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The Grateful Dead

    Grateful Dead (1967; Warner Bros., 2003)
    Anthem of the Sun (1968; Warner Bros., 2003)
      Aoxomoxoa (1969; Warner Bros., 2003)
        Live Dead (1970; Warner Bros., 2003)
          Workingman’s Dead (1970; Warner Bros., 2003)
          American Beauty (1970; Warner Bros., 2003)
      The Grateful Dead (1971; Warner Bros., 2003)
      Europe ’72 (1972; Warner Bros., 2003)
      History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1—Bear's Choice (1973; Warner Bros., 2003)
      Wake of the Flood (Grateful Dead, 1973)
        Best of the Grateful Dead—Skeletons From the Closet (Warner Bros., 1974)
      The Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel (Grateful Dead, 1974)
      Blues for Allah (Grateful Dead, 1975)
    Steal Your Face (Grateful Dead, 1976)
        Terrapin Station (Arista, 1977)
        What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been (Warner Bros., 1977)
    Shakedown Street (Arista, 1978)
  The Grateful Dead Go to Heaven (Arista, 1980)
    Dead Reckoning (1981; Arista, 1990)
    Dead Set (Arista, 1981)
      In the Dark (Arista, 1987)
  Built to Last (Arista, 1989)
  Dylan and the Dead (Columbia, 1989)
      Without a Net (Arista, 1990)
    One From the Vault (Grateful Dead, 1991)
    Dick's Picks, Vol. 1 (Grateful Dead, 1991)
        Two From the Vault (Grateful Dead, 1992)
    Infrared Roses (Grateful Dead, 1994)
    Dick's Picks, Vol. 2 (Grateful Dead, 1995)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 3 (Grateful Dead, 1995)
      Hundred Year Hall (Grateful Dead, 1995)
        Grayfolded (Plunderphonics, 1995)
          Dick's Picks, Vol. 4 (Grateful Dead, 1996)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 5 (Grateful Dead, 1996)
      The Arista Years (Arista, 1996)
      Dozin' at the Knick (Grateful Dead, 1996)
      Fallout From the Phil Zone (Arista, 1997)
        Live at Fillmore East 2-11-69 (Grateful Dead, 1997)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 6 (Grateful Dead, 1997)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 7 (Grateful Dead, 1997)
          Dick's Picks, Vol. 8 (Grateful Dead, 1997)
    Dick's Picks, Vol. 9 (Grateful Dead, 1997)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 10 (Grateful Dead, 1998)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 11 (Grateful Dead, 1998)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 12 (Grateful Dead, 1998)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 13 (Grateful Dead, 1998)
    Dick's Picks, Vol. 14 (Grateful Dead, 1999)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 15 (Grateful Dead, 1999)
        So Many Roads: Live (1965–1995) (Arista, 1999)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 16 (Grateful Dead, 2000)
    Dick's Picks, Vol. 17 (Grateful Dead, 2000)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 18 (Grateful Dead, 2000)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 19 (Grateful Dead, 2000)
        Ladies and Gentlemen...The Grateful Dead: Fillmore East, New York, April 1971 (Arista, 2000)
    Dick's Picks, Vol. 20 (Grateful Dead, 2001)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 21 (Grateful Dead, 2001)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 22 (Grateful Dead, 2001)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 23 (Grateful Dead, 2001)
    Nightfall of Diamonds (Arista, 2001)
        The Golden Road (1965–1973) (Rhino/Warner Bros., 2001)
    Go to Nassau (Arista, 2002)
      Steppin' Out With the Grateful Dead: England ’72 (Arista, 2002)
        Postcards of the Hanging: Grateful Dead Perform the Songs of Bob Dylan (Arista, 2002)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 24 (Grateful Dead, 2002)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 25 (Grateful Dead, 2002)
        Dick's Picks, Vol. 26 (Grateful Dead, 2002)
      View From the Vault II (Grateful Dead, 2002)
    View From the Vault III (Grateful Dead, 2002)
        Birth of the Dead (Warner Bros., 2003)
      Dick's Picks, Vol. 27 (Grateful Dead, 2003)
        Three From the Vault (Grateful Dead/Rhino, 2007)
        Road Trips Vol. 1 No. 1: Fall 1979 (Grateful Dead, 2008)
        Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings (Grateful Dead/Rhino, 2008)
        Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 1: Oakland 12.28.1979 (Grateful Dead, 2009)

The Grateful Dead's music occupies a unique niche; their open-ended approach to songs and sound was unprecedented in rock. Their emphasis on live performance and their self-sufficiency—in effect the band became a self-contained music industry—made them a larger-than-life social phenomenon and fathered the jam-band movement that flourished in the Nineties with Phish, the Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and countless others. All forged lucrative careers built on the Dead's lead: Music mattered more than image, tours counted for more than slickly crafted studio albums, and concerts were improvised in the moment, assuring that no two would ever be alike.

The Dead began as the house band for the acid tests in mid-Sixties San Francisco, making the transition from a jug band to garage-blues rockers documented on the Birth of the Dead album, and eventually to something far more difficult to categorize.

This was a band whose legacy was forged on the stage rather than the studio, in large measure because the Dead used their songs as starting points for improvisation rather than as ideals to be duplicated. They treated America's indigenous music—blues, bluegrass, country, jazz, folk, and early rock & roll—as one long, living tradition that demanded to be transmuted and expanded nightly. They covered the songs of their contemporaries, especially Bob Dylan, but also those of Charley Patton, Marty Robbins, Buddy Holly, Woody Guthrie, the Dixie Cups, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. Bassist Phil Lesh was an accomplished avant-garde composer, guitarist Jerry Garcia recorded with everyone from David Grisman to Ornette Coleman, drummer Mickey Hart was one of the first musicians to introduce world music and rhythms to the rock lexicon, and virtuosos such as Branford Marsalis and Bruce Hornsby sat in with the band. To avoid repeating themselves, they risked looking foolish or inept, and sometimes did.

Garcia applied the dexterity of his bluegrass-banjo background to the electric guitar, and he developed one of the signature styles of the last half century, an unhurried approach to the instrument that stood in sharp contrast to rock's faster-is-better orthodoxy. In addition, his songwriting collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter provided the foundation for the Dead's career: "Dark Star," "Uncle John's Band," "Ripple," "Bertha," "Casey Jones," "China Cat Sunflower," "U.S. Blues," the epic "Terrapin Station," and their sole Top 10 hit, "Touch of Grey." Garcia's interplay with Lesh and guitarist Bob Weir was supported by two percussionists in Hart and Bill Kreutzmann who favored busy polyrhythms over more conventional rock beats, while a succession of keyboardists brought disparate strengths to the band's many eras: the blues raunch of Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, Keith Godchaux's jazzier voicings, Brent Mydland's versatility with synthesizers.

The early albums, particularly Anthem of the Sun, are ambitious but awkward, as the Dead experiments with everything from finger cymbals to crotales and extended song suites. Live Dead is where the band finds its voice, particularly on a 24-minute "Dark Star" that is closer in feel to Miles Davis' jazz-fusion than rock. The song is the acid test, if you will, of Dead-dom, both the defining work in the canon and the most demanding. It was among the first Hunter lyrics written for the band and is the centerpiece of countless concert recordings to surface over the next 30 years with its open-ended, modal-jazz structure.

Workingman's Dead, in part inspired by the rustic soul of the Band, ranks as the Dead's studio masterpiece, followed closely by American Beauty. The focus is on the songs, rather than the jams, and these would provide the focal point of an era, spanning 1969–74, when the Dead played some of the most remarkable concerts in American history, virtually every one available in some incarnation thanks to the band's dedicated tapers. The Dead's last major statement as a studio band would be Terrapin Station, the epic title track ranking with the finest of the Hunter-Garcia collaborations.

The late Seventies and Eighties saw the Dead struggling to remain relevant amid unfriendly commercial trends, hitting its nadir in disco experiments such as Shakedown Street, but improbably scoring a major hit with the wryly touching "Touch of Grey" from In the Dark. That said, the polished pleasantness of most of the Dead's latter-day studio recordings is depressing coming from these erstwhile pranksters. The Dead often found themselves going through the motions in concert as well, providing a soundtrack for a party they no longer had any desire to join.

Garcia's death in 1995 effectively ended the band, but not the flood of recordings. Particularly remarkable is the ongoing Dick's Picks series, named after the late Dead tape archivist Dick Latvala, which cherry-picks some of the band's finest concert recordings. Best of the bunch is Volume 4, which culls highlights from two masterly 1970 performances at the Fillmore East in New York. Here the full range of the band's arsenal is represented: the luminous "Dark Star," a raging "Not Fade Away," the sheer nastiness of McKernan on his showpiece, "Turn on Your Love Light."

A few months later, the Dead nearly topped that performance; their Harpur College concert in Binghamton, NY (Vol. 8), should give pause to anyone who buys into the Dead's reputation as mellow. Fresh off recording Workingman's Dead, the band opens in acoustic mode, which brings a more melodic concision to the arrangements and a bite to the voices that carries over to the electric set. Garcia and Lesh slug it out on a majestic "The Other One," while "Viola Lee Blues" and "Morning Dew" build to howling climaxes. The group even wages war on Martha and the Vandellas' ebullient "Dancing in the Street," transforming it into a freakish, funky, antiwar meltdown.

After the Dick's Picks series came to a close in 2005, it was succeeded by Road Trips, which – unlike Dick's Picks – often focus on material from multiple concerts on a given tour rather than one single show. Vol. 1 No. 1 (from an East Coast tour in 1979) and Vol. 3 No. 1 (from Oakland, 1978) are two of the hottest.

Among Dead arcana, Grayfolded stands apart: a two-CD deconstruction of "Dark Star." Sound engineer John Oswald, who coined the term "Plunderphonics" to describe how he manipulates and layers or "folds" recorded music, compresses 25 years of "Dark Star" performances into two epic tapestries, including an "ambient dance" mix that recontexualizes the Dead as precursors of the Orb or Aphex Twin.

The uninitiated looking for an entry point to this bewildering catalogue should seek out What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been, a good one-volume retrospective, or So Many Roads, a box set that gives a solid overview of the Dead's many incarnations as a touring band.

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