Jul 25, 2012

1970: Workingman's Dead Review #2


The Grateful Dead have been around for as long as the Beatles and the Stones [sic], though as a group they were not recorded until later - but they were heard in night clubs, coffeehouses and dances in the San Francisco area long before they gained any popularity on the record charts.
The Dead could probably be described as the first San Francisco rock band, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother not excluded.
They have come a long way with their music from the time of their first album, both in their development of lyrics and melody. The Dead had a reputation among their fans as being "really far-out in person, but some of their records just don't make it."
"Workingman's Dead," one of their latest, does a lot to dispel this belief - this record displays a tight band and eight songs, all of which were written by members of the band. "Workingman's Dead" is one of those records that could not be more aptly named - it is a record for the workingman or for everyman to relax to, jive to, and generally enjoy.
The first cut on the album is a mellow tune titled "Uncle John's Band," inviting us to "Come hear Uncle John's Band - Playing to the tide - Come with me or go alone - He's come to take his children home..." The feeling generated in this song is full of hope and good wishes - this is not hard rock or country music, it is another thing completely. They sing "Whoa-oh, What I want to know-oh - Is, are you kind?"
The music has changed since the days of "The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion)," becoming more concerned about the serious side of life. There is a feeling now in the Grateful Dead's music that goes deeper than that expressed even in such a song as "Morning Dew," a cut on their first album concerning the dangers of nuclear warfare, among other things. The music is closer to home now, closer to what men really fear and love; it has become personalized, more exact in its sentiments.
"Black Peter," the second cut on side two of "Workingman's Dead," shows best the distance which the Dead have covered in these last few years. The song is a slow blues, a sort of boat-ride on a lazy river where one forgets his own troubles and takes on the cares of another, in a crying blues in which Jerry Garcia sings, "Take a look at poor Peter - He's lying in pain - Now let's all go, run and see, run and see - Yes run and see..."
In "High Time," a mellow, country-sounding cut, the Dead are concerned not with getting the girl but with losing her, and the sentiment is expressed in not the usual terms, but in a highly original manner much different from what we were used to expecting from them.
The Dead have come a long way - They were good in their first album - they're great now. There's lots to listen to on their latest, workingman or not, and we're grateful for the Dead - give us some more.

(by John Darcy, from the Carson City, Nevada Appeal, May 13 1971)

1 comment:

  1. This article may be misdated - May 1971 seems pretty late to review "the latest" album from June 1970. (Or maybe Carson City was behind the times!)

    It's always funny to read in reviews round the country that the Dead were "the first San Francisco rock band." Journalism at its finest.

    But although this reviewer was misinformed, it's interesting that he'd already heard that the band was better live than on record.