Mar 27, 2015

April 1967: Album Review


Warner Bros. 
This album is different from what you might expect from looking at the psychedelic record jacket.
There are no electronic or weird noises (except for the conventional electric guitars) and no psychedelic lyrics. Rather, the group is similar in many ways to the blues-oriented Animals and Rolling Stones.
The Grateful Dead consists of Jerry Garcia, lead guitar; Bob Weir, rhythm guitar; Phil Lesh, bass; Bill Sommers, drums; and Ron ("Pig Pen") McKernan, organ and harmonica.
The lyrics of the songs have been accurately described by Lesh and Garcia, who do most of the writing, as "nonsensical and banal."
However, it is difficult to ascertain this from the record, as the instruments drown out the voices most of the time. The songs are for the most part rock-blues. There is only one slow song, "Morning Dew."
One mostly instrumental tune, "Viola Lee Blues," lasts ten minutes, in which the tempo gradually speeds up, the music slowly gets louder, and the pitch gets higher and higher, until a climax is reached and the beginning tempo is returned to.
"Cream Puff War" will probably become a hit. It is catchy, and the rhythm changes from 4/4 to 3/4 and to 1 several times, similar to the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" time changes.
Besides the instrumental work being better than average, especially the organ, there is really nothing special about this album. The Grateful Dead are supposed to be one of the best groups in the San Francisco area. According to several reviewers and hippies, they are supposed to be fantastic in person.
To let the San Francisco sound go unspoiled, Warner Bros. gave the Grateful Dead a unique deal, allowing them complete control over material and production. It isn't that great.

(by Jackie Harper, from the "Record Reviews" column, Daily Aztec, 11 April 1967) (page 5)


  1. A disappointed review from the San Diego university paper. The writer had heard that the Dead were "one of the best groups" in San Francisco, that they were "fantastic in person," that they were totally psychedelic... And here was an album of speedy but mostly straightforward blues-rock - "nothing special." Anthem of the Sun may have pleased this reviewer more!
    Of course, the "psychedelic" aspect of the Viola Lee Blues jam is totally overlooked in the focus on its technical aspects.
    I wonder where the writer saw Lesh & Garcia's description of the lyrics as "nonsensical and banal" - since the Dead only wrote two songs on the album! (But they probably did feel that way about their originals, before Hunter arrived.)

    The reviewer was not alone in hearing a resemblance to the Stones - the Crawdaddy review points that out as well; and Richard Goldstein's review also mentions other contemporary bands the Dead sound like. Goldstein, in fact, makes the same point as this review: "It is straight, decent rhythm and blues - some of it so civil it passes for dull. Certainly, this is no 'psychedelic' music." The difference being, he liked it, and was more attentive to the nuances in the Dead's playing (and he'd heard them live).

    Others who'd seen the Dead live were also disappointed that the record didn't reflect more of their live sound - the Dead themselves certainly were. Garcia felt at the time that their sound couldn't be captured on record, and told Michael Lydon in '69, "At the time, it was unreasonable for us to do what we did [live], which would have been one LP, two sides, one song. They would never have gone for it; it was not the thing to do with the [record] form. So we made the first record of short songs...but they were our little warm-up numbers... And we had to live with the first record for a year and we grew to hate it."

  2. I bought, and loved, Anthem Of The Sun in 1968 - this was the first time I'd heard the Dead (in the UK) other than Born Cross-Eyed on the radio sometime earlier. A short time afterwards, I went to a record shop and listened to the first album which seemed very 'primitive' and lacking in fluidity by comparison. Not impressed, it was another couple of years before I went back and bought it.

  3. I actually really like their first album. Especially since the Golden Road release where they include the fuller length versions of the songs..