Today on Blogcritics
Home » Music » Music Review: The Grateful Dead – History of the Grateful Dead Volume One (Bear’s Choice) [Audio Fidelity Remastered Vinyl Edition]

Music Review: The Grateful Dead – History of the Grateful Dead Volume One (Bear’s Choice) [Audio Fidelity Remastered Vinyl Edition]

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

History of the Grateful Dead Volume One (Bear’s Choice) holds an interesting position in the band’s catalog. You kind of have to already know the band to even get what the title means. It sounds as if it is some sort of greatest hits collection, and (Bear’s Choice) could mean practically anything.

There were a lot of oddball titles going around in the rock world in 1973, when the album was initially released, and only those “in the know” would know who Bear actually was. History of the Grateful Dead Volume One (Bear’s Choice) is actually an early live “best of,” as selected by the famous Owsley “Bear” Stanley, acid guru, and Grateful Dead soundman.

Before Dick Vatala of the Dick’s Picks series came along, Bear was the Deadhead most trusted by the group. Hence, he was given the opportunity to choose the songs included on this set. The music was actually recorded three years prior to release, during their February 13-14, 1970 stand at the Fillmore East in New York. The album was intended as a tribute of sorts to founding member Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who died while it was being compiled. It was also the final release of their contract with Warner Bros. Records, who never really seemed to know what to do with the band.

Audio Fidelity has recently issued a remastered, numbered, limited edition, and 180-gram vinyl version of the album, and it sounds better than ever. One of the things those of us who are old enough to remember buying vinyl back in the day tend to forget is how crappy the sound often was. To save money, the vinyl on those records was often pretty thin. I always thought all the hoopla about virgin vinyl and audiophile stuff was just marketing, but it was not. I have an original, paper-thin copy of Bear’s Choice, and played it next to this Audio Fidelity one. There is no comparison. For fans of the group who like to go “old school,” this is one of those Dead albums to put on your list.

Besides being remastered, and the high quality of the vinyl, the album is identical to the one released in ‘73. Side One is a five-song acoustic-based set, featuring Pigpen, Jerry Garcia, and Bob Weir. The album opens with Pigpen doing a version of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Katie Mae.” One of the strange things about this album is the fact that it is called History of the Grateful Dead, because it is pretty misleading. Of the seven songs total here, only one was written by the band itself. That is the closing song on side one, the 7:27-long “Black Peter,” from Workingman’s Dead. While I like the whole side, a real highlight for me comes with their version of the classic Everly Brothers song “Wake Up Little Susie.”

The full band, electric-based set of songs on Side Two is probably where most Dead fans initially gravitated to though. It consists of two songs, “Smokestack Lightnin‘,” (17:59) and “Hard to Handle” (6:15). Deadheads love it when the group stretches out a tune, and really get inside it. This definitely happens during Howlin’ Wolf’s oft-covered “Smokestack Lightnin’.” I have seen complaints that the Dead were out of their league with such covers, and I wholly disagree. Garcia was far more than his nickname “Captain Trips” would imply. He had a working, near musicologist-level knowledge of music, and his leads here are fantastic. Actually, the whole band works together as a magic unit on both tracks, which are a very fitting tribute to Pigpen.

“What A Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” is more than a line from a Dead song (“Truckin'”), and later title of a “best of” Grateful Dead compilation. That is one of the Grateful Dead albums which definitely fits with its name. But to those who picked this album up when it was released in 1973, the title probably was a bit confusing. The quality of the live performances inside it, however, no doubt fully made up for any misunderstandings. One thing is certain, History of the Grateful Dead Volume One (Bear’s Choice) has never sounded better than it does on this Audio Fidelity edition.

Powered by

About Greg Barbrick

  • http://cinemasentries.com/ El Bicho

    There’s a great double CD called Garcia plays Dylan I recommend if you don’t already know it

  • Greg Barbrick

    Thanks for tip Bicho – sounds very cool!

  • Adam

    Hi Greg. So far, I’ve gone through 3 defective copies of this LP from Audio Fidelity. I have gotten each from Amazon, 2 of them numbered in the 900’s and 1 from the 800’s. I believe they are limited to 4,000 or 5,000 copies. Each copy suffered from an awful pressing defect which causes a constant crackle from start to finish and lots of pops/clicks as well. I’ve read many other people have gotten defective copies as well. Can you tell me which number pressing you have? I would like to know so I can try to obtain a copy close to that number. Thanks.

  • Swervn

    Hey Greg. I agree this remaster sounds great but I have the same issue as Adam. I have been through three copies so far, one in the 300 range and two in the 1200 range that have had the same defects described by Adam. Any idea if there is a “good” range of the pressing?

  • Greg Barbrick

    I guess I was among the fortunate, the number on my copy is the very low #0065. Sorry to hear about the troubles both of you (Adam & Swervn) had. AF have never disappointed me with their pressings…

    I guess trying to find a lower numbered copy might be a solution, although that may be easier said than done.

    Best of luck to you both though, it certainly is a great album.

  • Swervn

    I have found the Audio Fidelity customer service dealing with the defects issues to be absolutely above and beyond. Glad I was dealing with them.