1977 is something that must be dealt with; its little brother is ’73. Speak to me not of 1974, when Billy decided that they were gonna be a damn jazz band if he had anything to do with it. Leave ’76 in your pocket, when tempos dragged and everything was a dirge. Yes, the Beacon shows were outstanding, but they were still figuring out what to do now that they were less of a fighter jet and more of a bomber.
You’re going to bring up the Old Shit, the Primal Dead Shit. The before-they-learned-how-to-write-songs Dead. The Dead that had, like, four riffs that went with three different sets of lyrics, each more ridiculous than the last, and would just trip their balls off while holding instruments in front of audiences really loud? We all love that Dead. You can’t not love that Dead. It’s like the Baby Jesus. We love the Baby Jesus simply because he’s gonna be Jesus, but right now: he’s a baby! Yay, we love babies! And that’s what the Pigpen era was: Baby Jesus.
If the Dead hadn’t learned how to write songs, they would have ben the Quicksilver Messenger Whatever. Or Jefferson Airplane. Just endlessly jamming with some nonsense lyrics about The Man, or the Shire.
So we must leave Primal Dead, to refocus on 1977 and 1973. 1977 and 1973. They are the Batman and Robin of the Grateful Dead’s output.
Some will say it is the historic availability of the high-quality Betty Boards that bias the long-time Grateful Dead listener: these shows were taped so well that they were invariably the best sounding thing in anyone’s collection. Huge bass, crisp separation–these tapes were a joy to listen to, as opposed to the murky 4th and 5th gen Maxell’s cluttering up your basement. No matter how “warts and all” your stance, you couldn’t help appreciate the sound that rivaled some of the Dead’s official releases. (I’m looking at you, Skull & Roses.)
Perhaps ’77 is so esteemed simply because listening to it doesn’t give you a headache? This would have been a valid argument years ago, but after 32 Dick’s Picks, two dozen Road Trips and Digital Downloads, we have fearful amounts of Dead available, all at a sound quality that any one of us would have once killed for. Yes, you can quibble over the “punchiness” of this release versus that, but these are, when it comes to using the Dead to feed the hunger of your burgeoning OCD, light years beyond what we used to deem acceptable
We have not mentioned any year past 1977. There is a reason for that. (We’ll get to Brent later, you can be assured.)