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Album Review: Grateful Dead – The Best Of The Grateful Dead

2 min read

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with ‘Best Ofs’; partly because the term ‘best’ is so subjective (and in the case of compilations really only means ‘best-selling’); and partly because plucking songs from different releases undermines the internal structures and moods of the albums themselves. But, as far as examples ‘Best Of’ records go, The Best of The Grateful Dead is surprisingly impressive. It won’t provide seasoned Dead-Heads with anything they don’t already have, but as an introduction to a legendary band – and as a timely reminder of their great skills – it’s an excellent release.

Grateful Dead - The Best of The Grateful DeadEach of the compilation’s 32 tracks have been re-mastered this year, but the treatment doesn’t feel especially ground-breaking.  The appeal then will be for listeners who have never properly submerged themselves in the world of Jerry Garcia and co, and in that way, it will certainly serve as an eye-opener. The songs are arranged in roughly chronological order, with the exemplary The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) kicking off the proceedings, a cut chosen from their debut self-titled album.

The compilation is nothing if not thorough. The emphasis is certainly on shorter tracks: of the five brilliant (and almost uniformly lengthy) tracks from Anthem Of the Sun, only the two minute Born Cross-Eyed is included. But a few of the gargantuan songs that made Grateful Dead so legendary are here, most notably the endlessly inventive, sixteen minute long Terrapin Station, which earns its rightful place in a collection of the band’s best output.

To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, choosing a favourite Grateful Dead song is akin to choosing the limb you would least like to lose. Though I’ve always had very special places in my heart for Friend Of The Devil, Ripple, Black Muddy River and Far From Me (all included here) it would be impossible for me to list the highlights of this record… Unless I was allowed to make the list thirty two tracks long, that is.

By the time Standing On The Moon, the compilation’s final cut, had turned into silence, I was more moved and impressed by The Best of The Grateful Dead than I ever imagined I would be. Rather than slapping together a handful hit singles to raise records sales, the people behind The Best Of have managed to craft a loving tribute to a legendary band.