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The faster we go, the rounder we get
on 11 March 2006
Anthem Of The Sun, in its original vinyl form, was the first Dead album I acquired, a little after it first appeared in UK shops, in 1969, and I still believe it is probably the best album to buy first by the band, as it holds the key to so many aspects of this most rich and diverse of groups. Grateful Dead records fall most basically into two camps: those recorded in the studio and those recorded on stage in front of an audience.
It is on their live performances that their reputation rests, and more albums of live recordings by the Dead have been released than probably by any other band in history. The first of these, Live/Dead, from 1970, remains a high watermark in the history of live albums and is still the best point of entry for those wishing particularly to explore that side of the band.
Anthem Of The Sun was the second album by the Grateful Dead, and was as innovative and ambitious as their excellent debut album, The Grateful Dead, had been conventional. Although essentially an 8-track studio album, the endlessly creative Dead were trying to find a way to translate their live sound onto record, and to this end were multi-tracking onto tape all the live concerts the band were playing during the six month period they were recording and mixing the album. For the studio engineers it was an exasperating process and having begun in Los Angeles CA, three dissatisfied studios and four months later they finished up on the East Coast, at a fourth studio, Olmstead Sound in New York NY, with their own live soundman, Dan Healy. Having laid down the basic skeleton of drum tracks (using both Bill Kreutzmann and new recruit Mickey Hart) for the album's five tracks, the band then overlaid a complex collage of fragments derived from live concerts and any amount of studio performances and overdubs, additionally utilising the electronics and John Cage-style prepared piano of Tom Constanten, who was yet to join the band, and the experimenting members of the Grateful Dead.
When they had finished in the studio in December 1967, a further period of some months of live mixing followed, drawing from 16 recorded concerts, some as recent as 31 March 1968. It is believed that a significant proportion of the live segments on the completed master is from the Carousel Ballroom (soon to become Fillmore West), San Francisco CA on 14 February 1968. Some of the other live recordings from the Kings Beach Bowl, Lake Tahoe CA between 22-24 February 1968 can be found on Dick's Picks 22.
The result of this marathon enterprise was a magnificent psychedelic tour de force of sonic majesty, which was matched by its jubilance, celebration and passion, and synthesizing the studio Dead and the live Dead into an organic whole. No album had ever been prepared in this way before, and in hindsight the technique can be seen as a kind of prototype "plunderphonics", paving the way many years later for remix pioneers like John Oswald, who was subsequently to brilliantly tackle the Dead's masterpiece Dark Star.
The original vinyl album suffered from rather murky mastering which buried some of the most brilliant aural effects, and a remixed version overseen by Jerry Garcia in 1971 superceded it. It was this second version that was used for earlier CD transfers. For this edition, the original tape sources have been used to create with crystalline clarity what must be the definitive stereo version, in HDCD "Rhinophonic Authentic Sound". The vividness of the sound picture immediately strips away the decades that have passed since their creation, presenting an awesome soundscape of myriad tumbling galaxies and dying stars.
For those who already own Anthem Of The Sun on CD, it is still worth considering this edition because, apart from the superior mixing and mastering, there is some 35 minutes of fabulous bonus live material, recorded at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles CA in August 1968, shortly after the album was released. The lengthy Alligator (the first product of their partnership with lyricist Robert Hunter, and centrepiece of the album) and Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks), which together made up the second vinyl side, explode here into a final four minutes of inspired Feedback.
Finally, there is the hidden track at the end - the mono single mix of Born Cross-Eyed (flip of the original studio Dark Star, and the A-side of the same release in the UK), which has an extra section of multi-layered feedback at its close. Dark Star, recorded at the Anthem sessions but never intended for the album (rather as Strawberry Fields Forever was not on Sergeant Pepper), can be found appended to the remastered Live/Dead.