Where to Start with the Grateful Dead

If you, like me, were always aware of the Grateful Dead, you know they are worthy, but where to start, because there’s a lot of it, and it is highly variable (in my humble opinion).

Cue this article I found today, in one of our less awful daily newspapers here in the UK.
I’d be interested in seasoned Dead Heads’ opinion on the article too :slight_smile:

There are imo a lot of different Grateful Deads. Finding your favorite period can be a journey. I for one like the early years through '72 the best, I’m a Pigpen fan. And then there’s '73 til the Godchauxs left in '78, those are good years. I just really don’t like the Dead after that. . . don’t collect them but have every official release before Brent joined.

“The Best of the Grateful Dead” from 2015 is a good selection that will allow you to browse through tracks from the different periods and find time periods to pursue that interest you. And the documentary “What a Long Strange Trip” mentioned in the article is a good introduction. Enjoy the discovery!

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And then there’s this silver mine:


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Ah yes, I knew they were into audience taping, I spent a bit of time with an ardent Dead fan in the early 80s who had lots of them, but an online archive of some of those is brilliant, thanks :slight_smile:

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I have the Reckoning acoustic live set (actually had the double LP for decades) and my wife recently bought me “stepping out in England” 4 x CD too so have been listening to them for a while (and Reckoning I used to play a lot back in the day), just never pursued their studio recordings (yet). I have some clues now :slight_smile:

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Lonson is right - there are a lot of different Grateful Deads. IMHO the best is Spring -Summer 1977. 1978 is really good too as is 1976. But something very special happened in 77 that never was quite captured again. 1972 is really good period too. Listen to all the Europe 72 shows. They’re great, but they lacked the deeper song catalog they had in 77. Which makes 1989-91 really interesting too. By 89-91 their song list was very deep. Where in 72 the shows had about a 50% repeat from night to night, by 1990 you might get a repeat once a week. But even in the '72 the repeats were always unique, same song but played very differently.

Thing is every tour (Spring, Summer, Falls in any given year) they had a different sound. It’s fun to experiment and find the sound that suits you, but do it with the different years in mind. Listen to some '72s, 74, 76, a lot of 77, some 78, carefully select your 80s listening (the lost decade) and then listen to 1990.


Get the Relisten app on your iPad/phone. Everything there-free. Lately the 10/09/77 Denver show has had my attention.

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The place to start is Fillmore East 1971, “Ladies and Gentlemen… the Grateful Dead” ! :sunglasses:


There is so much ground to cover! Indeed, the Grateful Dead were different bands at different times across their long history. Different both in terms of competency, health and style. If you have access to Amazon Prime, check out Martin Scorsese’s documentary “Long Strange Trip” to get an idea of just how screwed up the Dead were and how’s it’s a miracle they played so many great live shows.

Here’s my primer:

  1. For audio quality, as well as a time when the band was relatively clean and really on top of their game, nothing comes close to the Spring 1990 series. There were two sets of these shows released, all are fantastic. The 3/29/90 Nassau show, also release as “Wake Up To Find Out”, which features Branford Marsalis, is extra excellent. I only listen to so much Grateful Dead these days, and when I do, because of the superior sound quality, I turn to this run of shows.

  2. Acoustic Grateful Dead is excellent. In 2019 they released “The Warfield”, which features the opening sets from 2 nights in 1980, both acoustic. Playing and SQ are excellent. “Reckoning” is also very good.

  3. The late 70’s is another great period. The May 1977 “Get Shown The Light” features several shows from an iconic month. Including the famed 5/8/77 Barton Hall show, reputed by many to be the best show they ever did.

  4. I’m not that crazy about early Grateful Dead. Europe ‘72 is ok. And the official releases like American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead are excellent. But for me, it’s the late 70’s, 1980 - 81, and 1989-90. Brent Mydland came on in 1980, and he was, imho, their best keyboard player.

  5. For a showcase of Jerry Garcia at the height of his powers, check out “After Midnight”, the 1980 Keene College Jerry Garcia Band show.

  6. “Go To Nassau” is a fun show, an excellent Peggy-O and Althea. “Truckin’ Up To Buffalo” is also fun.

  7. Yes, it’s possible to find legal audience recordings of shows online. With extremely rare exception, the audio quality of these user taped shows is poor by audiophile standards. It’s best to stick with the official releases for SQ.


Thanks all :slight_smile:
I have reckoning since the early 80s just never went any further.

From casual listens 80s sounds good to me, and I will check out the early studio releases too, dodgy audience tapes have never interested me for any band really, so I’m happy to not bother with those, except I have recently discovered GDRadio - which seems to be live recordings mostly, and has the streaming quality to match dodgy audience tapes, at 96kbps and 32 kHz sample rate, and makes reasonable background listening:)

I happy with where I started with a nice mix of live and studio albums:

Anthem of the Sun
Workingman’s Dead
American Beauty
Grateful Dead (Skull & Roses)
Europe '72

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