So why is Grateful Dead’s American Beauty on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?
I’ve said it before: I’m not a “jam band guy.”
And I would never describe myself as a “hippie*,” but I realized that there’s quite a lot of “hippie” or “hippie-type” music that I do very much enjoy.
* Nor a “Nightmare Hippie Girl.”
But there’s a caveat there. I’m always drawn to a great hook and tightly constructed tune, no matter the genre. So, yeah, bring on “Incense and Peppermints” by Strawberry Alarm Clock or “Crown of Creation” by Jefferson Airplane. And, hell, let’s bust out the tie dye and beaded necklaces and oddball candles and edible substances that bring one to an enlightened state (in jurisdictions within which it’s legal to get to an enlightened state).
But as with anything that involves writing – TV, movies, and… bloggy bits and books and stuff – it always comes back to the writing, the construction and essence of the thing.
Which brings us to my Unified Theory of the Grateful Dead. This theory breaks the Dead into two broad phases in terms of their studio albums: pre-1970 and post-1970.
One features great, tightly written hippie music with strong hooks. The other… is jam band stuff.
American Beauty, released in late 1970, sits right on that divide, and delivers some of the best and most enduring songs the band has ever produced.
I would have guessed that “Truckin’” is the Dead’s most popular song of all time, but at least one anecdotal piece of data (Spotify) says that it’s “Friend of the Devil.” Both are quite good, but I’m more of a “Truckin’” guy. It’s an iconic road song, and merely by its roll call of great American cities, it makes you want to hit the road and chew up some highway, maybe even while donning a beaded necklace or three.
“Sugar Magnolia” fits my description above of a great (hippie) song, and bonus that it’s snappy, catchy, and easy on the brain all at once. Which is to say, it’s pretty (or perty if you like).
“Brokedown Palace” has really grown on me over time, a slower, more introspective, and beautiful song with gorgeous vocals.
And same goes for “Till the Morning Comes,” a fun relative deep cut with some of the best harmonies you’ll hear this or any side of 1970.
Pop culture stuff that’s somehow related to Grateful Dead’s American Beauty
It’s a little strange when I realize that American Beauty the movie is almost a quarter of a century old already. It’s one of those movies that was a really big deal at the time, both for mainstream audiences and critics and awards and stuff, but hasn’t worn so well over the years.
Part of it probably has to do with allegations and legal trouble that star Kevin Spacey found himself in into some years later, but overall there has been a general consensus that the movie simply wasn’t as good as most people seemed to think at the time.
I haven’t revisited it myself in at least twenty years, so perhaps that says something, but I recall liking it quite a bit. It’s really tricky to get that kind of tone right, which mixes satire and drama and a kind of strange philosophical bent all at once, and I thought it all worked rather well.
At least back then.
Some stats & info about Grateful Dead – American Beauty
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Rock Music, Album Rock, Country Rock
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – #215
- All Music’s rating – 5 out of 5 stars
- When was American Beauty released? 1970
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #468 out of 1,000
Grateful Dead’s American Beauty on Spotify
A lyrical snippet from Grateful Dead’s American Beauty that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe
What a long strange trip it’s been.
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 review of 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.