Killer Classics and Vintage Vinyl: Grateful Dead’s ‘American Beauty’

In “Killer Classics and Vintage Vinyl,” James Keller goes through his father’s record collection and examines the music of a past generation. Follow Keller as he reviews albums from 1960 to 1999 in a way that both audiophiles and the average listener can appreciate.


In my experience as a musical connoisseur and consumer, I have found it is difficult to go about my listening without finding the Grateful Dead somewhere close by. Some of the Dead’s most popular and legendary songs came from their 1970 release “American Beauty.” Of the 17 tracks featured on “The Very Best of the Grateful Dead,” five of them came off of “American Beauty,” about 30% for you math geeks.

“American Beauty” is considered by many Dead fans to be one of the greatest studio albums in their discology. The album is the modern standard of the Grateful Dead’s sounds. The songs range from depressed folk ballads to fast-paced blues-rock tracks and everything in-between.

“Box of Rain”
One of the Dead’s most iconic songs is the first track on the “A” side of the album. “Box of Rain” features bassist Phil Lesh’s slightly raspy yet buttery smooth vocals. This, as well as many others, is a song to pay special attention to the lyrics of – there are so many little lines that are some of the most popular today.
Favorite lyric: “But it’s just a box of rain, I don’t know who put it there.”

“Friend of the Devil”
Nineteen artists have covered this song since its recording–that says a lot about the lyrics and way the song is played. Jerry Garcia’s legendary vocals belt the lyrics, and the varying tempos of the song help to deepen the emotion of the song. The “climbing and descending” intro riff sets the pace for the entire song and evolves continually, helping to exaggerate the feeling of a story being told.
Favorite lyric: “First one says she’s got my child, but it don’t look like me.”

“Sugar Magnolia”
One unique feature of the Grateful Dead is their constant changing of vocalists. Lead guitarist Bob Weir takes the spotlight in this particular song–His vocal style and ever-so-slight variation of tone and pitch emphasises the lyrics. “Sugar Magnolia” introduces Jerry Garcia’s iconic slide guitar, which is heard again later in the album.
Favorite lyric: “Takes the wheel when I’m seeing double, pays my ticket when I speed.”

Lesh’s prominent bass tone makes a clear appearance from the beginning of “Ripple.” An acoustic solo by Weir combined with another acoustic rhythm guitar helps to keep the feeling upbeat. Garcia’s wide vocal range combined with on-and-off harmonies from Lesh and Weir help to further fill the sonic space. This is a personal favorite of mine because of the massive lyric and sonic depth along with the complex choreography required to play it.
Favorite lyric: “There is a road, no simple highway, between the dawn and the dark of night.”

“Till the Morning Comes”
The tempo of the “B” side picks up quickly with the introduction of “Till the Morning Comes.” A clean yet prominent guitar intro sets the scene for the song. The tempo changes at times with the guitar fading, leaving only the bass and Kreutzmann’s percussion hollowing things out.
Favorite lyric: “Don’t think about what you left behind.”

Ah, the final and quite possibly most identifiable track. “American Beauty” comes to a fast and energetic conclusion with “Truckin’.” Bass and guitar make an uncharacteristic run at the introduction, winding listeners up to the fast-paced and high-energy final track. The bass then continues on to a legendary and widely-known bass line typical of Lesh. Although they are understated, the harmonies are still present and fluctuate in intensity.
Favorite lyric: “Chicago, New York, Detroit and it’s all on the same street, your typical city involved in a typical daydream.”

James Keller is a Copy Editor for The Patriot and