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American Beauty (album)

American Beauty is the sixth album by the Grateful Dead, released in November of 1970 (see 1970 in music). The cover can also read American Reality. The mostly-acoustic album is beloved by fans as perhaps the highest-quality studio recording by the band (along with Workingman's Dead[?]), who are known primarily for their live shows. "Truckin'"/"Ripple" was released as a single. American Beauty peaked at #30 on Billboard's Pop Albums chart (North America), while the single, "Truckin'" peaked at #64 on the Pop Singles chart.

American Beauty was the second album released in 1970, after Workingman's Dead. Both albums were extremely innovative at the time for their fusion of bluegrass, rock and roll, folk music and, especially, country music. Like Workingman's Dead, the album did not include any guitar solos from Jerry Garcia. The band's influences can be very strongly heard on this album, and include pioneering folk performers like Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan (The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan[?], 1963 in music), as well as country rock pioneers the Byrds (Sweetheart of the Rodeo, 1968 in music), psychedelic bands like Jefferson Airplane (Surrealistic Pillow, 1967 in music) and pop-rock bands like the Rolling Stones (The Rolling Stones Now![?], 1965 in music) and the Beatles (Please Please Me, 1963 in music).

As one of the most popular Grateful Dead albums, many performers were strongly influenced by American Beauty. Country rock musicians like Allman Brothers Band (Eat a Peach[?], 1971 in music) and the Flying Burrito Brothers (The Flying Burrito Brothers, 1971 in music) strongly built upon the country-rock fusion presented here. In addition, Robert Hunter's innovative lyrics, which even include a haiku, proved enormously influential on 1970s singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne (For Everyman[?], 1973 in music), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Four Way Street[?], 1971 in music) and James Taylor (Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon[?], 1971 in music). Pub rock groups like Brinsley Schwarz (Silver Pistol, 1972 in music) were also strongly influenced by this era of the Grateful Dead's long career.

Label: Warner Brothers

  • Cover Art: Kelly-Mouse studios
  • Rear photo: George Conger

Track Listing:

  1. "Box of Rain" - Lesh (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  2. "Friend of the Devil" - Garcia and Dawson (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  3. "Sugar Magnolia" - Weir (music); Hunter and Weir (lyrics)
  4. "Operator" - Mckernan (lyrics and music)
  5. "Candyman" - Garcia (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  6. "Ripple" - Garcia (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  7. "Brokedown Palace" - Garcia (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  8. "Till the Morning Comes" - Garcia (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  9. "Attics of My Life" - Garcia (music); Hunter (lyrics)
  10. "Truckin" - Garcia, Lesh, Weir (music); Hunter (lyrics)


American Beauty is less joyous than most of the Grateful Dead's recordings. While the band is normally vibrant and optimistic, the songs here are dark and the lyrics depressing. Phil Lesh's father had just died when the band began recording, and Jerry Garcia's mother was in the hospital.

Table of contents

Box of Rain

"Box of Rain" debuted on October 9, 1972 in Winterland Arena[?], San Francisco. The Grateful Dead stopped playing it a year later, though, only reviving it on March 20, 1986 at the Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. Since then, the song is frequently played in response to chants from the audience of "We want Phil!" (Phil Lesh, songwriter).

Phil Lesh wrote the music; he "wanted a song to sing to his dying father and had composed a piece complete with every vocal nuance but the words. If ever a lyric 'wrote itself,' this did--as fast as the pen would pull." (quote from Robert Hunter, who wrote the lyrics) Lesh practiced the song driving to the nursing home where his father lay dying of cancer.

Many of the lyrics to this song are reminiscent of the song "Ripple", which opens the second side of the album. Images of water abound in both, as well as references to "broken" or "hand-me-down" "thoughts".

The image of a "box of rain" originates, according to Robert Hunter: "By 'box of rain,' I meant the world we live on, but 'ball' of rain didn't have the right ring to my ear, so box it became, and I don't know who put it there".

The line "long long time to be gone and a short time to be there" echoes Pete Seeger's "Little Birdie", which includes the line "I've a short while to be here, and a long time to be gone."

The line "moth before a flame" echoes several proverbs, such as "the fate of the moth in the flame"--Aeschylus, Fragments[?]. (Fragment #288)

Friend of the Devil "Friend of the Devil" is about an outlaw, on the run from the law. He escaped from Reno, Nevada and ended up in a cave in the wildlands of Utah. His crime is never explicity stated, but may have to do with one of several failed love affairs mentioned. The Devil helps him escape, but winds up chasing him just as the law does; several lines of the song are ambiguous, and could refer to either law enforcement or servants of Satan, such as "I was trailed by twenty hounds", which could refer to either police dogs sniffing his trail, or the legendary hellhounds[?].

The song was introduced on February 28, 1970 at the Family Dog[?] in San Francisco. Later in the band's history, the song slowed down significantly in performances, a change inspired by, according to Jerry Garcia, Kenny Loggins[?]' version of the song. Bob Dylan and Tom Petty also both cover the song frequently in concert.

Hunter, songwriter, claimed "that was the closest we've come to what may be a classic song".

It is widely believed that Don McLean's "American Pie" refers to this song with the line "'Cause fire is the devil's only friend", echoing the most memorable and distinctive line in "Friend of the Devil": "a friend of the devil is a friend of mine".

During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, many American Christian groups railed against rock bands with perceived Satanic influences. This song was frequently cited as an example, due to its apparent sympathy to an outlaw who makes a deal, literal or not, with the Devil.

Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream

"Sugar Magnolia" was first performed at Fillmore West[?] in San Francisco. Later performances often divided the song in "Sugar Magnolia" and "Sunshine Daydream"; the division was usually brief but distinct.

The line "she don't come and I won't follow" echoes the folk song, "Sourwood Mountain", which includes the line "she won't come and I won't call 'er."

Aside from obvious references to several types of plants (magnolia), the line "jump like a Willys in four wheel drive" refers to a type of jeep, which was actually "jumped" off the ground by some drivers. (see the November 1992 issue of Smithsonian for more information on jumping Willys)


"Operator" debuted at Fillmore West[?] in San Francisco on August 18, 1970. It is the last song recorded by Pig Pen McKernan before his death (March 8 - 1973).

The song is about a man calling a telephone operator, trying to learn the phone number for a woman.

The House of Blue Lights[?], referenced in the song, is a real, famous nightclub in Chicago.


  • Key: C
  • Time signature: 4/4 (12/8 feeling)
  • Chords used: B-flat, F, C, G, Gm, Dm, Am7

"Candyman" debuted at the Field House[?] in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 3, 1970. Throughout the band's career, the song was almost always played in the first set.

The song opens with "Come all you"; come-all-yes[?] are a common type of folk song, and variations on the line open many traditional songs.

A "candyman" is, in early 20th century African-American slang, a man who is lusty, and has "got a stick of candy nine inches long" (in many old blues songs, the "candyman" carries a candy bar, intended as a double entendre referring to the penis). In the 1960s, the term also frequently applied to drug dealers. See also Candyman (movie)[?].

The line "roll them laughin' bones" probably refers to gambling with dice.


Like many folk songs, "Ripple" is about itself as a song and an instrument of the performers' emotional expression. The first verse identifies the singer and audience together, though the lyrics go on to claim that the listeners will unlikely come to the "correct" conclusions about the writer's feelings. The chorus is distinct from the verses, especially in its form -- it is a haiku, a type of Japanese poetry[?]. Several lines throughout the song echo the 23rd Psalm[?] of the Bible.

The songwriter, Robert Hunter, wrote this song in 1970 in London in the same afternoon he wrote "Brokedown Palace" and "To Lay Me Down". The song debuted August 18, 1970 at the Fillmore West[?] in San Francisco.

Among fans, "Ripple" is widely considered one of the best Grateful Dead songs, and is also often cited as one of the most beautiful and poetic songs in popular music.

Brokedown Palace

Robert Hunter, the songwriter, wrote this song in 1970 in London in the same afternoon he wrote "Ripple" and "To Lay Me Down". It debuted August 18, 1970 at the Fillmore West[?] in San Francisco.

The term "brokedown palace" comes from John Steinbeck's Cannery Row (1945), where it referred to an abandoned warehouse where some bums slept. In 1986, Steven Brust wrote a fantasy novel called Brokedown Palace[?], which contains many references to Grateful Dead songs.

In Norse folklore, the weeping willow[?] is a symbol of mourning for lost love; this seems to be the use intended in the song. Some of the other lyrics are probably adapted from a folk song called "Fare Thee Well".

Till the Morning Comes "Till the Morning Comes" debuted at the Fillmore West[?] in San Francisco on August 18, 1970. The song was only performed live five times before it was retired.

The line "till we all fall down" refers to the children's song "Ring-Around-the-Rosie[?]".

Attics of My Life "Attics of My Life" debuted at Meramec Community College[?], in Kirkwood, Missouri on May 14, 1970.

The lyrics to the song are structed like a prayer, and it is usually sung with harmonic, slow and reverent vocals.


  • Key: E
  • Time signature: 12/8
  • Chords used: E, A, B, Bsus4, G, D, F#, Amaj7

"Truckin'" debuted as the first song on the first set on August 18, 1970 at the Fillmore West[?] in San Francisco, the same performance where many of the songs on this album debuted.

Trucking[?] is a type of dance step, associated with the blues and other early 20th century forms of folk music.

The "doodah man" is probably lifted from "Camptown Races[?]" by Stephen Foster. "Soft machine" probably refers to William Burrough[?]'s The Soft Machine (novel)[?]. There was also a British rock band called The Soft Machine[?].

The sentence "what a long strange trip it's been" originates from this song. It has become on the most popular of many phrases that come from Grateful Dead song, and has been used in countless other contexts.


  • Mickey Hart - Percussion, Drums, Engineer, Mixing, Remix Producer, Sound Design
  • Jerry Garcia - Guitar, Piano, Pedal Steel, Guitar (Steel), Vocals
  • The Grateful Dead - Producer
  • Bob Weir - Guitar, Vocals
  • Robert Hunter - Songwriter
  • Ned Lagin - Piano, Keyboards
  • Howard Wales - Organ, Piano, Keyboards
  • Stephen Barncard - Producer, Audio Supervisor
  • Henry Diltz - Photography
  • Tom Flye - Engineer, Mixing, Mastering Supervisor
  • David Gans - Liner Notes
  • Herbert Greene - Photography
  • David Grisman - Mandolin
  • Bill Kreutzmann - Drums
  • Phil Lesh - Bass, Guitar, Piano, Vocals
  • Ron "Pigpen" McKernan - Harmonica, Keyboards, Vocals
  • David McLees - Executive Producer
  • Dave Nelson - Guitar (Electric)
  • David Nelson
  • Jeffrey Norman - Engineer
  • Dave Torbert - Bass
  • Vanessa Atkins - Editorial Supervision
  • Steve Woolard - Project Assistant
  • Steve Pokorny - Project Assistant
  • Stanley Mouse - Photography
  • Mouse Studios - Design
  • Amalie R. Rothschild - Photography
  • Daniel Goldmark - Editorial Research
  • Ginger Dettman - Project Assistant

External Links

  • Lyrics (http://arts.ucsc.edu/GDead/AGDL/discog1)

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