I bumped into two very attractive blonde sales reps in the street who promised me a night of fulfilling all my sexual fantasies if I was to advertise Persil washing powder. Naturally I refused, as my love for my wife is strong.
Strong like the cleaning power of New Persil Ultra, with 48 hour freshness and a relaxing scent, available in all good supermarkets.
I never got the craze of youngsters developing a taste for fabric softener, to me it just seemed like comfort eating. On today’s double live album re-evaluation we check out the 1971 release by GDLIYWI alumni, the Grateful Dead. Unlike Live/Dead (featured on the first GDLIYWI post), this album contained several lead and background vocal overdubs. For the three new original compositions (“Bertha”, “Playing in the Band”, and “Wharf Rat”), the band invited Jerry Garcia associate Merl Saunders to overdub organ parts. This made the organ playing of Saunders more prominent than that of Pigpen, whose contributions tend to be buried in the mix.
The album’s cover art, composed by Alton Kelly and Stanley Mouse, is based on an illustration by Edmund Joseph Sullivan for an old edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The graphic became one of the images most associated with the band.
When the band submitted “Skull Fuck” (a contemporary euphemism for “blow your mind”) as the album title, it was rejected by the record label. Ultimately the agreement was made that the album would be published without the title appearing anywhere on the record labels or cover artwork. Though the band refers to the album by this title, and it has long been known to fans (through interviews with band members, the Deadhead network and other outlets), the alternate, descriptive title “Skull & Roses” developed among distributors, music buyers and reviewers as a graphic incipit from the cover artwork.
During this time period of The Grateful Dead, they were going through many difficult times. During the recording of American Beauty family members of both Phil Lesh and Jerry Garcia passed away. Pigpen was becoming very thin and sick from bad drinking habits. He would die in a short amount of time. Mickey Hart was going through despression problems, for his father Lenny Hart had been covering the band’s financial problems, and just ran off with a boat load of their money. Mickey blamed himself and quit the band for a time period. So just how, after all this drama and trauma, did the Dead react?
Well, the country feel to Workingmans Dead and American Beauty certainly makes its presence felt on this record, especially with some of the cover versions on here. And the band sound a lot tighter than on the previous live album; shorter songs (only 1 of the 11 tracks is over 10 minutes), more focused playing and better vocals as well albeit with studio overdubs. The songs are mainly upbeat, country blues fare that engage the listener immediately and the improv jams that the band are known for are mainly absent. The one track that does (The Other One), is a great song showing off the interplay between the group. It even has a drum solo in the opening 5 minutes of the song (which is nice of them) and I still liked it! Unfortunately side 3 kind of wobbles a bit; the covers of Me and Bobby McGee and Johnny B Goode seem misjudged, especially the latter; in fact I don’t think I’ve ever heard a good cover of Johnny B Goode by any band but I’m happy to be corrected. Fortunately side 4 ends on a high with the mellow, proggyness of Wharf Rat; it’s got a gorgeous riff, some lovely solos, Phil Lesh’s bass playing anchors the band and this is the best song on here. The last track, a cover of Not Fade Away/Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad, closes the album on an upbeat happy mood that sends the listener home happy.
So is it excessive? No, not in the slightest. Were the critics right? I couldn’t find too many contemporary reviews of this album but it did sell very well. Would I listen to it again? I used to own this record and would quite happily not play side 3. Re-listening to this made me realise that I made the right choice. Would I recommend it? Oh, for sure. Unlike the previous Dead live album, this is a lot more accessible for non-Deadheads; short songs, not too much noodling, great playing, win-win. Is there a drum solo? There is, it lasts a little over 5 minutes, it kicks off the longest song on here and it does not suck! I know! I’m shocked too, but credit where it’s due, it kept me engaged and felt it was there naturally rather than shoe-horned in.
So my score for this one is a 8/10. Much better than Live/Dead though it was let down by the songs featured on side 3. For a band that had so much turmoil before recording this, they did a pretty good job. Next time we featured another classic double live album, until then toodle-oo