Discography: Grateful Dead -- A guide to every album the band has ever made, from ''The Grateful Dead'' to ''Infrared Roses''

By Benjamin Svetkey
March 12, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Discography: Grateful Dead

There’s a reason Grateful Dead music is best experienced in person — many of the band’s albums are more dreadful than dreamy. Here’s our guide to every official Dead album ever made:

THE GRATEFUL DEAD (1967) An otherwise dated, amphetamine- frenzied outing, the Dead’s debut features a lovely lost classic: Jerry Garcia’s Freddie King-style solo on ”Viola Lee Blues.” C-

ANTHEM OF THE SUN (1968) An overambitious experiment mixing live and studio recording, it’s still essential San Francisco psychedelia. High point: ”That’s It for the Other One.” B

AOXOMOXOA (1969) One of the first attempts at 16-track recording, this eerie concoction layers acoustic, electric, and keyboard textures with offbeat rhythms. ”St. Stephen” and ”China Cat Sunflower” quickly became concert favorites, but much remains downright inaccessible. C+

LIVE/DEAD (1970) The Dead at their blistering best, recorded at the Fillmore West. If the visionary medley weaving ”Dark Star,” ”St. Stephen,” ”The Eleven,” and ”Turn On Your Love Light” doesn’t hook you, nothing will. A

WORKINGMAN’S DEAD and AMERICAN BEAUTY (1970) This pair of albums represents the band’s switch to acoustic material and their best studio work. Filled with a thoughtful neo-American folk sensibility, the albums introduced some of the Dead’s most beloved tunes: ”Uncle John’s Band,” ”Dire Wolf,” ”Black Peter,” ”Sugar Magnolia,” ”Box of Rain,” ”Truckin’,” and ”Ripple.” Both: A+

GRATEFUL DEAD (SKULL & ROSES) (1971) The Dead rock out on ”Bertha,” ”Me and Bobby McGee,” ”Big Railroad Blues,” and ”Johnny B. Goode.” Highlight of this live double album: a smoking ”Not Fade Away”/”Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” medley. B

EUROPE ’72 (Warner Bros., 1972) This crisp triple album — one of Tipper Gore’s faves — was most responsible for the Dead’s early popularity. Contains killer versions of ”Morning Dew” and ”Jack Straw.” A-

HISTORY OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD VOL. 1 (BEAR’S CHOICE) (1973) A mostly uninspired live outing culled from two 1970 Fillmore East concerts, though Pigpen’s rave-up of Otis Redding’s ”Hard to Handle” spits fireworks. C

WAKE OF THE FLOOD (1973) The Dead’s most underrated album, Wake includes the beautiful, primal hippie anthems ”Eyes of the World,” ”Here Comes Sunshine,” and ”Weather Report Suite.” A-

SKELETONS FROM THE CLOSET (1974) Must-avoid anthology produced without the band’s involvement to fulfill a contractual obligation. And oh, how they butchered ”Turn On Your Love Light”! F

FROM THE MARS HOTEL (1974) Some great Garcia-Robert Hunter tunes, including ”Scarlet Begonias” and ”U.S. Blues,” but these songs sound better live. C-

BLUES FOR ALLAH (1975) This uneven but powerful disc, made during the Dead’s 1974-76 ”retirement,” crackles with energy in spots. ”Help on the Way” and ”The Music Never Stopped” have become concert high points, but many tracks are murky. C+

STEAL YOUR FACE (1976) Steal your dough is more like it. Drawn from the band’s 1974 ”farewell” shows at Winterland, the album is tepid and poorly mixed. D-

TERRAPIN STATION (1977) Like Blues for Allah, this bold project mixes short songs and overblown studio production. Bob Weir’s ”Estimated Prophet” and the ”Terrapin Station” suite stand out, but the disco ”Dancin’ in the Streets” and wan ”Samson & Delilah” fall flat. D+

WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT’S BEEN: THE BEST OF THE GRATEFUL DEAD (1977) Another thoughtless anthology, redeemed only by the inclusion of the rare studio version of ”Dark Star.” D

SHAKEDOWN STREET (1978) Not even the production guidance of Little Feat legend Lowell George could save this limp effort. The recording is poor, and the performances are indifferent. D

GO TO HEAVEN (1980) A slick and unsuccessful attempt to crack the mainstream, this album is well recorded but under-rehearsed. D-

RECKONING and DEAD SET (1981) The Dead played some great three-set shows in the fall of 1980. Reckoning is a wonderful acoustic blend of ”soft Dead” classics (”Bird Song,” ”Ripple,” ”Dire Wolf”) and choice country-blues chestnuts (”Rosa Lee McFall,” ”Dark Hollow,” ”Monkey & Engineer”). Dead Set, the less electrifying electric companion, shows some fire with ”Passenger” and ”Feel Like a Stranger.” Reckoning: B+ Dead Set: C

IN THE DARK (1987) After a seven-year studio hiatus, the band strikes pay dirt. Alchemizing the style of their old material (”When Push Comes to Shove”), whimsy (”Touch of Grey”), desperation (”Throwing Stones”), world-weariness (”Black Muddy River”), rock & roll (”Hell in a Bucket”), and incendiary musicianship, the Dead finally capture mainstream America. A-

DYLAN & THE DEAD (1989) It’s too bad this live collaboration is so miserable because the unusual concerts uniting these legends were anything but. Only ”All Along the Watchtower” soars. D+

BUILT TO LAST (1989) A superbly recorded follow-up to In the Dark finds keyboardist-vocalist Brent Mydland taking center stage with four contributions. Mydland’s ”Blow Away” and ”Just a Little Light,” Weir’s ”Picasso Moon,” and the Garcia-Hunter tune ”Foolish Heart” are standouts. B-

WITHOUT A NET (1990) The Dead’s finest live release since Europe ’72 finds them at a performance peak. Along with scorching renditions of ”Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo,” ”Bird Song,” and ”One More Saturday Night,” the Dead step into a lush jam with saxophonist Branford Marsalis on ”Eyes of the World.” A-

ONE FROM THE VAULT and TWO FROM THE VAULT (1991 and 1992) Sound guru Dan Healy is the ears behind the Dead’s ambitious project to release periodically their finest concert moments from days of yore on their own independent label. With the first two featuring sizzling shows from 1975 and 1968, respectively, the Vault series holds the promise of even better archival material to come. One: A- Two: A

INFRARED ROSES (1991) This tape-spliced pastiche documents the Dead at their most far out, during the space-music and drum-and-percussion-solo segments of their concerts. C+