Thursday, October 27, 2011

262. Workingman's Dead- Noodle Free Rock and Roll

Album: Workingman's Dead
Artist: The Grateful Dead
Year: 1970
Genre: Rock


  1. Uncle John's Band
  2. High Time
  3. Dire Wolf
  4. New Speedway Boogie
  5. Cumberland Blues
  6. Black Peter
  7. Easy Wind
  8. Casey Jones

No band in the world suffers from their reputation as much as the Grateful Dead. When I mention their name most people think they're a death metal band (the skull motifs don't help) or write them off as drug-addled, psychedelic noodlers. I would never try and claim illicit substances didn't play a huge part in their story, and I can play you concerts where they're clearly just aimlessly searching for inspiration onstage, but I maintain The Dead deserve to be liberated from their reputation and held up as great American songwriters. Over their thirty year career they wrote some fantastic original songs. Eight of them are on Workingman's Dead.

In their previous visit to the studio, The Dead had seen a recording space as their own experimental wonderland and the record company's budget was there to fund their personal experience. They started Workingman's with a desire to be taken seriously, a need to do the songs the justice they deserved and an urge to try out the vocal harmonizing techniques taught to them by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

When Workingman's Dead dropped onto the turntables of the record buying public they were amazed to find The Dead could sing. They could write beautiful melodies like Uncle John's Band, High Time and Black Peter and then bring their voices together in a studio the way they could unite their instruments onstage. The end result doesn't sound like drug-dazed experimenters it sounded like a group of practiced folk-singers chanelling the spirit of americana. Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter said one of the greatest compliments he was ever paid was overhearing a group of miners who heard Cumberland Blues on a jukebox. One apparently wondered out loud what the original writer of the song would have done if he knew a band like the Grateful Dead were going to cover it. On Workingman's Dead they weren't just mimicing authentic American music they were making it so real it could even fool authentic Americans.

If you're going to get Workingman's Dead (and why wouldn't you?) get your hands on the recent reissue which remasters the original album and also includes some live vesions which show how they could do their newfound love of songwriting justice on stage. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

Highlight: Uncle John's Band
Lowlight: Casey Jones (My least favourite Dead original)

Influenced by: America, Bob Dylan, folk music and CSN
Influenced: Every Jam band currently working.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "If it was'nt for this album the Grateful Dead would've been long forgotten and would've been forever looked down on as just another San Fransisco sounds group."

-You have said a silly thing. Workingman's is great but the Dead are so much more than just this set of songs.

So would you employ the Workingman's Dead or fire them immediately? Let me know below.

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