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Grateful Dead Albums: The Best of the Rest

From Seventies and Eighties studio gems to top-shelf live recordings from throughout their career to Jerry Garcia’s finest solo record.

Photo illustration based on a photograph by GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

The Grateful Dead are America’s greatest cosmic rock and roll band, but for listeners their voluminous recorded history can be a bit daunting — especially when you start wandering the forked paths of their seemingly bottomless live catalog. Earlier this year, Rolling Stone included the Dead’s pair of 1970 country-rock classics, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, on our list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. After you’ve scarfed down those landmark records (of if you already have), here are 10 more must-hear albums from throughout the band’s career.

Related: Grateful Dead Ultimate Album Guide

From Rolling Stone US

‘Dick’s Picks Volume 12’ (1998)

It’s almost hard to go wrong with 1972-4 live Dead. The tsunami of marvelous new material, the brotherly onstage bond of Garcia and Weir, and the lithe playing of Keith Godchaux and Bill Kreutzmann (handling the drums himself at that point) resulted in an extraordinary run. Among the many standouts from his period is this combination of shows from Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, at the dawn of summer 1974. Early classics like “China Cat Sunflower” cozy up alongside more recent songs like “Eyes of the World,” which especially soars here. A monstrous post-“Weather Report Suite”  jam, which highlights Garcia’s guitar squall and Kreutzmann’s jazz chops, is worth admission alone: The very thought that an arena band would tear down its music onstage, then slowly rebuild it over the course of nearly a half hour, is still a wonder for the ears to behold. DB

‘May 1977: Get Shown the Light’ (2017)

 After producer Keith Olsen prodded them into rehearsing and polishing during the making of Terrapin Station, the Dead emerged a firmer, more focused unit. Their run of shows right after, in the spring of 1977, proved what old-fashioned buckling down could do. OIsen helped tighten up Kreutzmann and Hart’s combined drumming, and the newfound brawniness of the rhythm section seemed to fuel the rest of the band. The highlight of this multi-disc box is the band’s famed night at Cornell University’s Barton Hall. Whether they’re swaggering through “Deal,” enriching Garcia’s sweet ballad “They Love Each Other” or digging into one of the all-time classic versions of “Fire on the Mountain,” the Dead mean business in a very different, competing-with-the-big-boys way.  DB

‘In the Dark’ (1987)

Late-arrival Deadheads know it for “Touch of Grey,” the most uplifting song ever written about a drug hangover. But the Dead’s miraculous comeback during the peak-MTV era has plenty more to recommend it, from Garcia-Hunter’s majestic “Black Muddy River” to frisky Weir moments like “Hell in a Bucket” and the prescient world-collapse rocker “Throwing Stones.” For the first time in many years, they sounded energized about making a record, which shows in their sharp, snap-to-it instrumental interaction: After previous failed attempts, their onstage team spirit came through in a studio, and their weathered aura now had a sense of grace. DB

‘Wake of the Flood’ (1973)

Their first studio album after a series of live LPs, as well as the first after the death of Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, 1973’s Wake of the Flood found the band with a surfeit of great material, like the light-touch anthem “Here Comes Sunshine,” the languid country-rock entreaty “Row Jimmy,” and “Eyes of the World,” a dappled five-minute gem that would be stretched to 20 in coming years of elastic live jams. Moments like “Weather Report Suite,” also saw them exploring jazz-rock fusion, a clear break from the hippie-blues of the Pigpen era. Wake of the Flood might seem somewhat minor coming after landmarks like Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty but it’s a lovely transitional LP, the sound of the band easing into the Seventies. JD