[Review] Grateful Dead: American Beauty (1970)

This is the Sticky Fingers of the Dead, a virtual greatest hits album.

Kronomyth 6.0: The great flower bed of the Dead.

A Dead album by any other name would not smell as sweet as American Beauty. The band returned to the studio six months after the breakthrough Workingman’s Dead to record a new collection of songs written this time by various members in collaboration with lyricist Robert Hunter, and the results were the strongest of their short career: “Box of Rain,” “Friend of The Devil,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Ripple,” “Truckin.” If their last album had been a revelation, American Beauty was paradise found. Instruments intertwined like DNA strands, voices creaked like comfortable sneakers, piano and pedal steel provided the perfect punctuation to Hunter’s sage-poems, and the entire album rolled easy with a deceptively loose feel that belied the artistry underneath.

Although many have heard on American Beauty a continuation of the band’s country-rock adventures, this album has always struck me as a partial return to the ornate style of Aoxomoxoa. Again, the cover artwork seems to capture the essence of it: psychedelic rock framed in a country-rock context. The track sequence for American Beauty is an interesting one, showcasing different members of the band before settling in for half an album of Hunter/Garcia songs. Jerry Garcia’s contributions have a quiet intensity to them (“Brokedown Palace,” “Attics of My Life,” “Candyman”), forming the soul (if not the heart) of American Beauty’s appeal.

It’s strange to think this would be the last studio album from the band for several years. Ron McKernan’s health issues had forced him into a peripheral role (“Operator” essentially amounts to a cameo), and Garcia in particular was already eyeing other alliances with New Riders of the Purple Sage, Howard Wales and David Grisman (all of whom appear on this album). American Beauty thus stands as the pinnacle of the band’s first phase, and for my money the finest album they’ve ever recorded.

Read more Grateful Dead reviews

Original LP Version

A1. Box of Rain (Robert Hunter/Phil Lesh) (5:16)
A2. Friend of The Devil (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia/John Dawson) (3:20)
A3. Sugar Magnolia (Robert Hunter/Bob Weir) (3:15)
A4. Operator (Ron McKernan) (2:21)
A5. Candyman (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (5:12)
B1. Ripple (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (4:10)
B2. Brokedown Palace (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (4:18)
B3. Till The Morning Comes (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (3:13)
B4. Attics of My Life (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia) (5:09)
B5. Truckin (Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia/Phil Lesh/Bob Weir) (5:09)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Truckin’ (single version)
12. Friend of The Devil (live)
13. Candyman (live)
14. Till The Morning Comes (live)
15. Attics of My Life (live)
16. Truckin’ (live)
17. Ripple (alternate version)*
18. American Beauty Radio Spot*

* denotes hidden tracks

The Players

Jerry Garcia (guitar, pedal steel, piano, vocals), Mickey Hart (percussion), Robert Hunter (songwriter), Bill Kreutzmann (drums), Phil Lesh (bass, guitar, piano, vocals), Pig Pen (Ron McKernan) (harmonica, vocals), Bob Weir (guitar, vocals) with David Grisman (mandolin on A2/B1), Ned Lagin (piano on A5), Dave Nelson (electric guitar on A1), Dave Torbert (bass on A1), Howard Wales (organ on A5/B5, piano on B2). Produced by the Grateful Dead; audio co-produced by Stephen Barncard.

The Pictures

Album artwork by Kelly – Mouse Studios. Rear photo by George Conger.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on October 14, 1970 in the US (Warner Bros., WS 1893) and in 1971 in the UK (Warner Bros., K 46074); reached #30 on the US charts (RIAA certified 2X platinum record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in July 1971 in the US (Warner Bros., 1893).
  2. Re-released on remastered elpee in 1978 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-014).
  3. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in the US (Warner Bros., WS 1893).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1987 in the US (Warner Bros., W2 1893).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 1989 in the UK and Germany (Warner Bros., 27190).
  6. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on February 25, 2003 in the US and Germany (Rhino, 74397) and in 2003 in Japan (Rhino, WPCR-11496) with 8 bonus tracks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *