Dead Freaks Unite! The 50th anniversary of Anthem Of The Sun has arrived and it’s sharp! The first disc includes a remastering of the original Anthem Of The Sun followed by a remastering of the 1971 remix. The true highlight here is the second disc of a previously unreleased live show from their early days: October 1967 at Winterland in San Francisco.
Anthem Of The Sun is The Grateful Dead’s sophomore studio LP and it’s unlike any other Dead studio album. It’s the second in their waterfall of 50th anniversary reissues, deluxe box sets, limited-edition picture discs, and a remastering of their back catalogue. The original Anthem Of The Sun LP is a mix of in-studio recordings spliced with live versions of the same songs from up and down the west coast. For their second long player, the band wanted a studio album to capture their essence and ethos after their eponymous 1967 debut The Grateful Dead left them feeling misrepresented.
This record is a fuse of The Dead’s neighborhood style. Hear the edit splices as early as 40 seconds into the first track “That’s It For The Other One” including four movements, each credited to a different member. A minute and thirty seconds later, another cut leads down a different mind maze of drums. Anthem Of The Sun is one of the first records to use “song cycles”—songs intended to be performed in a sequence together—and the band’s innovation with it is paramount.
Even though they’re constantly switching gears, hear the band find their footing as a whole. Recorded in Los Angeles over their preferred hometown because of technical needs, they were using new modernizations including switching their recording between 4-, 8-, and 16- tracks. David Hassinger, who produced their debut, quit after Bob Weir requested the ambient sound of “thick air.” This left The Dead to their own devices (with the help of Dan Healy, who would later start the “taper” section at their shows), and it worked. Anthem Of The Sun is an unusual behavior you can hold in your hands.
The two different versions of each track are each a serene study in The Dead: listen if you can handle the weird patterns, splits, solos, and dark corners of a true psychedelic jam. Wonder, where does it take them as performers? Novelty is their brand as a band and Anthem Of The Sun is a studio magnum opus showing the world what The Dead is actually about: true collage.
Six minutes into “That’s It For The Other One” and you’re submerged in a disturbing, harrowing blend of bells, feedback, loops, and deep-sea echoes of electricity. Anthem Of The Sun wants to know…can you follow their monster?
If you can, it leads to “New Potato Caboose” with a second hit on the same note and a slow build. Phil Lesh takes over on lead vocals. Linger long enough for the third quarter jam and wander right into classic Dead solos, one at a time.
“Born Cross-Eyed” is the shortest at just over two minutes. Acting as a bridge, it’s an attitude: spitting a high peak of noise and choral chanting settled between heavy, fuzzy bass.
“Alligator” is one of the first songs The Dead’s longtime non-performing member and lyricist, Robert Hunter, wrote lyrics for. (His other first is the infamous “Dark Star” released as a single, also in 1968.) Garcia is on kazoo here, boosting the song’s cartoon vibe. Halfway through, “Alligator” takes off into the blues. Nine minutes in and they riff on Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain.”
Anthem Of The Sun is psychedelia and the album itself is an intoxicating call to action, more than just Bob Weir yelling “C’mon everybody. Get up and dance, it won’t ruin ya!” See it on the album cover in the mandala shape of a face, made up of the faces of the band members, a face inside a face inside another: the ultimate trip. (If you dare, read artist’s Bill Walker’s essay on his album art here.)
But it’s disc two we’re coming and staying for: a previously unreleased live recording, supposedly featuring the band’s first appearance with their second drummer Mickey Hart. Unfortunately, it is hard to hear a second drum kit.
Even still, the drums are the best part. It’s the jazz snare click right up front in the first chorus of “Morning Dew.” It lays a landscape for a jazzy set even though it’s clearly snipped together.
The Dead plays tight, as if someone or something was actually conducting them. This deluxe reissue is a genre-spanning lesson of The Dead’s inspiration, routine, and reach: play, play, and play some more. They cover the all the Americana bases: folk, jazz, blues, and rock & roll. Hear it in three versions of “New Potato Caboose” and three of “That’s It For The Other One.” This is natural Dead at their finest: it’s not just the same song again, it’s a different groove, and a different audience marking the whole experience as unique.
“Cold Rain and Snow” floats just above the three-minute mark with dizzying drums pulling your hand forward. Maybe it’s Hart in the background, playing a second kit? I want to believe he’s there. “Beat It On Down The Line” is just under three minutes and proves The Dead can churn out a tune without letting it get away from them. Meanwhile, “Turn On Your Love Light” fades out after twelve minutes, leaving you to wonder where it wandered off.
It’s not clear Hart plays on this Winterland set. Strain to hear a second drummer and believe whatever Dead folklore you will. Listeners and Deadheads online discuss in full detail. Either way, the set of seven songs is a snapshot of The Dead pre-fame, before endless touring, when they were truly following the music in its purest form. The Grateful Dead answer the question: what does a drug do to a sound? Where can it take me? Across America and every genre. Strap in and enjoy.
Notable Tracks: “Alligator” (1971 Remix Remastered) | “Morning Dew” (Live at Winterland. San Francisco 10/22/67) | “New Potato Caboose” (Live at Winterland. San Francisco 10/22/67) | “Turn on Your Love Light” (Live at Winterland. San Francisco 10/22/67)