American Beauty

American Beauty

The Grateful Dead spent the late '60s establishing themselves as kings of psychedelic jamming, but they made a drastic detour starting with 1970's concise, rootsy Workingman's Dead. Later the same year, American Beauty proved the move was more than a one-off dalliance. Like its predecessor, it took the blues, folk, and country sounds that had always been part of the band's foundation and put them at the forefront. In the process, the album helped usher in the "back to the land" roots-rock movement that found America rebounding from the 1960s' psychedelic fireworks to something that felt simpler and steadier. American Beauty also birthed the band's biggest single to date (and the biggest until “Touch of Gray,” 16 years later): the streetwise boogie travelogue "Truckin'." In just 43 minutes, this compact and hugely influential LP brought to being some of the band's—and rock ‘n’ roll’s—most celebrated songs, tracks that would become classic-rock standards and mainstays of the Dead's repertoire. The band's (non-performing) lyricist Robert Hunter combined timeless, mythic imagery with a freak-flag-waving countercultural sensibility that found its ideal complement in the proto-Americana Jerry Garcia and company were turning out. The bluegrass-laden "Friend of the Devil," the sweetly rocking, sun-baked love song "Sugar Magnolia," the Zen-like ballad "Ripple," and the aforementioned hit connected with the hearts and heads of an audience fresh from seeing the hippie dream begin to crumble but still willing to pursue it into a new era with a more pastoral soundtrack.

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