and Dick's Picks series. Rather than focus on the band's vast concert archives, however, The Golden Road's twelve discs hone in on the group's studio output and the development of its songwriting. As such, it makes a fascinating study of the Grateful Dead's rapidly changing sound, while strongly making a case for many of the band's official recordings as essential listening.
Birth of the Dead
The Golden Road begins with a new two-disc compilation of material — all of which precedes the Grateful Dead's debut album. Little of it will be of interest to the casual fan, but diehard collectors and Grateful Dead scholars will spend hours, no doubt, poring over its contents. This portion of the overall package is divided between the studio tracks and live recordings the band made in 1965 and 1966. What's most remarkable is how far and just how fast the band developed.
It's unlikely that the folks at Autumn Records quite knew what they had on their hands when the Grateful Dead laid down its initial series of recordings in November 1965. After all, the group pretty much sounded like every other band of the day, trying to capitalize on the success of The Beatles (and to a lesser extent the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan). Nevertheless, the Grateful Dead's love of folk music remained strong as evidenced by the renditions of Gordon Lightfoot's Early Morning Rain, the traditional I Know You Rider, and the original blues groove Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks).
By the following summer, the Grateful Dead had gelled considerably and once again returned to the studio for a session at Scorpio Records. While the band still clung to its pop-oriented sound, the tight arrangements showcased on these recordings couldn't hide the open-ended experimentation that had begun to evolve within the group's music. Phil Lesh, in particular, lent a remarkably fluid undercurrent to many of the tracks — including a positively uplifting I Know You Rider and an effervescent Cold Rain and Snow.
Were it not for these latter two songs, the live recordings included on Birth of the Dead very well might have seemed like they were performed by a different band altogether. Amazingly, in the span of just nine months, the Grateful Dead had made considerable progress, and though they still had a ways to go, the seeds of success had definitely been sown. In particular, Viola Lee Blues was already a mind-blowing tour-de-force as Jerry Garcia's blazing lead guitar collided with a backdrop of shrill organ and bounding rhythm to create a breathtaking musical journey.
Regardless of the specific concerts from which its fourteen live tracks were taken, Birth of the Dead successfully strings the songs together to recreate a single concert snapshot, one that is representative of the band at the time. Though the group remained a bit ragged, the Grateful Dead was already a force with which to be reckoned, a band capable of tapping into something inordinately primal and turning it into something undeniably powerful and intense. And this was just the beginning.
This is the first installment of a nine part series, which
will examine The Golden Road (1965-1973) album by album. The
entire set is rated:
The Golden Road (1965-1973)
Birth of the Dead is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Birth of the Dead is also part of the box set Golden Road (1965-1973),
which is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box