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.