Happy Anniversary: The Grateful Dead, WORKINGMAN’S DEAD
47 years ago today, The Grateful Dead released their fourth studio album, an effort which found the band’s sound fully focused on the folk-inspired music that Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter were bringing to the songwriting table.
Recorded at San Francisco’s Pacific High Recording Studio and produced variously by Betty Cantor, Bob Matthews, and the band themselves, WORKINGMAN’S DEAD was knocked out in a mere nine days. In Blair Jackson’s book Garcia: An American Life, Garcia was quoted as having suggested to his bandmates, “Let’s do it all in three weeks and get it the hell out of the way.” With the aforementioned Mr. Hunter having traveled with the band during their most recent stint on the road, the Dead had plenty of material to work with.
In his book Searching for the Sound, Phil Lesh – in arguably the most Lesh-esque way possible – wrote of the album…
"The song lyrics reflected an 'old, weird' America that perhaps never was ... The almost miraculous appearance of these new songs would also generate a massive paradigm shift in our group mind: from the mind-munching frenzy of a seven-headed fire-breathing dragon to the warmth and serenity of a choir of chanting cherubim. Even the album cover reflects this new direction: The cover for AOXOMOXOA is colorful and psychedelic, and that of WORKINGMAN’S DEAD is monochromatic and sepia."
If it only featured “Uncle John’s Band” on one side and “Casey Jones” on the other, WORKINGMAN’S DEAD would still be in the running for the Dead’s best studio album, but as a whole, it truly does serve to define the band’s sound in a way that none of their other efforts manage to do quite as well. Critics fell in love with it from the get-go, with Rolling Stone doling out a five-star review and naming it Best Album of 1970. More importantly, it also proved to be the highest-charting album of their career by a considerable margin, climbing to #27 on the Billboard 200 when none of its predecessors had ever found their way beyond #64.
Have you given it a spin lately? If not, then today’s a good day to remedy that.