[Review] Grateful Dead: Shakedown Street (1978)

One of their least interesting avenues, although that didn’t stop it from going gold and generating a pair of hits.

Kronomyth 16.0: The Dead hit a new Lowell point.

This is the band’s infamous disco album, only it really isn’t. There’s just the one disco song on here (“Shakedown Street”), and it’s not so different from the disco-informed experiments of Terrapin Station (“Dancin’ In The Streets”) or Go To Heaven (“Feel Like A Stranger”). Honestly, other than the new digs and the white ghost (Lowell George) in the producer’s chair, this is their last album all over again without the suite terrapin. Mind you, that’s not exactly an endorsement; Shakedown Street is in many ways one of their worst studio albums. The songs that sounded great in the studio (“France,” “Shakedown Street”) didn’t work on stage, and the songs that sounded great on the stage (“All New Minglewood Blues,” “Fire On The Mountain,” “I Need A Miracle”) didn’t work in the studio.

The album also marks the end of the Godchaux era, and at least Donna gets the classy exit she deserves on “France” and “From The Heart of Me.” (Keith, I suspect, had checked out a while ago.) It’s not a case of Shakedown Street being a bad album, since the songs are individually good, but therein lies the problem. This feels like the work of individual artists (Weir, Garcia, Mickey Hart and Donna Jean) collectively packaged.

Both Cats Under The Stars and Heaven Help The Fool had a few good ideas, and Shakedown has its handful. In 2006, Rhino issued an HDCD remaster that featured much-improved sound and several bonus tracks, including a version of “Good Lovin’” with a surprisingly lucid Lowell George on lead vocals and four songs from their 1978 Egyptian concert that features a cool Drums segment recorded with Hamza El Din titled “Ollin Arageed,” in which I’m pretty sure I can hear the word “marijuana” being chanted. Or maybe it’s “Beware Obama,” since the Dead affect impressionable minds differently.

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Original LP Version

A1. Good Lovin’ (Arthur Resnick/Rudy Clark) (4:51)
A2. France (Mickey Hart/Bob Weir/Robert Hunter) (4:03)
A3. Shakedown Street (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (4:59)
A4. Serengetti (Mickey Hart/Billy Kreutzmann) (1:59)
A5. Fire On The Mountain (Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter) (3:46)
B1. I Need A Miracle (Bob Weir/John Barlow) (3:36)
B2. From The Heart of Me (Donna Godchaux) (3:23)
B3. Stagger Lee (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (3:25)
B4. All New Minglewood Blues (Traditional, arr. by Bob Weir) (4:12)
B5. If I Had The World To Give (Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter) (4:50)

The Players

Jerry Garcia, Donna Godchaux, Keith Godchaux, Mickey Hart, Robert Hunter, Billy Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir with Jordan Amarantha (percussion), John Kahn (horn arrangements, associate producer), Matthew Kelly (harp), Steve Schuster (horn on track 7). Produced by Lowell George, co-produced by Dan Healy, engineered by Bob Matthews (except track 4 engineered by Brett Cohen).

The Pictures

Original cover artwork by Gilbert Shelton (of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers fame).

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on November 15, 1978 in the US (Arista, AB/AT8-4198), UK (Arista, ARTY-159), France (Arista, 2C 086 62101) , Germany (Arista, 201.133.270), Japan (Arista, 25RS-2) and the Netherlands (Arista, 5C 062 62101); reached #41 on the US charts (RIAA certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1987 in the US (Arista, ALB/ALC6-8321).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1991 in the US (Arista, ARCD-8228).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 2000 in Japan (Arista, BVCM-37136).

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