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Best Grateful Dead albums of all time

  • Best Grateful Dead albums of all time
    1/ Chris Stone // Wikimedia Commons

    Best Grateful Dead albums of all time

    What a long, strange trip it's been for the Grateful Dead and its fans. It all began in 1960, when a discharged Army recruit named Jerry Garcia arrived in Palo Alto, Calif. Equipped with an acoustic guitar, banjo, and vast knowledge of traditional American music, Garcia immersed himself in the local neo-Beatnik scene. He formed Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions in 1965 with five other musicians, including guitarist Bob Weir and organist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

    Deciding to go electric, they shifted personnel and became The Warlocks by the following year. When it turned out there was another act with the same name, the band hastily flipped through a dictionary and landed on a new moniker: Grateful Dead. Thanks to the band's wildly eclectic and improvisational live shows, the Dead soon became the proverbial house band for San Francisco's burgeoning psychedelic revolution.

    When drummer Mickey Hart and lyricist Robert Hunter became full-time members in the late 1960s, it formed the Dead's classic core lineup. Joined by keyboardist Tom Constanten, the band released 1969's “Aoxomoxoa,” an ambitious studio album that tried to capture the spirit of their live performances. Using 16-track technology and racking up $200,000 worth of debt, Garcia and company delivered a semi-successful blend of classic tunes and experimental dirges. Disappointed with the initial mix, the band remixed and re-released the album in 1971.

    Of course, “Aoxomoxoa” remains but one among a slew of milestones achieved by the Grateful Dead. Upon realizing the stage and studio were vastly different entities, the group switched gears to develop two divergent aesthetics as the years progressed. All the while, there came various personnel shifts and some devastating losses. In 1972, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan passed away at the ill-fated age of 27. Then in 1995, Jerry Garcia famously departed for that great gig in the sky. Nevertheless, their legendary live shows continue to garner a massive and loyal following. Even today, the term Deadhead remains quintessential to the American lexicon.

    To celebrate “Aoxomoxoa” on its 50th birthday, Stacker is listing out the best Grateful Dead albums of all time. The data was culled from Best Ever Albums (updated June 2019), where overall rank is determined by calculating the aggregate position of each album from more 38,000 different top album charts. The 38,000 charts referenced are a blend of publications' charts (e.g. Rolling Stone, New Music Express, Stereogum, The Quietus) and people's personal charts. In theory, the more charts that an album has appeared in and the higher its rank score, the better it will be. Here are the Grateful Dead's best albums.

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  • #15. One From the Vault (1991)
    2/ Grateful Dead Merchandising, Inc.

    #15. One From the Vault (1991)

    - Overall album rank: #11,854
    - Rank in decade: #2,339
    - Rank in year: #185
    - Appears in: 8 charts

    The first installment in a series of live recordings, “One from the Vault” captures a historic 1975 concert at Great American Music Hall with superb fidelity. Various improvisational jams reach an extended climax with the 21-minute version of “Blues for Allah.” Before its official release in 1991, lesser versions of this particular concert recording were passed around by way of assorted bootlegs.

  • #14. Two From the Vault (1992)
    3/ Grateful Dead Merchandising, Inc.

    #14. Two From the Vault (1992)

    - Overall album rank: #11,457
    - Rank in decade: #2,256
    - Rank in year: #229
    - Appears in: 9 charts

    For the second release in the band's beloved “Vault” series, the Grateful Dead resurrected a 1968 performance at Los Angeles' Shrine Theater. Finding the original members (plus Mickey Hart) in peak form, it serves as a psychedelic snapshot of the band's late-1960s repertoire. The concert was initially recorded on state-of-the-art multi-track reels, which were digitally restored by sonic wizards Dan Healy and Jeffrey Norman.

  • #13. In the Dark (1987)
    4/ Arista Records

    #13. In the Dark (1987)

    - Overall album rank: #10,466
    - Rank in decade: #1,551
    - Rank in year: #142
    - Appears in: 33 charts

    A year after Jerry Garcia emerged from a diabetic coma, the Dead released its first new album in six years. Other than keyboardist Brent Mydland—who joined in 1979—the album features the band's classic core lineup (minus Pigpen). It gave the band its biggest hit, “Touch of Grey,” which famously includes the lines “I will get by, I will survive.”

  • #12. Sunshine Daydream: Veneta, OR, August 27, 1972 (2013)
    5/ Grateful Dead Productions

    #12. Sunshine Daydream: Veneta, OR, August 27, 1972 (2013)

    - Overall album rank: #10,296
    - Rank in decade: #1,827
    - Rank in year: #244
    - Appears in: 9 charts

    The Dead had just returned from a 1972 European tour when the members stopped over in a small Oregon town for a benefit concert. This concert would ultimately become the stuff of legend in its own right, running the full gamut between extended psychedelic jam sessions and tight bluegrass numbers. Culled from the original 16-track master tapes, “Sunshine Daydream” presents the legendary performance in its entire, three-hour glory.

  • #11. Terrapin Station (1977)
    6/ Arista Records

    #11. Terrapin Station (1977)

    - Overall album rank: #6,185
    - Rank in decade: #1,059
    - Rank in year: #104
    - Appears in: 26 charts

    Widely considered a mixed bag, this late 1970s album was the first one recorded by the band for the Arista Label. In addition to the classic core lineup (sans Pigpen), it features Keith Richard Godchaux on piano and Donna Jean Godchaux on vocals. Highlights include a cover of “Samson & Delilah” as well as the 16-minute title track.

  • #10. Aoxomoxoa (1969)
    7/ Warner Bros.

    #10. Aoxomoxoa (1969)

    - Overall album rank: #4,877
    - Rank in decade: #353
    - Rank in year: #88
    - Appears in: 63 charts

    50 years ago, the Grateful Dead self-produced and then released its most experimental studio album to date. It brought lyricist Robert Hunter into the fold as a full-time contributor and included keyboardist Tom Constanten as an official member for the only time. While the album doesn't entirely translate the band's live energy, it nevertheless remains a quintessential relic of the psychedelic era.

  • #9. Reckoning (1981)
    8/ Arista Records

    #9. Reckoning (1981)

    - Overall album rank: #4,101
    - Rank in decade: #645
    - Rank in year: #78
    - Appears in: 39 charts

    Digging back to their personal roots and influences, the Dead's members recorded a series of primarily acoustic shows for this acclaimed double LP. The resulting tracklist combined original tunes with a range of folk and country covers, all delivered with bucolic precision. A companion live album called “Dead Set” was released later that same year.

  • #8. Blues for Allah (1975)
    9/ Grateful Dead Records

    #8. Blues for Allah (1975)

    - Overall album rank: #4,009
    - Rank in decade: #735
    - Rank in year: #74
    - Appears in: 55 charts

    Drummer Mickey Hart returned from a four-year sabbatical to play on this mid-70s effort, which Jerry Garcia once called the “most adventurous album we've done in a pretty long time.” Recorded in the midst of an extended touring hiatus, it blends various musical genres to natural effect. The 12-minute title track is either a stroke of experimental brilliance or a missed opportunity, depending on who's being asked.

  • #7. Wake of the Flood (1973)
    10/ Grateful Dead Records

    #7. Wake of the Flood (1973)

    - Overall album rank: #3,854
    - Rank in decade: #711
    - Rank in year: #80
    - Appears in: 44 charts

    The band's sixth studio album was the first release on its eponymous label. It was also the first to be recorded without original member Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, who'd recently died of internal hemorrhaging due to complications from alcoholism. Keith Godchaux was now on keyboards, with his wife Donna Jean providing occasional backing vocals.

  • #6. The Grateful Dead (1967)
    11/ Warner Bros.

    #6. The Grateful Dead (1967)

    - Overall album rank: #3,838
    - Rank in decade: #289
    - Rank in year: #49
    - Appears in: 67 charts

    The Grateful Dead was an accomplished concert act by the time the band recorded this debut album, which committed some (but not all) of that improvisational magic to wax. Drawing from various aspects of live shows, the work consists primarily of blues or folk covers and only two original tunes. Some might say this was a mere preview of better things to come.

  • #5. Anthem of the Sun (1968)
    12/ Warner Bros.

    #5. Anthem of the Sun (1968)

    - Overall album rank: #2,255
    - Rank in decade: #197
    - Rank in year: #37
    - Appears in: 112 charts

    Introducing Mickey Hart as a second drummer, “Anthem of the Sun” found the Dead exploring a vast sonic terrain by way of numerous instruments and ideas. While technically a studio effort, it incorporated an assortment of live recordings into the mix. This was the first album to include lyrical contributions from Robert Hunter.

  • #4. Europe '72 (1972)
    13/ Warner Bros.

    #4. Europe '72 (1972)

    - Overall album rank: #1,531
    - Rank in decade: #331
    - Rank in year: #33
    - Appears in: 78 charts

    “I am convinced that God made the Grateful Dead so that they could be heard in concert,” wrote Rolling Stone's Tom Dupree in his review for this triple LP set. Unleashing highlights from the band's 1972 tour of Western Europe, the album makes for quintessential listening among Deadheads and casual fans alike. It was the first official release to include Keith and Donna Jean Godchaux, and the last to feature Ron "Pigpen" McKernan.

  • #3. Live/Dead (1969)
    14/ Warner Bros.

    #3. Live/Dead (1969)

    - Overall album rank: #1,244
    - Rank in decade: #119
    - Rank in year: #35
    - Appears in: 184 charts

    According to Best Ever Albums, the Grateful Dead's first live release is also the band's best live release. It introduced listeners at home to the sprawling epic known as “Dark Star,” which endures as an absolute cornerstone of the band's overall legacy. Rolling Stone ranked “Live/Dead” at #7 on its list of the 50 Greatest Live Albums of All Time.

  • #2. Workingman's Dead (1970)
    15/ Warner Bros.

    #2. Workingman's Dead (1970)

    - Overall album rank: #864
    - Rank in decade: #208
    - Rank in year: #30
    - Appears in: 197 charts

    Harkening back to the band's earliest musical influences, the Grateful Dead completely reinvented its studio aesthetic with this benchmark release. Songs like “Uncle John's Band” and “Casey Jones” continue to serve as compelling entry points for novice listeners, many of whom are discovering the Dead for the first time. Americana and stoner rock rarely make for fitting bedmates the way they do here.

  • #1. American Beauty (1970)
    16/ Warner Bros.

    #1. American Beauty (1970)

    - Overall album rank: #259
    - Rank in decade: #63
    - Rank in year: #14
    - Appears in: 457 charts

    Featuring timeless tracks such as “Truckin',” “Ripple,” “Sugar Magnolia,” and “Friend of the Devil,” 1970's “American Beauty” is practically a greatest hits compilation unto itself. Recorded just months after “Workingman's Dead,” it finds the band once again eschewing experimentation in favor of tight songwriting and mellow harmonies. The people over at Best Ever Albums consider it to be the band's finest work, and most critics or fans would agree.

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