While there’s no denying the immeasurable talent of the Grateful Dead, the band certainly benefited from being at the right place and the right time in the earliest days of their career. The right place was San Francisco, CA, and the right time was 1965—the dawn of the psychedelic, counterculture movement. As more Americans became disenfranchised with the war in Vietnam, a writer named Ken Kesey and his group of Merry Pranksters were “turning people on” to hallucinogens, ultimately throwing Acid Test parties throughout the Bay Area as a means to bring people together.
The Acid Tests were missing one crucial component: music. Cue the Dead, a group of musicians who were certainly open-minded to the psychedelic wavelengths. As the band continued to gain a following over the years, they slowly started to take themselves more seriously and went into the studio to record their self-titled debut album, which they released in 1967. While that album largely featured familiar covers, it was with the following year’s Anthem of the Sun that the Dead got to merge their desires as both creative musicians and psychedelic warriors.
The band found a unique compromise between working in a studio and wanting to emphasize their live sound, and ultimately spliced live and studio versions of their songs together for the 1968 release. The album featured five songs in total: the full “That’s It For The Other One” suite, “New Potato Caboose”, “Born Cross-Eyed”, “Alligator”, and “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)”. Anthem of the Sun was their first album with all original material, though obviously it was far from their last. With compositions by Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, and contributions from Ronald “Pigpen” McKernan, Bill Kreutzmann, and pianist Tom Constanten, Anthem Of The Sun remains a defining moment of the Dead’s career.
One of the more humorous stories from the Anthem recording sessions came when Bob Weir reportedly requested “thick air” to be included in the album. The band literally wanted to record empty air tracks in the desert and the city, and the vague request caused producer David Hassinger to quit in the middle of the project. Hassinger said, “Nobody could sing, and at that point they were experimenting too much in my opinion. They didn’t know what the hell they were looking for.”
Ultimately, recordings from four studios and 17 live shows (in six locations) were pieced together to create the album. While later works like Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty would show the band’s ability to polish their music with great songwriting and studio concentration, it’s Anthem of the Sun that showcases the raw, playful, and unabashed psychedelia that would remain at the heart of the band for their entire career.
Without further ado, we give you Anthem of the Sun by the Grateful Dead, which was released on July 18th, 1968…
Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun (1968) – Full Album[Originally published 7/18/16]