Grateful Dead—
Anthem of the Sun

Released 1968 on Warner Bros. Seven Arts
The Seth Man, May 2000ce
The Grateful Dead, you may ask? The band that cut easy-listening cocaine-soporifics the likes of “Truckin’,” “Casey Jones” and “Alabama Getaway”? Keith and Donna Godchaux, for cryin’ out loud! But all this and more cannot detract one iota from this album, their second and most schizoid effort ever: concocted in studios stretching from Hollywood to New York, 17 recorded live concert dates and copious mixdown sessions. All the recordings took place from September 1967 until March 1968 and all they wound up with was five songs! Executives at Warner Brothers Seven Arts must have had months of interrupted sleep patterns, not least of all Joe Smith, who was constantly under fire for signing these weirdos in the first place.

And at this time and space, the Grateful Dead were TRULY weird, even for 1968. The most well-known moment on this LP is “The Other One”, here in its original form and name as “That’s It For The Other One.” It’s broken down into three movements which read like chapter headings for a Pynchon novel: “Cryptical Envelopment”, “Quadlibet For Tenderfeet” and “The Faster We Go The Rounder We Get” are a rolling suite resplendent with sub-harmonic bass chording, double organ, double drumming and omnipresent Garcia SG tapestry weaving. The quieter parts feature brief electronic non sequiturs and percussion galore, building visions of quiet and warm spring mornings spent in forests beside cool, natural springs. It then gathers a bit more steam, hurtling into the jamming spree of “New Potatoe Caboose” until it screeches to a full stop and springboards into the acid craziness of “Born Crosseyed.” Staccato guitar bursts and the most piecemeal editing you’ll ever hear on a record released by Warner Brothers then commences. The organ drowns out everything in one channel during the “feeling groovy…/lookin’ fine…” line, but they’re operating at top speed and that doesn’t occur all that frequently.

Pre-dating their personal dislike of studio recording, they opted to fill in most of side two with the most blundering, ham-fisted editing experiment that was an aural crazy quilt of random, (un)equalised signals. The majority of the weight of the master tape was probably the adhesive splicing holding it together! Side two beckons with the swamp goofball “Alligator,” all trumpeted fanfares of kazoos with skeletal Tom Constanten piano filigrees stuck in all the brief intervals. The organ jumps right out of one speaker like an inadvertent dub mix, and as with all early Grateful Dead recordings the vocal harmonies are completely out of key and hilarious as the final studio chorus gets shouted. The recording quality starts dipping and improves at random intervals as an acid-feedback finale gently melts into “Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)” held taut by Kreutzmann’s reliable snare rolls and Mickey Hart’s linear cymbal play. Overdub upon overdub chase each other, and at one point it all fades into complete silence. This horrendous edit breaks back to catch Pigpen bellow “...Just a touch of mojo hand” and as the feedback interplay from the three guitars start gathering storm clouds, Garcia whips out some “woman tone” just in time for another electric feedback build: all frenzied strumming and howling amps at top volume. It’s a noise most Deadheads could do without, and it ends with controlled feedback via guitar volume knobs expertly manipulated by Garcia and Weir, as Lesh pokes his fingers in his ears and sways in front of the amp to make ghostly groans bombard out of all their amps. It takes two minutes or so for the fade at the end to finally finish as the constantly-struck gongs and hissing amps, already shrieking their cones out for long enough, dissipate into stunning silence.

By some record company oversight, it was THIS original version of “Anthem of the Sun” that made it onto CD, and not the 1971 remix! Yes, the only version extant for all those years is now the rarity: which is poetic justice of the highest order for this intense psychedelic masterpiece. Just TRY playing it for a Deadhead sometime, though…