As the second long-player by the Grateful Dead, Anthem of the Sun
(1968) pushed the limits of both the music as well as the medium. General dissatisfaction with their self-titled debut necessitated the search for a methodology to seamlessly juxtapose the more inspired segments of their live performances with the necessary conventions of a single LP. Since issuing their first album, the Dead welcomed lyricist Robert Hunter
into the fold -- freeing the performing members to focus on the execution and taking the music to the next level. Another addition was second percussionist Mickey Hart, whose methodical timekeeping would become a staple in the Dead's ability to stop on the proverbial rhythmic dime. Likewise, Tom Constanten
(keyboards) added an avant-garde twist to the proceedings with various sonic enhancements that were more akin to John Cage
and Karlheinz Stockhausen
than anything else coming from the burgeoning Bay Area music scene. Their extended family also began to incorporate folks like Dan Healy -- whose non-musical contributions and innovations ranged from concert PA amplification to meeting the technical challenges that the band presented off the road as well. On this record Healy's involvement cannot be overstated, as the band was essentially given carte blanche and simultaneous on-the-job training with regard to the ins and outs of the still unfamiliar recording process.
The idea to create an aural pastiche from numerous sources -- often running simultaneously -- was a radical concept that allowed consumers worldwide to experience a simulated Dead performance firsthand. One significant pattern that began developing saw the Dead continuing to refine the same material that they were concurrently playing live night after night prior to entering the studio. The extended "That's It for the Other One" suite is nothing short of a psychedelic roller coaster. The wild ride weaves what begins as a typical song into several divergent performances -- taken from tapes of live shows -- ultimately returning to the home base upon occasion, presumably as a built-in reality check. Lyrically, Bob Weir (guitar/vocals) includes references to their 1967 pot bust (."..the heat came 'round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day") as well as the band's spiritual figurehead Neal Cassady (."..there was Cowboy Neal at the wheel on a bus to never-ever land"). Although this version smokes from tip to smoldering tail, the piece truly developed a persona all its own and became a rip-roaring monster in concert. The tracks "New Potato Caboose" and Weir's admittedly autobiographically titled "Born Cross-Eyed" are fascinatingly intricate side trips that had developed organically during the extended work's on-stage performance life. "Alligator" is a no-nonsense Ron "Pigpen" McKernan
workout that motors the second extended sonic collage on Anthem of the Sun
. His straight-ahead driving blues ethos careens headlong into the Dead's innate improvisational psychedelia. The results are uniformly brilliant as the band thrashes and churns behind his rock-solid lead vocals. Musically, the Dead's instrumental excursions wind in and out of the primary theme, ultimately ending up in the equally frenetic "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)." Although the uninitiated might find the album unnervingly difficult to follow, it obliterated the pretension of the post-Sgt. Pepper's
"concept album" while reinventing the musical parameters of the 12" LP medium.
[Produced by Dead archivist David Lemieux
, the 50th Anniversary Edition of Anthem of the Sun
contains both the original 1968 mix and the 1971 remix of the proper album on the first disc, then a live set from Winterland recorded on October 22, 1967 on the second disc. The 1971 remix was designed to open up Anthem
for fans of American Beauty
and Workingman's Dead
. It's the standard edition that has been kept in circulation throughout the years, so the release of the denser original mix is what's noteworthy here. The Winterland performance is hailed as the "first extant live recording featuring Mickey (Hart) as a member of the Grateful Dead", so it follows that the band hasn't entirely incorporated him into the lineup; at times, he's hard to spot. Saving this, it's a solid, lively set, which even sounds a bit tough after the Dead dispense with "Morning Dew" as their opener.]