The Grateful Dead – American Beauty

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A Proud Member of Our Rock & Pop Top 100

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One of Our Favorite Albums from 1970

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is doing pretty much everything we want American Beauty to do – unusually quiet vinyl too
  • The acoustic guitars are magical on this copy, and you won’t believe how wonderfully breathy and sweet these guys’ voices sound
  • American Beauty is one of Stephen Barncard’s greatest recording achievements – the richness and clarity are really something here
  • A 5 Star Top 100 album – “A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.”

We managed to find enough clean early pressings to get this always fun shootout going once again, and this copy took top honors. This is an amazingly well-recorded album — and a member of our Top 100, of course — but it takes a special copy to let the recording’s qualities shine the way this one does!

All the Elements Come Together for Once

All of the elements necessary to take this music to an entirely new level are here, my friends: smooth, sweet vocals; rich, meaty bass; an open and airy top end; top-notch presence and so forth. The sound is so spacious and transparent that you can easily pick out each of the instruments and follow them over the course of the songs.

You could choose any track you wanted to and find lovely sound here, but I’d recommend Ripple and Attics Of My Life for starters. Most copies suffer from a glaring lack of highs, but just listen to the ride cymbals on this one to find out that the top end is still alive and well here.

What the Best Sides of American Beauty Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Dead At Their Best

The crowning glory of the Grateful Dead, their MASTERPIECE. Albums like this come along once in a band’s life — if they’re lucky. This is the zenith of the Grateful Dead. Workingman’s Dead is a good album. American Beauty is a great one.

If you don’t have a great-sounding copy yet, it’s time to get on the bus. Stephen Barncard is the recording engineer responsible for this album, Deja Vu, Brewer, and Shipley’s Tarkio, and a host of other amazingly rich, sweet and natural, mostly acoustic recordings that stand head and shoulders above the bulk of their contemporaries. American Beauty is one of them.

What We’re Listening For on American Beauty

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Steven Barncard in this case — would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

A Must Own Popular Recording

We consider this Grateful Dead albumMasterpiece.

It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Box of Rain
Friend of the Devil

On the best copies, you’ll hear wonderfully deep bass, and plenty of it, as well as rich ambience around the guitars and extended harmonics from the strings

Sugar Magnolia
Operator
Candy Man

Side Two

Ripple
Brokedown Palace
Till the Morning Comes
Attics of My Life

This track, with its lovely vocal harmonies, is one of the best sounding songs on the album. When you find a good copy, the vocals should be sweet and completely free from strain.

Truckin’

AMG 5 Star Rave Review

A companion piece to the luminous Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty is an even stronger document of the Grateful Dead’s return to their musical roots. Sporting a more full-bodied and intricate sound than its predecessor thanks to the addition of subtle electric textures, the record is also more representative of the group as a collective unit… American Beauty remains the Dead’s studio masterpiece.