If you’re hell-bent on studio refinement however, you’re going to want to start here, with what are easily the 5 best studio albums. These albums are not overly refined, thereby allowing enough of the magic to shine through. They display the most well written lyrics and greatest musical prowess, and highlight key members of a long, amazing career.
5 Anthem of the Sun
Oh yeah, more Pigpen. Exemplary Pigpen on “Alligator,” and equally consummate is the drum work of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann on “That’s It for the Other One.” That’s right, you got it, two drummers. Jerry Garcia once said it was “like the serpent that eats its own tail. They make figure eights on their sides in your head.” Good luck with that, newb. Bob Weirs voice and Phil Leshs bass-work on “Born Cross-Eyed” complement the erratic arrangement of the piece perfectly and “Caution” brings the weird in an almost nightmarish but beautifully enticing manner.
4 Workingman’s Dead
If this album doesn’t completely distort your perception of what you thought to be just some stoner hippies, give up and go back to your boy bands. Workingman’s Dead lives up to its name, with a country feel and a drive that implies bloody knuckles, sweaty brow, and aching back. “Dire Wolf” tells of the despair of a gambling man, “Cumberland Blues” of a mine worker struggling with a woman, and “Black Peter” of a man on his death bed calling to his friends and loved ones. The feel of this album, especially of “New Speedway Boogie” can be attributed to the late, great Pigpen on keys, harmonica, and vocals. This guy is the reason for the word cool.
3 In the Dark
Here you go music video lovers. This band has never needed radio or video publicity. Believe it or not, word of mouth and actual ability can get the job done. I mean seriously, these guys, the living ones at least, are not only touring still, but also have a more dedicated following than you’ll find anywhere else, with no dispute. Anyway, “Touch of Grey” should be mentioned, and it’s actually a pretty cool video. Some fans might insist also that I discuss “West L.A. Fadeaway” but for me “My Brother Esau” is the true example of the dead we all love, as is Brent Mydland on keys.
2 Shakedown Street
Lyrics that speak universally to any who sincerely listen, compositions that translate to danceable party time shows, well-crafted and intimate stories, and again, innovation you’re probably not ready for; this album covers the spread. For a good story check out “Stagger Lee,” for the party and the feel good pick-me-up it’s got to be “Shakedown Street” or “Fire on the Mountain,” an if you like sentiment and sensuality, well “France” ought to do the trick. There is a ton of energy in every song, even the slower ones, so brace yourselves.
1 Terrapin Station
What more could any music lover ask for? If you truly appreciated and understood complex compositions, you wouldn’t so easily dismiss this group with a snarky chuckle and a joke about stinky hippies. If you look around, you are not going to find another group, or genre for that matter, whose fans range from Anesthesiologists and Neurosurgeons to squatters and street urchins, from quadriplegics to contortionists. This band truly has it all, and so does this album, demonstrating a greater range in dynamic than you’ll probably understand at first. “Terrapin Station” is easily top 5 songs in any heads opinion, after that for me it’s “Passenger” and “Estimated Prophet,” but trust me, the whole album is phenomenal.
Keep in mind; this list is compiled for newbs. Heads know this is an impossible argument, and if there are any real heads reading I’m sure you’ve got something to say. Be my guest. As far as you little custies are concerned, familiarize yourself with what you can, then go see Furthur, or Ratdog, or D.S.O, or Rhythm Devils, or anything from the family. It’ll be a life changing experience, I promise.