Grateful Dead

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been: The Best of the Grateful Dead

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Released in 1977, What a Long Strange Trip It's Been is an 18-track collection of the Grateful Dead's years at Warner Bros. Records, 1967-1972, heavy on studio recordings. The album makes the same "greatest-hits" appeal as Skeletons from the Closet did in 1974, presenting more accessible, bite-sized chunks for curious newcomers to the Dead or listeners who liked a few radio singles but weren't ready to dive into the endless well of live recordings, bootlegs, and the entire culture that grew around the band. Musically speaking, the collection does hold some great, perennial tunes. "Truckin'," "Ripple," "High Time," and a few other tunes show up from the Dead's commercial peak of mellow rootsiness on Workingman's Dead/American Beauty, and their early days of nascent psychedelia get a nod with the inclusion of tunes like "Cosmic Charlie" and "St. Stephen." Beautiful live tracks from the early '70s like "Jack Straw" and "Playin' in the Band" show up, but always in drastically truncated versions. Considering they could stretch the same song into an hourlong set in the live arena, the two-and-a-half-minute studio rendition of "Dark Star" that shows up here speaks to a decidedly different side of the band. The jammy nature that grew to be the Dead's signature is all but omitted on What a Long Strange Trip It's Been, with even the live songs all capped off or edited before they even reach the eight-minute mark. While the music is all top-notch, the presentation leaves something to be desired, even if taken as a cash-grab introduction for curious dabblers. The choices for live tracks lack the electricity of taking one of the band's numerous live albums like Europe '72 in its entirety, and there's an overall awkwardness to the flow of the songs as they cut between different eras and settings of the band's rapid changes. Piece by piece, there's excellence to be heard, but as a whole, the compilation feels like a collection of snippets and unfinished sketches, which is a shame considering that much of the Dead's appeal to dyed-in-the-wool fans is their unfolding nature and openness to explore a little further than usual.

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