Friday, September 16, 2022

Grateful Dead 17: Go To Heaven

It was time for another Dead album. Their Arista deal still required them to work with an outside producer, and this time they got Gary Lyons (another guy who’d worked with Foreigner) who was also busy working on an Aerosmith album at the same time. Meanwhile, both of the Godchauxeseseses were gone, and were replaced in one swell foop by Brent Mydland, who could play keyboards as well as sing.
The humor in the Go To Heaven title wasn’t immediately obvious; the white suits on the hazy cover were likely intended to depict them as angels, but most people just assumed they’d gone full disco. Luckily, they hadn’t. Right off the top “Alabama Getaway” is a Garcia-Hunter rocker in the Chuck Berry mode, with a singalong chorus to boot. The new kid comes in strong too, with “Far From Me”, although his Michael McDonald huskiness and the overall production sound accidentally close to Pure Prairie League’s “Let Me Love You Tonight”. “Althea” rights the both lyrically and musically in a track that sounds like, well, the Dead. “Feel Like A Stranger” is a funky Bob Weir groove that leaves plenty of room for multiple guitar solos that probably went on well after the botched-sounding abrupt ending.
Bobby stays in front for the next two songs, which form something of a nautical suite. “Lost Sailor” is mysterious whether taken literally or figuratively, while the highly optimistic “Saint Of Circumstance” lifts the mood considerably. The drummers are credited with the slightly flatulent “Antwerp’s Placebo (The Plumber)” interlude before Brett shows his skill at composed in tricky time signatures with “Easy To Love You”. He’s also brought synthesizers to the mix, but we could do without the steel drum solo. Then “Don’t Ease Me In” makes its first-ever appearance on a Dead album, 14 years after its first recording for their debut indie single, bringing things full circle.
While it was released in 1980, Go To Heaven is very much a ‘70s album, and a decent finish for that era of the band—more so than Shakedown Street anyway. For the next few years they’d stick to touring. (The eventual expanded CD doesn’t add much; limp covers of the traditionals “Peggy-O” and “Jack-A-Roe” suggest a spent bullpen, although the Garcia/Hunter rarity “What’ll You Raise” shows they weren’t at all dried up. To fill up the disc, three live versions from later in the year provide something of a preview of their next two albums.)

Grateful Dead Go To Heaven (1980)—3
2006 expanded CD: same as 1980, plus 6 extra tracks

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