American Beauty

Music review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
American Beauty Music Poster Image
Band's best, most notable classics fill warm, sweet album.

Parents say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 2+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this music.

Positive Messages

Lyricist Robert Hunter delivers some of his finest, most enduring work on American Beauty, from the silly to the profound. While "Truckin'" counsels the need to get "back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin' on," no matter what ridiculous adversity life dishes out,  "Ripple" offer lessons in humility and right living: "You who choose/ to lead must follow/ but if you fall / you fall alone / If you should stand/ then who's to guide you? / If I knew the way, I would take you home." On the lighter side, keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan's "Operator," in which he's searching for his wandering girlfriend, contains the line "I don't know where she's going / I don't care where she's been / Long as she's been doing it right."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some of the characters in the songs here are clearly, if often comically, living marginal lifestyles -- case in point, the narrator in "Friend of the Devil," who seems to be barely one step ahead of everyone from the sheriff to various irate women. Or the narrator of "Sugar Magnolia," who especially appreciates the fact that his beloved "takes the wheel when I'm seeing double / Pays my ticket when I speed." But "Till the Morning Comes" finds the narrator stepping up for the woman he loves, and "Attics of My Life" soars with thanks to her for being there.


The narrator of "Candyman" says if he had a shotgun, he would blow one Mr. Benson straight to hell. However, it's all talk.


"We could discover the wonders of nature/ Rolling in the rushes down by the riverside" (in "Sugar Magnolia") is about as explicit as American Beauty gets. The narrator in "Friend of the Devil" notes that one of his female pursuers "says she's got my child / But it don't look like me." While the "Candyman" and his attractiveness to pretty women certainly have sexual overtones, they aren't explicit.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

It may come as a surprise that the only explicit drug reference on American Beauty is quite negative: "What in the world ever became of sweet Jane / She lost her sparkle, you know she isn't the same / Living on reds, Vitamin C and cocaine / All a friend can say is 'Ain't it a shame.'" The rest of "Truckin'," particularly its famous line "What a long, strange trip it's been," is certainly steeped in drug-friendly hippie culture, but the trip being described is the band's own history, including the occasional drug bust. The Candyman invites his audience to pass the whiskey 'round. Some interpreters might see "pays my ticket when I speed" as a drug reference.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, musically, American Beauty is probably the Grateful Dead's best studio album and includes classics such as "Sugar Magnolia," "Truckin'," and "Ripple." The jam-band pioneers revisit their folk roots and muse on the meaning of life in sweet, poignant songs that endure decades later, thanks in part to the elliptical lyrics by band lyricist Robert Hunter. Despite the fact that the Dead were famously using illegal substances at the time the album was recorded, the lyrics that address the subject of drugs most directly (in "Truckin'") deplore the effects of a friend's steady diet of "reds, Vitamin C and cocaine," concluding, "All a friend can say is 'Ain't it a shame.'"

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byoutlawthoughts™ September 26, 2014

Great music for kids of all ages!

Any Grateful Dead fan will tell you, the live music is the Dead at their best. But 'American Beauty' is just that, an American beauty!
And kids of all... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bygdfan2015 February 8, 2016

A Classic Album

Such a great album. There's nothing inappropriate about it, sure, there are references to drugs, but this is the Grateful Dead; that ship has sailed. A gre... Continue reading

What's the story?

Recorded at a creative peak that coincided with much personal loss among the bandmembers, American Beauty (the psychedelic lettering can also be read as American Reality) contains some of the Grateful Dead's best work, as well as the occasional lyric that's become something of a pop cultural institution (e.g. \"What a long strange trip it's been\"). Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh et al., with guest artists and lyrics from Robert Hunter in top form, romp through the fields, ponder life's sorrows, rejoice in their loved ones, and try to acquire a bit of wisdom, grace, and good times. The 2003 remastered version of this album includes several live tracks of songs on the album, along with offbeat promotional clips from the time of the album's original 1970 release.

Is it any good?

As with all the Dead's studio albums, those who seek the epic free-form live jams for which the band was famous won't find them here. However, American Beauty, with its sweet harmonies, thoughtful lyrics, catchy tunes, and Jerry Garcia's beautiful guitar playing, is about the best possible entry point to the Grateful Dead's music. Many a listener has gone from "Truckin'" and "Sugar Magnolia" to the band's more adventurous outings, but there's no shame in loving this album and staying with it, either.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what songs on the album might be good when you're feeling happy, when you're sad, when you don't think the world is treating you right, etc. What is it about the music and the lyrics that makes you think this?

  • If you'd heard about the Grateful Dead but never heard their music before you listened to this album, were you surprised by what it sounded like?

  • In the age of the Internet, would Pigpen be calling the operator to find his long-lost girlfriend, or would he do something else?

Music details

  • Artist: Grateful Dead
  • Release date: November 1, 1970
  • Type: Album
  • Label: Warner Bros.
  • Genre: Rock
  • Parental advisory: No
  • Edited version available: No
  • Last updated: November 11, 2020

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