Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead: #869 of best 1,000 albums ever!

Grateful Dead - Workingman's Dead

Why is Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead on my best 1,000 albums ever list?

Don’t call this a jam band… album.

Some stats & info about Grateful Dead – Workingman’s Dead

  • What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rock, Rock Music, Country Rock, Jam Bands, Pop, Pop Music, SF Bay Area Bands
  • Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #409
  • All Music’s rating – 5 out of 5 stars
  • When was Workingman’s Dead released? 1970
  • My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #869 out of 1,000

Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead on Spotify

What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?

Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.

But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective take on what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.

What does Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead mean to me? What does it make me feel? Why is it exciting or compelling?

Let’s get something straight up front: I’m not a “jam band guy.” Never have been and don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Long (endless?) instrumental solos – particularly anything that might smack of ”noodling” (I prefer my noodles in a bowl to be eaten with a nicely prepared sauce, yes?) – and songs that make you feel you’re surviving rather than thriving by the time you get to the end? Nope.

Way back when I was in college in upstate New York, there were lots of people wearing tied-dyed Dave Matthews Band t-shirts, and I know a bunch of people who are very into the band Phish.

Spoiler: you won’t find any of those band’s albums on this best 1,000 albums ever list (though there’s a rather good Matthews collaboration with a hip hop outfit on a fantastic album by the latter coming, but that’s a tale for a different time and different entry).

The Grateful Dead though, you ask? Yes. They’ve produced a number of outstanding albums, and this is one of them. With the above in mind, I think this description from All Music plays into why it’s so good, in my view: “Workingman’s Dead’s eight tunes threw off almost all improvisatory tendencies in favor of spare, thoughtful looks at folk, country, and American roots music with more subdued sounds than the band had managed up until then.”

There’s also clearly some of the best songs that the Dead ever produced on this album. “Casey Jones” is one of them. “Driving that train, high on cocaine” might be one of the best known and famous lines the band ever wrote. While it obviously smacks of hippie-era super excess, it plays really nicely into the line, “Trouble ahead, trouble behind” as a singalong feelgood-sounding song that’s also brimming with dread and paranoia. But best of all it’s just really catchy while tightly written and avoiding all of the jam band pitfalls I mention above.

“Uncle John’s Band” is as pleasant and easy sounding and as pleasing as can be – a songwriting feat that is one of the hardest to pull off. The harmonies are also top notch.

“Easy Wind” is a really nice screwball, more honky tonk or blues rock thank hippie rock in the best possible way. At their best, the Grateful Dead know how to summon a unique musical vibe and execute it with catchy hooks, great vocals, and expert musicianship.