My Favorite Records:3 from the Grateful Dead

This is the another installment in my series of favorite records.

We’re into the G’s, which means that I’m faced with which Grateful Dead records to put on this list.

I am a long, long time Grateful Dead fan. I own most of their studio records and many of their archive releases. I saw them in concert numerous times and named my oldest child after one of their songs.

So which records should I pick for this list?

Aoxomoxoa, with St. Stephen and China Cat is great. Workingman’s Dead is an acoustic masterpiece that cemented the love that Europe ’72, my initiation to the Dead, began.

Mars Hotel has three of my favorite Dead numbers: China Doll, Scarlet Begonias and Pride of Cucamonga. Blues for Allah is an improvisational masterpiece.

Reckoning has my favorite version of Dire Wolf and the version of the song that I named Cassidy after.

It’s a really tough choice.

I’m going to swallow hard and pick just three.

Blues for Allah
Europe ’72

And the one that if you made me pick would be my favorite-

American Beauty

If I was in a fantasy record league, I’d start American Beauty every game. I challenge anyone to find a record with stronger songs from beginning to end. I can honestly say that there’s not a song on the record that I’d rank less than a 9.5 on a 10 scale, and there may just be 10 straight 10’s on this record.

I could easily add several more Grateful Dead records to this list. Then you add all of the archive recordings which have been released over the years and you end up with the most impressive collection of music ever assembled by a band not called the Rolling Stones.

If I had to pick only one band to listen to, the Dead would beat out the Allman Brothers based partially on a larger catalog. Almost every Grateful Dead record is a magical experience. Add in the live recordings and you have a lifetime of great music.

Why the Grateful Dead is Right

gratefuldeadI thought the brouhaha about the Grateful Dead’s misguided, not to mention technically impossible, attempt to remove all of their live show recordings from the internet had blown over in light of their change of heart.

Now I read a Thomas Hawk (who based on his jukebox posts listens to almost exactly the same sort of music I do) post where he quotes this post from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing. Cory argues that the Dead’s change of heart is merely a smokescreen since the superior soundboard recordings will only stream (e.g., play over the web), but cannot be downloaded. Cory writes:

“Now the rightsholders want it both ways: they want to profit from the goodwill that fans retain for the band due to its generosity, but they want to revise that generosity downwards. They want to change the deal so that fans continue to do just as much evangelizing, spend just as much money on shows and shirts, but get less in return.”

I disagree. For one thing, goodwill is great, but is doesn’t pay the bills. The Dead have already given up tons of cash by making so many of their recordings freely available for so long. In addition, they can’t create any new product, since Jerry Garcia has shuffled off this mortal coil. The band has done more than any other organization in history to give its fans free music. Nowhere does it say that being progressive and consumer-centric requires you to give up all of your valuable possessions. If a restaurant feeds people for free for a while, but stops when its paying business slows, is that somehow worse than never giving away food in the first place? I think not.

Cory supports his point by noting that the Dead control the copyright in the non-soundboard recordings every bit as much as they control the soundboard recordings. Perhaps they do (no legal analysis here- that’s not the point), but that just means the band has elected to give away some of its property but not all. If we want to start bashing bands for being mercenary and greedy, there are a lot of other bands we should target first. Moreover, a sense of entitlement will make other bands weary of taking similar progressive positions on audience recording, trading and downloading.

Then of course there’s Total Recorder and its brethren- but that’s also not the point.

I was all over the band when the news first came out. But I think the current plan is a fair compromise. Fair to us and fair to them. Remember, win-win or no deal.

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Grateful Dead Reconsiders


The other day I talked about the Grateful Dead’s decision to remove downloadable recordings of their live shows from the internet and the outcry that resulted. I predicted that the band would reconsider and a compromise would be reached. In fact, I suggested that audience recordings and soundboard recordings should be treated differently.

Well, that seems to be exactly what happened. The band has decided to allow the audience recordings to be reposted and to be freely downloadable. The soundboard recordings will be availble as a stream (meaning they can be heard but not downloaded).

This is a fair solution.

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Un-Grateful Dead

gratefuldeadAs may be evident by the fact that my oldest child is named after one of their songs, I have always been a huge Grateful Dead fan. For as long as I can remember, fans have been able to freely tape Dead shows and many, many concert recordings have been freely and legally available on the net. In particular, Archive.Org has been a great place to find live Dead shows.

Now comes news that Jerry Garcia’s widow and perhaps another living band member have required that the live recordings of Dead concerts be removed from Archive.Org. Audience recordings will be available in streaming format (meaning you can listen but not download). The generally better quality soundboard recordings will not be available (except presumably at the offical Dead site where downloads of live shows are for sale).

John Perry Barlow, one of the coolest people on the planet and the co-writer of many great Dead songs, had this to say about this recent turn of events:

You have no idea how sad I am about this. I fought it hammer and tong, but the drummers had inoperable bricks in their head about it.

What’s worse is that they now want to remove all Dead music from the Web. They might as easily put a teaspoon of food coloring in a swimming pool and then tell the pool owner to get it back to them.

It’s like finding out that your brother is a child molester. And then, worse, having everyone then assume that you’re a child molester too. I’ve been called a hypocrite in three languages already.

How magnificently counter-productive of them. It’s as if the goose who laid the golden egg had decided to commit suicide so that he could get more golden eggs.

This is just the beginning of the backlash, I promise you.

This is worse than the RIAA suing their customers.

Rolling Stone reports that there is a movement afoot to boycott the Dead (i.e., not buy any CDs or tickets to concerts by the surviving members). Boycott and Grateful Dead are two notions that should never have crossed paths.

Taking the other side of the argument, David Gan, host of The Grateful Dead Hour, says that the marketing arm of the Dead organization is not making enough money to support itself and that taping shows was never intended to result in the high-speed, mass distribution of recordings that until now was possible via the internet.

My take? On one hand, it is almost unbelievable that an organization as forward thinking as the Dead is taking such a huge step backwards. On the other hand, with no further ability to create new product, the Dead has a vested, though doomed to failure, interest in trying to control the product that’s out there. I think I come down on the Dead’s side with respect to the soundboard recordings, but not with respect to the audience recordings.

I suspect that the problem is that Jerry’s widow and perhaps others within the organization are getting some different, and in my opinion, shortsighted, advice from someone. There may be a little money to be made by trying to recall these recordings from the internet. The public (read fan) relations cost, however, will be greater than any money that might be made. And of course those recordings are on the hard drives of thousands of people and will continue to be available somewhere- even if not at Archive.Org.

My prediction? Someone will give the decision-makers some better advice and a compromise will be reached. The Dead is not Sony. Let’s give peace a chance.

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