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Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead
Released in 1970, Workingman's Dead was the breakthrough album for the Grateful Dead, a cold-water-shock departure from the Acid Test madness of the late `60s. It was the band's most commercially and critically successful release to date. More importantly, these songs established the blueprint for how the Dead would maintain and build upon a community held together by the core motivation of rejecting the status quo - the "straight life" - in order to live and work on their own terms.
As a unified whole, the album's eight songs serve as points of entry into a fully-rendered portrait of the Grateful Dead within the context of late twentieth-century American history. These songs speak to the attendant cultural and political anxieties that resulted from the idealism of the `60s giving way to the uncomfortable realities of the `70s, and the band's evolving perspective on these changes. Based on research, interviews, and personal experience, this book probes the paradox at the heart of the band's appeal: the Grateful Dead were about much more than music, though they were really just about the music.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
In 1969 the Grateful Dead executed an extraordinary pivot. While playing brilliant, deeply improvisational psychedelic music, they simultaneously began to create a series of traditionally-styled new American folk songs that would be collected in Workingman's Dead. It is perhaps the key moment in their storied history, and Buzz Poole explores this evolution with insight and a profound understanding of how these songs fit into American cultural history. * Dennis McNally, author of A Long Strange Trip (2003) and On Highway 61 (2014) * Buzz Poole nails his take on Workingman's Dead, with the song-by-song conceit proving surprisingly agile for the Dead. Poole unpacks and links the mythos attached to the album's eight songs and their histories in the Dead's songbook. Like the Dead, Poole sweeps through the American territories, from the American folklore of 'Casey Jones' to the Manson murders. Good stuff, fun read. * Jesse Jarnow, author of Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America (2016) * Poole provides a thoughtful, detailed, and passionate look at this seminal album that frames its achievement and demonstrates why it still rewards close listening. It's great to see the Dead represented in this series! -- Nicholas Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist Buzz Poole brings us back to the time before capitalism consumed the counterculture; the musical and cultural moment when the Grateful Dead reluctantly accepted the mantle as the horse pulling the wagon full of hippies, freaks, outlaws and others through the darkness of the world of power, war, and greed...Poole does an excellent job in pulling together the diverse and multiple musical, folk and literary influences apparent in the songs on Workingman's Dead (and most other Dead albums, too.) * Counterpunch * [A] little beauty ... [and] the only Dead book I know of devoted to a single album ... No matter how extensive your Dead library, you should make room for this wee addition. * Shindig! *