This page includes readers polls to help find the best live Grateful Dead album and the best Grateful Dead album recorded in the studio.
What Are The Best Live Grateful Dead Albums?
As a blog about live albums with readers polls as the main feature, I had to turn my attention to the Grateful Dead.
I believe most rock fans are intimidated by the Grateful Dead and the extreme loyalty of the Deadheads. I know I am.
Below is a poll to collect votes to find the best live albums by the Grateful Dead.
I’d like to find those few albums that an ordinary rock fan should turn to if he or she wants to understand why the Grateful Dead have inspired such devotion amongst their fans.
I must warn you that it a very long list of Grateful Dead live albums which are listed by year. Asking fans to select their favourite five is a demanding challenge because there are so many worthy of consideration.
The best known live albums are: 1969 Live / Dead, 1971 Skull and Roses and 1972 Europe 72.
I’m not suggesting that they are the best but I do expect them to gain votes from people with a casual interest in the Grateful Dead who want to signal that the albums are well worth buying. I wonder if they will get the same support from the real enthusiasts who have hundreds of Dead live recordings, officially released and fan-taped.
Few people will have heard all of these live albums so please, vote for the best that you know. And if you only think three are worth buying, only vote for three.
My Thoughts On The Results Of The Poll To Find The Best Live Albums By The Grateful Dead
Last updated 18 April 2016 – after 83 voters have registered their opinions.
In first place is Europe ’72 with 33 votes (40%)
This is the critic’s choice for the band’s best live album and it collects together recordings made in Europe in April and May 1972. This has strong country influences and was the last tour to feature Pigpen but it also has Keith Godchaux playing piano and his wife, Donna on backing vocals.
It’s an album that I respect as very good but I’ve never loved it.
In second place is Live/Dead from 1969 with 22 votes from 27% of the voters.
This is perhaps their most famous live album and catches the band in their psychedelic era with added Pigpen inspired R&B. Again, this album is a regular on the best live album lists from critics.
Unfortunately it’s an album that I’ve struggle to warm to and (shock horror) I bought it, passed it on to a charity shop and then bought it again. It starts with perhaps their most famous song, Dark Star but I don’t think it does the casual fan any favours. It would be much better to start with songs where the band have a broader appeal and sound closer to their rivals. Even after I started loving Grateful Dead live albums, I still can’t warm to Live/Dead.
I feel these two albums – Europe 72 and Live/Dead – will always top the poll because of their familiarity outside of the Deadheads. They are an easy focal point for the casual fans who may have a handful of Dead live albums. The votes of the keen fans are likely to be well spread out because, unlike most bands, they have so many great live albums.
In third place is the acoustic live album Reckoning from 1980 with 14 votes from 17% of the voters.
I’m surprised this charming album is so high. First, it is only 72 minutes long although there is a 2004 release on Rhino with a second CD of acoustic songs. Again this is a collection of songs from different concerts at different venues and isn’t representative of a Grateful Dead concert. Finally, it comes from a time that I don’t think is recognised as a classic period for the band with Brent Mydland on keyboards and vocals in his second year with the band.
In fourth place with 11 votes from 13% of voters are the firs to properly represent single concerts in To Terrapin: Hartford ‘May 28, 1977 and Dick’s Picks Volume 4 from February 1970 which has the complete third sets from concerts at the Fillmore East on consecutive days in February 1970.
This is the second Dead live album that I did fall in love with. 1977 is seen as a remarkable year for the band and comes after their live recording hiatus that started in 1974 and didn’t end until 1976. The band that emerged in Spring 1977 were in excellent form and it’s hard to go wrong with any of the many live recordings. Sound quality is superb and the band are in fine form vocally. This is a great album for newcomers to the band to start.
These Fillmore concerts in February 1970 had already produced one live album, the History of the Grateful Dead, Vol One (Bear’s Choice) which has been compiled as a tribute to Pigpen who dies in 1973. That album included some of the acoustic set plus a 17 minute version of Smokestack Lightning and Hard To Handle.
Dick’s Pick Vol 4 includes classic, perhaps best ever, versions of Dark Star and Turn On Your Love Light from the February 13, 1970 show. As a live album purist, I’m sad that the two shows have never been officially released in their entirety.
In joint sixth place with 9 votes from 11% of the voters, we have two more single concert albums by the band – One From The Vault, one of the few performances from 1975 when the band played at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on August 13,1975. The other is The Closing of Winterland, also from San Francisco as the band celebrated new year’s eve in 1978 turn into 1979 (including breakfast for the entire crowd at dawn) and the last concert at the ice-skating rink turned into a concert venue. Winterland had taken over from the Fillmore West as the major venue in San Francisco as it was bigger.
One From The Vault is a short album by the Grateful Dead’s standards, clocking in at just over two hours. It was the first complete concert recording released by the band and has a full version of the Blues For Allah studio album with a smattering of other songs.
Winterland was home to the band and it was right and proper that the Dead were the last band to perform at the venue. The album is about four hours long but I’m surprised to see it feature so highly because I’ve read criticisms of the performances, and from the sections I’ve heard, the band aren’t as good as they were in 1977.
Five albums tie for eighth place as I’m updating this page. They are:
- Dick’s Picks Volume 8 Harpur College from 1970
- The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack from 1974
- Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings
- Ladies and Gentlemen… the Grateful Dead from 1971
- Europe ’72 Volume 2
It will be interesting to see how the order changes with more votes but I want to pick out one. I said earlier that To Terrapin 77 was the second live album by the band that I became devoted to. The first was Ladies and Gentlemen… the Grateful Dead.
Finally I understood why the band could inspire such devotion. There is 296 minutes of music on this four CD live album that selects tracks from the band’s concerts at the Fillmore East in New York between 25th and 29th April 1971. There’s nothing from April 26. It’s great value and again, if you’re new to the band I believe this is a better starting point than Live/Dead or Europe ’72.
What is the best studio album by the Grateful Dead?
I believe that the best live albums are often linked to the best studio albums.
The two I’ve seen recommended most are Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty but do you agree?
Are the Grateful Dead better live than in the studio?
If you could only take one Grateful Dead album to your desert island, what would it be?
Do you think the Grateful Dead are better in the studio or recorded live?
What Are The Best Live Albums Ever?
The Grateful Dead are hard to classify. While they made their name as one of the psychedelic bands of the late 1960s based in San Francisco, their biggest commercial success has been country rock based (Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty).
While the Grateful Dead are hard to fit into a one music genre or another, they have live albums in the psychedelic / San Francisco poll, in the jam band poll and the country rock poll. While the dedicated poll is the best guide for fans, a high ranking in a genre poll will help attract more fans to the Dead’s music so please vote.
You can see the complete list of readers polls at Live Album Polls.