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As you may have heard, the sixth edition in Vinyl Me, Please Anthology is centered around the catalog of the Grateful Dead. Anthology is Vinyl Me, Please’s box set series that aims to give an overview of legendary bands, scenes, and record labels. Past editions have centered on Stax, Blue Note, Zamrock, the Women of Motown, and Ghostly International. This edition of VMP Anthology, The Story of the Grateful Dead, is an eight-album, 14-LP box meant to give the uninitiated an easy way into the Grateful Dead, who boast a catalog that is as vast as it is varied. Here, we breakdown what to expect with the box, and all the decisions we made when putting it together with the Dead and their label, Rhino.
In some ways, the Grateful Dead are in fact two separate bands. There’s the studio band, with a robust catalog of studio albums ranging from psych-rock freakouts to mellow folk rock. They started as a studio band long after they developed the other version of the Dead: the live version, which played shows at Acid Tests and, eventually, football stadiums. Because the central premise of the live Dead was a never-ending quest for some version of perfect — the perfect transition from “China Cat Sunflower” to “I Know You Rider” is possible, if you believe in it — they encouraged fans to tape their shows, and even taped many of their own, meaning their live catalog is, in some ways, positively endless. It makes the Dead a difficult band to completely grasp, and since 2020 marks their 55th anniversary as a band — and a year where they arguably might be as popular as ever — we partnered with the band and the label to curate eight albums we think give a gateway into the Dead as they were, and opens up different alleyways for listeners to explore.
We start our box with the studio Dead, since the two albums we start with — Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, both out in 1970 — are the most well-known and accessible albums in the band’s catalog. In some ways, they made everything that happened after possible, as the albums were big hits, and set the Dead up on legendary tours that gained word-of-mouth reverence around the world.
The next two albums are Live/Dead and Europe ’72, the first being their first release as a live band, and the one that convinced Warner Brothers to let them stay on the label long enough to make the first two albums in our box, and the latter of which is often considered the best commercially released live Dead album, captured on the band’s legendary European tour.
The next four titles are what we consider continuing studies: We have 1973’s Wake of the Flood and 1977’s Terrapin Station in studio Dead, and 1981’s Reckoning and 1990’s Without a Net in live Dead, all four albums giving different snapshots of the Dead as they rolled along their winding road of a career.
As we do with VMP Anthology, picking eight incredible titles isn’t enough: We spared no expense in making these the best sounding albums they can be. We were granted access to the original analog tapes of seven of the eight albums, and for Without a Net we were granted original digital tapes, since it was recorded digitally. We then sent the tapes to Bernie Grundman mastering, where Chris Bellman cut new lacquers for this project, attempting to preserve the original sound and intent of the Dead as much as possible. Here, Bellman talks his process:
All eight albums come on color 180-gram vinyl, and most of them (Live/Dead, Europe ’72, Wake of the Flood, Terrapin Station, Reckoning, and Without a Net) are on color vinyl for the first time as part of this box. Without a Net has never been reissued on vinyl at all until this box set. An original copy of that one in great shape will set you back a pretty penny by itself. We think this box will be filled with definitive editions of these albums that the beginner Dead Head will enjoy, but also will allow the experienced Dead Head to have updated copies of their well-worn editions.
This edition of Anthology will be limited to 7,500, and each set comes in a deluxe box designed by Jeremy Dean, who is known in the Dead community for his work with the Dead iconography. Instead of asking a historian or journalist to write the liner notes for this Anthology, we went to nine artists to give you their personal stories and the history of the albums included, and you can see more info on who’s involved in the poster below:
The first 3,000 purchasers will also receive an exclusive animated Tetzoscope slipmat. Everyone who purchases will also receive a trial of nugs.net, a site that has exclusive shows from multiple Dead offshoots and much more. And like with all past Anthologies, this one comes with an exclusive podcast series, where two VMP staff members — one who loves studio Dead and hasn’t dived into the live stuff, and one who has never listened to the Dead — grapple with these albums and the Dead.
You can head over to our Anthology site to purchase this box. We expect it to ship later this summer.