“Uncle John’s Band” by The Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead take a lot of crap, but I’d blame that more on their image than their music. They admittedly put out some awful albums late in their career (Go To HeavenSteal Your FaceDylan and the Dead), but in their heyday, they made fascinating music that was far more sophisticated than their detractors give them credit for. After all, their original bassist, Phil Lesh, was a jazz musician, and the extended improvisational jams they specialize in at their live shows are not really all that different from the work of the more complex Jazz acts like Miles Davis. Most of their really classic records are live albums, but they did produce two of the great Classic Rock studio albums of the Seventies, and this song, from the first of the two, reminds us that in addition to their improvisational skills, their frontman Jerry Garcia was one of the all-time great Rock songwriters. Their first two albums had been fairly standard Psychedelic ‘Acid-Rock’, but with this album they truly found their sound. It must have been an immense shock to listeners at the time (and was, from the accounts I’ve heard) to pick up an album by a standard-issue Acid-Rock band and hear this beautiful, gentle Folk song with its poetic lyrics and gorgeous vocal harmonies as the first track, but it’s a direction they would continue in for pretty much the rest of their career.

Verdict: One of the all-time great moments of the Classic Rock era from one of its all-time great bands.

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