A Beginner’s Listening Guide To Grateful Dead Music

Jump to Guide: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

Jump to Year: 1968 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1988 | 1989 | 1990 | Compilations & Box Sets

If my words did glow…

The oeuvre of the Grateful Dead is so vast that it can be intimidating for a newcomer. Much of this is due to their growing number of archival live releases. The question of “where to start” isn’t always obvious. Everyone is different and has different preferences. This primer is aimed at the general music fan. If you’re already into avant garde jazz or other psychedelic music you can skip ahead a few sections, but for those that are just interested and want to put their toe in to test the water before jumping in headfirst, this is intended for you. Within each section I will list the recommended releases by year of release in order to help pinpoint which shows occurred in which eras. So here it is, my guide for recommended Grateful Dead albums.

You will follow me and we will ride to glory

Remember – this is just one man’s strategy for introducing people to the Dead’s music. It’s by no means definitive or exhaustive. I just hope that readers will find it useful.

Part 1: Don’t Ease Me In

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At the heart of the music of the Grateful Dead are well-crafted songs. No two albums exhibit the songcraft of the Dead better than Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. These two albums, in many ways, for the bedrock of the Dead’s body of work and set a high standard in the process. Many people will argue that the Dead’s studio albums aren’t very good (I am NOT one of those people. I think their studio work is vastly underrated), but nearly everyone agrees that these two albums are gems. Both albums are readily available in a variety of formats. They can be purchased as stand alone discs or as a part of the Golden Road box set. The links here are for the expanded, remastered versions of the albums.

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Workingman’s Dead

Workingman's Dead

American Beauty

American Beauty

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Part 2: Shall we go? You and I while we can

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More than anything else the Grateful Dead were a live act. Famed for their extended sonic improvisations, however, I don’t think most people can just jump into that stuff. A more subtle introduction to the Dead in their natural habitat can be had.

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Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses)

SkullRoses

Europe ’72

E72

Reckoning

Grateful Dead Reckoning

Go To Nassau

Go To Nassau

Without A Net

Without A Net

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Part 3: It’s got no signs or dividing lines and very few rules to guide

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If you’ve gotten this far then you’re probably ready for a bit more experimentation in the live setting. The following releases do a great job of cherry picking choice performances by the Dead. [Scroll horizontally to see all selections.]

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Live/Dead

LiveDead

Fillmore West 1969

FW69

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 2

Dick's Picks, Vol. 2

Ladies & Gentlemen… The Grateful Dead

Ladies and Gentlemen The Grateful Dead

Nightfall Of Diamonds

Nightfall Of Diamonds

Dozin’ At The Knick

Grateful Dead Dozin' At The Knick

Spring 1990: So Glad You Made It

Grateful Dead Spring 1990 So Glad You Made It

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Part 4: Well you know it’s gonna get stranger/So let’s get on with the show

Up to this point I’ve dealt mostly with live compilations because they tend to trim the fat from shows, runs, or tours. In some cases compilations are the best of the best. However, the Grateful Dead experience is one of risk and reward. Part of that risk is that trainwrecks, clams, and breakdowns appear in the midst of a perfectly good show. Many Deadheads prefer complete shows over compilations. The Dick’s Picks and Road Trips series contained both, while the Download series contained full shows, more or less, and the Dave’s Picks series is committed to full show releases. If you’ve gotten to this point there’s a good chance you’re on your way to becoming a rabid collector. As a result this section is much longer than the others since pretty much anything is on the table. These are the shows/releases that I personally find essential for each year (that haven’t already been mentioned in Parts 1-3 above).[Be sure to scroll horizontally on 1971, 1972, 1973, 1977, and the Compilations & Box Sets section to see all the respective recommendations.]

Note: Some of the selections below are limited edition releases. As such they may not be available in all formats, and what copies are available may have prices higher than their original retail price.

1968

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Two From The Vault

2dtv

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1969

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 16

DP16

Download Series, Vol. 12

Download Series, Vol. 12

Road Trips, Vol. 4. No. 1: Big Rock Pow Wow 1969

Grateful Dead Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 1

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1970

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 4

DP4

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 8

Dick's Picks, Vol. 8

Road Trips: Vol 3, No. 3: Fillmore East, May 15, 1970

Grateful Dead Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 3

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1971

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Dave’s Picks, Vol. 3

Dave's Picks, Vol. 3

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 35

Dick's Picks, Vol. 35

Download Series, Vol 3

Download Series, Vol. 3

Road Trips: Vol 1, No. 3: Summer ’71

Road Trips, Vol. 1, No. 3

Road Trips: Vol 3, No. 2: Austin, November 15, 1971

Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 2

Three From The Vault

Grateful Dead Three From The Vault

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1972

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 11

DP11

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 30

dp30

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 36

DP36

Download Series, Vol. 10

Download Series, Vol. 10

Steppin’ Out with the Grateful Dead

SteppinOut

Sunshine Daydream

Grateful Dead Sunshine Daydream

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1973

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Dave’s Picks, Vol. 5

DaP5

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 1

Dick's PIcks, Vol. 1

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 14

dp14

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 19

Dick's Picks, Vol. 19

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 28

DP28

Road Trips: Vol 4, No. 3: Denver ’73

Grateful Dead Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 3

Winterland 1973: Complete Recordings

Grateful Dead Winterland 1973: The Complete Recordings

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1974

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 12

Dick's Picks, Vol. 12

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 31

Dick's Picks, Vol. 31

The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack

GDMS

Road Trips: Vol 2, No. 3: Wall Of Sound

Grateful Dead Road Trips, Vol 2. No. 3

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1975

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Blues For Allah

Blues4Allah

One From The Vault

Grateful Dead One From The Vault

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1976

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 33

DP33

Live at the Cow Palace: New Year’s Eve 1976

CowPalace

Road Trips: Vol 4, No. 5: Boston 6/9/76

Grateful Dead Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 5

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1977

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 3

DP3

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 10

DP10

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 15

DP15

Download Series, Vol. 1

DL11

Road Trips: Vol 1, No. 2: October ’77

RT1.2

To Terrapin: Hartford ’77

To Terrapin, Hartford 77

Winterland 1977: Complete Recordings

Winterland 1977 The Complete Recordings

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1978

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The Closing of Winterland

ClosingWinterland

Dick’s Picks, Vol. 18

DP18

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1979

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Dick’s Picks, Vol. 5

DP5

Road Trips, Vol. 3, No. 1: Oakland 12/28/79

Grateful Dead Road Trips Vol. 3, No. 1

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1980

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Dave’s Picks, Vol. 8

DaP9

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1988

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Road Trips: Vol. 4, No. 2: April Fools 1988

Grateful Dead Road Trips Vol. 4, No. 2

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1989

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Crimson, White, & Indigo

Grateful Dead Crimson White and Indigo

Formerly The Warlocks

Formerly The Warlocks

Truckin’ Up to Buffalo

TruckinUpToBuffalo

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1990

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Terrapin Station (Limited Edition)

Terrapin Station Limited Edition

View From The Vault Soundtrack

VFTV

View From The Vault III Soundtrack

View From The Vault 3

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Compilations and Box Sets

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Europe ’72, Vol. 2

E72v2

Fallout From The Phil Zone

Fallout From The Phil Zone

So Many Roads

So Many Roads

The Golden Road (1965-1973)

GoldenRoad

Beyond Description (1973-1989)

BeyondDesc

Complete Studio Albums

studioalbumhd

Complete Studio Rarities

CompStRare

Complete Live Albums

CompLive

Complete Live Rarities

CompLiveRare

Road Trips: The Complete Series

CompRT

The Vault Box

VaultBox

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