Beyond Description (1973–1989)
Part Six: Go to Heaven
The Music Box's #8 specialty package for 2004
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2004, Volume 11, #12
Written by John Metzger
Perhaps it is because it followed the lackluster Shakedown Street. Perhaps it is because of its absurd cover artwork, which depicted the members of the Grateful Dead as angelic disco kings. Or perhaps it is because it was released in the wake of The Clash’s genre-busting, industry-changing landmark outing London Calling. Whatever the reason, Go to Heaven is the most underappreciated album of the Grateful Dead’s canon — so much so that even the essay penned by Andrew Clarke for inclusion in the booklet that accompanies the Beyond Description box set is less than praising. Nevertheless, despite the struggle to create it, Go to Heaven featured the band’s most consistent batch of material since Blues for Allah, and although all of it was enveloped in a radio-friendly, studio sheen, the production of the album left room for the organic essence of the group’s stage presence to shine. In other words, it highlighted the ensemble’s talent in as accessible a manner as it could, thereby striking the sort of balance that the band had sought to achieve on its previous endeavor Shakedown Street.
Interestingly, the Grateful Dead immediately placed newcomer Brent Mydland in the spotlight, allowing him to play a crucial role in the crafting of Go to Heaven. Not only were his keyboard effects featured prominently throughout the album, but he also contributed two of the Grateful Dead’s most artistically successful forays into straight-ahead pop (Easy to Love You and Far from Me). On the other hand, Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann added a short, but strange percussive interlude titled Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber), while Jerry Garcia remained true-to-form by unleashing the raging barnburner Alabama Getaway, the supple strains of Althea, and a re-imagined rendition of the traditional Don’t Ease Me In. As for Bob Weir, it was his material that made the album a keeper. Although it contained the most jarringly abrupt ending imaginable, Feel Like a Stranger was a fiery blast of funk-rock that might have fared quite well as a single had it been written and released at the height of disco’s popularity rather than in the wake of punk rock’s demise and reincarnation, and even if Lost Sailor and Saint of Circumstance were split by the flip of an album side, the reflective beauty of the former and the life-affirming refrains of the latter made the songs a natural pairing in concert. With a trio of studio outtakes — a relaxed, but no less potent rendition of Peggy-O; a stirring interpretation of the traditional Jack-A-Roe; and a previously unreleased Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition titled What’ll You Raise that, at times, is reminiscent (perhaps too much so) of both Rubin & Cherise and Terrapin Station — as well as a trilogy of concert cuts — a soaring union of Lost Sailor and Saint of Circumstance that shifts from searching sweetness to a blissful examination of sonic tension and release, and a seductively slow Althea that showcases Garcia’s incisive lead guitar as well as some subtly sublime interaction among the band members — Go to Heaven is an album that deserves far more attention from the masses than it ever has managed to receive.
This is the sixth installment of a ten-part series,
which will examine Beyond Description (1973–1989) on an album by
album basis. The entire set is rated:
Of Further Interest...
Beyond Description (1973-1989) is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Go to Heaven [REMASTERED] 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 © 2004 The Music Box