Category Archives: The Grateful Dead

Rocks In The Attic #798: The Grateful Dead – ‘American Beauty’ (1970)

RITA#798One of New Zealand’s better radio stations is The Sound, broadcasting on 93.8FM in Auckland. The station was originally called Solid Gold, catering for ‘60s and 70’s music, until their core audience presumably died off and stopped listening. In 2012, it rebranded as The Sound, concentrating on classic rock (i.e. Dad rock) from the ‘70s and ‘80s. Their tagline is “We’ve got your record collection”, which sounds more like the beginnings of a ransom demand than a reason to tune in.

Earlier this year, I saw a competition posted to their Facebook page: “Here’s your chance to earn the ultimate ‘trainspotting’ title! If you can name all 20 albums correctly in this photo, we’re sending you some epic vinyl to add to your collection.” [I’ve included the photo here you can play along at home!]

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I looked at the image and could identify at least half of them at first glance. Most record collectors can identify the top two inches of an album cover with ease, from years of flicking though the racks of record shops, but trying to identify them from the LEFT two inches of the sleeve was much more difficult.

I spent the train home from work trying to figure out the ones I was missing. By the time I got home, I had all but 3 or 4. I asked a couple of friends for help, as I suspected that the ones I hadn’t got were alien to me. Moo helped me on one of them (#2), but I was stuck on the rest. By the end of the night, I had just two left to get – #6 and #11.

My cunning wife managed to find out #6 – an album more famous in my current corner of the world than anywhere else, and so I was left with #11. At first, I thought this was the Beach Boy’s Endless Summer, one of those great hand-drawn covers of the 1970s. Eventually, I thought of a solo artist famous for having hand-drawn covers, and traced it back to the band he was originally in. Phew, after six or so stressful hours, I submitted my entry and went to sleep.

I didn’t hear anything else about the competition for a number of weeks. Then, one day I spotted a new comment addressed to me on the original Facebook post: “Congratulations! You will be taking home a few of the albums that feature in this competition. Thank you for all of your entries. Watch this space to see if you’ll be the next Acoustic Sunrise Trainspotter.”

Great! I still don’t know whether I was just the first person to get them all correct, or if it was just a random hat-pull of the correct entries. And there was no mention of what I had won. The wording of the competition was quite vague; it didn’t say whether there’d be one winner, or many, or indeed what the winner/s would receive.

When I finally heard from the radio station, they declared me the ‘ultimate vinyl trainspotter’ (their words, not mine) and said I had won a 5 x LP package. They sent the first four in one package: Bob Dylan’s Street Legal and the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, neither of which I had in my collection, together with Talking Head’s Talking Heads: 77 and Boz Scagg’s Silk Degrees, both of which I did have. All four were brand new sealed reissues. I put the Talking Heads and Boz Scaggs records to one side, to re-gift at a later date.

The fifth and final LP they were to send me was Led Zeppelin’s debut. The radio station then emailed and said there was a delay, and asked would I prefer a copy of Led Zeppelin II instead, as they had that one in stock. I didn’t mind, I have all the studio albums anyway, but I was just hoping that whatever they sent me would be one of the latest reissues with the bonus material. The parcel arrived this morning; it was a copy of Led Zeppelin IV, not II – I guess the people who work at radio stations don’t necessarily need to know anything about the artists they play – but thankfully it was the recent reissue with the bonus disc of alternate mixes. Brilliant!

In terms of the Grateful Dead, I’ve probably eaten more Cherry Garcia ice cream in my life than I have listened to Jerry and his band. I couldn’t even hum one of their songs. I don’t hold anything against them personally, but I think the barrier for me is their fans. I think I may have an allergy to tie-dye, as the very sight of it turns my stomach. When I think of the Grateful Dead, I just think of old, skeletal hippies with long grey hair, grooving on down to some indeterminable sludgy rock;  waves of fans, appearing at baseball stadiums in beat-up old winnebagos to watch the band do their thing above a small fleet of microphones, each recording the concert for bootleg releases that nobody will ever listen to.

Turns out I needn’t be afraid. Listening to American Beauty, their fifth studio album, they sound a lot like Crosby, Stills & Nash crossed with the Band. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t anything this tuneful and melodic. I think I was expecting LSD-fuelled 17-minute guitar solos that go nowhere. Maybe they came later in their careers?

Hit: Truckin’

Hidden Gem: Candyman

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