So it should've come as no surprise when in February 1971, the Dead had a brand new batch of original tunes to premiere. Over two shows in Port Chester on the 18th and the 19th, seven songs were debuted, including Garcia's Deal, Bird Song, Loser, Bertha, and Wharf Rat, and Bob Weir's Playing in the Band and Greatest Story Ever Told. Those songs were pretty well received, and the concert in the 19th is even considered one of 1971's best by more fanatical Deadheads. Almost all of those songs would become live staples by them, played in almost every tour from here onwards. They're also, in my and most people's opinion, easily some of the best songs the band ever wrote, with even the members themselves expressing their liking for this material. Those Port Chester gigs were also important as they signaled a lineup change for the band, with the leaving of second drummer Mickey Hart, and the ever-diminishing input of Pigpen, whose health was getting frail even by then. With so many changes and such good material coming out of them, it was to be expected that a new studio record by them was on its way, both to capitalize on the success of American Beauty and provide a third part to the "Cowboy Dead" trilogy, as Robert Hunter put it.
But somehow, that didn't happen. Warner Bros. Records, their label, offered some of the band members solo album deals, due to the sudden success of the American Beauty LP. Unexpectedly, Jerry took on the offer, and set off to record his first solo record that July (it was later revealed he only did so to buy a house with the advance money, since his wife had just given birth). Titled simply Garcia, it featured him in all instruments except drums, which were handled by bandmate Bill Kreutzmann, and featured three of the Port Chester debuts, as well as some other songs and an instrumental suite. Due to that, the band decided to release some April gigs they had recorded as a live album, titled Skull Fuck (as in blow your mind, go figure), which featured three other of the new songs, as well as some covers and live staples. With that, any hope of a new studio record in the near future was all but gone, with the band taking the same route of live records and solo albums for 1972. The live Skull Fuck album became the Dead's best selling record till then, managing to hit the top 40 and get Gold album status, most likely due to their rise of prominence in 1970. The next Grateful Dead studio record would be Wake of the Flood, released in 1973.
But what you may already know I'm going to ask is: what if they had actually made a studio album in 1971, instead of taking on Warner's solo album deal? To figure that out, we'll need to set some ground rules first. First of all, we will set the limit date for when the songs were written to July '71, which was when Jerry and Billy entered the studio to record, and would most likely be when the actual band would record this album, too. Therefore, any song from before that is fair game to be used in the LP. Also, no covers will be included in this album, because even though they were a big part of their repertoire back then, none of their albums after Anthem of the Sun featured any, and they had a whole slew of great originals to use instead, rendering such a thing pointless. Studio recordings are highly favoured for this reconstruction, even though there are a couple of (pretty justifiable, I'd say) exceptions. I will also try my best to stay within 1971 in here, without any anachronistic live versions from 1977 to confuse things further. This means solo Garcia material will be featured, with my explanation of how their arrangements would change when played by the Dead helping glue the material together. To not play with your patience further, here's our tracklist:
Mr. Charlie (Europe '72)
The Wheel (Garcia)
Fletcher Carnaby (Rolling Thunder)
|Weir and Garcia performing live, April 1971|
- Mickey Hart - Rolling Thunder