This documentary is part of the "Classic Albums" series that takes viewers quite literally behind the music and into the creation of seminal rock & roll LPs. In this edition, rather than examining only one Grateful Dead platter, the impetus behind Anthem to Beauty (1998) is the journey from their highly experimental and exceedingly ambitious amplified efforts Anthem of the Sun (1968) and Aoxomoxoa (1968), through to the 180-degree stylistic about-face on the acoustic and countrified Workingman's Dead (1970) and American Beauty (1970). Although the program was completed after the death of Jerry Garcia -- whose vision was especially critical to the success of Anthem of the Sun -- his input is taken from interview segments circa the late '80s and early '90s. In addition to incorporating more recent recollections from bandmembers and recording engineers, there is also plenty of vintage footage. Primary among these are an appearance on Playboy After Dark in 1969, scenes from the 1970 Calibration KQED-TV television show, as well as clips from Robert Nelson's 1967 film, simply titled Grateful Dead. Between these snippets, Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), Bobby Weir (guitar/vocals), Mickey Hart (percussion), and longtime studio and concert audio engineer Dan Healy recall the power and creative struggles that would eventually allow them complete creative freedom as well as 100 percent control over their output. To put it into perspective, this was basically unheard of as only artists such as Frank Sinatra were afforded such liberties at the time. Other interviewees include David "Dawg" Grisman, who played mandolin on the epic ballad "Ripple," as well as singer David Crosby. It was his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash that aided in influencing the Grateful Dead to make the most of their unique vocal harmony blend -- which they did to great effect on tracks such as "Box of Rain" and "Cumberland Blues." Both Deadheads and just plain music fans will find much to appreciate on Anthem to Beauty.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer