American Beauty – The Grateful Dead (1970) 

Album no. 190/1001

The Dead are back, but this time they’re twangin’ away like they’re Merle Haggard. Quite a change.

Another band with a prolific output, this is The Grateful Dead’s third album since Live/Dead and second in 1970. Maybe everybody had let the acid go and started in on amphetamines?

This was recorded in a hurry after the band discovered that their manager had renewed their contract with Warner Brothers and then skipped town with a lot of their money. Did we mention the manager was the drummer’s dad? Must have made for some awkward family dinners.

Have you listened to this album before?

NK: Definitely not.


Standout track

NK: Well, this is different from the aimless psych meandering nonsense on Live/Dead. Not necessarily better, but certainly different.

CL: Oh. My. Gosh. The Grateful Dead meets America’s country genre. Help.

NK: That’s exactly what it is. A weirdo country/folk bit. There’s still plenty of guitaring, but a lot of it is of the pedal steel variety. They’ve also started singing together ala Crosby Still and Nash. I don’t have an issue with country music in and of itself. What I struggled with here was finding a song that had anything I could hang on to. I don’t remember any choruses, or hooks, or riffs, or lyrics, anything at all except a general laid back country feel. I just struggled to pick any winners. ‘Friend Of The Devil’ was my least favourite song. As my standout I pick (goes back and quickly plays a bit of each song again to refresh memory) ‘Brokendown Palace’, as if you squint hard enough with your ears it sort of sounds like an incredibly cut-rate version of The Band.

CL: Everybody REALLY was jumping on that folky train in 1970 weren’t they?! Surely Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young can’t be to blame for everything – but seriously, they started a terrible trend.

When would be the best time to listen to this?

NK: I guess if you want some country music, but you don’t want the songs to have any hooks. There are melodies here, but none of them have anything approaching a catchy chorus. Give me ‘Big Iron’ any day of the week.

CL: This can be added to the Back to the Future III western saloon playlist, thanks.

Why has this album been included on the list?

NK: It’s something different from the Grateful Dead? Last time they were all long jamming psych numbers with a hint of blues, now they’re zombie Crosby Stills and Nash. It’s a pretty abrupt turn, although to be fair there were two albums (one studio and one live) between them. If you take the Grateful Dead as a sort of controlled sample for where music is up to you can definitely see a change in direction.

CL: Everyone loves a fusion of some kind. Mixing the overhyped psychedelic business the Dead were so famous for, with classic Americana was obviously a match made in hype heaven. BUT NOT FOR ME.

Will you be listening again?  

NK: I doubt it very much.

CL: Oh look – if you enjoy acoustic, folky music that wanders around a bit and has a country flavour, you’ll probably love it! Given that I don’t really like any of these things, it’s not for me.


NK: This is possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. I’m removing it from my iTunes without delay. It was offensive to my eardrums. 

CL: This is possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever heard. I’m removing it from my iTunes without delay. It was offensive to my eardrums.

Listen to American Beauty on Spotify or buy it in iTunes.

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