Anthem Of The Sun

Grateful Dead

Warner Brothers Records, 1968

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If you were a music lover in 1968, The Grateful Dead had to have thrown you a serious curve ball. Their self-titled debut album was a collection of blues-rock on speed, and could have been viewed as "mostly harmless" by a conservative listener.

So if The Grateful Dead was a Sunday drive in the country, their follow-up release Anthem Of The Sun was a trip on the autobahn with no brakes. Adding in second drummer Mickey Hart and keyboardist Tom Constanten to the mix, the Dead disposed of the blues riffs and dived headfirst into psychedelia. While this is not always an interesting listen, it does grow on you after a while.

After their original producer Dave Hassinger was sent screaming for the exits (apparently after bassist Phil Lesh wanted to record sounds of "heavy air," whatever the hell that meant), the Dead ended up producing their own work. A combination of studio work and live performances, Anthem Of The Sunmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is a definite mish-mash of concepts and sounds - some which work, some which don't. And for such a short disc, sometimes you find yourself wishing they had expanded on some of the good ideas.

One of the early "masterpieces" of the group, the four-movement "That's It For The Other One" took on many lives of its own during the Dead's 30-year touring history - and there is debate today on whether the movements are correctly labeled. Building from a gentle passasge featuring the vocals of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia into the concert ferociousness led by rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, "The Other One" (as it's known to Deadheads) is a nonstop challenge to your ears and your brain, and is still enjoyable 30 years after it was recorded. Likewise, "Born Cross-Eyed" is a slab of pure rock weirdness that ends all too soon - if you invested in the best-of What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been then you should be familiar with this one.

The two hidden gems on this disc (which is only five songs long anyway) are "Alligator," an 11-minute work which also builds from a more controlled melody into a frenzy, and "New Potato Caboose," a surprisingly powerful track which has been a forgotten classic (why the band stopped performing this one live I'll never understand).

But even though there's only one clunker on Anthem Of The Sun, "Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)" is a big one. A nine-minute drum rhythm led by keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, this might have been a show-stopper live but it just drags on disc. I don't think nine minutes ever felt longer - and remember, this is coming from a nouveau Deadhead.

The only other real problem with Anthem Of The Sun is that it's an album that will still catch people just discovering the Dead off-guard - especially those who climbed on board with the success of "Touch Of Grey". This is psychadelia at its rawest, most experimental - and, at times, ugliest. When I first bought this album on tape in the summer of 1990, I couldn't stand it, and locked it in a trunk in the Pierce Archives. Over the years, I've occasionally pulled it out to blow out the pipes, and eventually liked it enough to update it to compact disc. Other listeners might not be so patient.

Anthem Of The Sun contains some tracks which have become legends in the world of The Grateful Dead, but still remains a stark picture of what the world of psychedelia was really like in 1968. Face it - if you're brave enough.

Rating: B-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.