A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this music.
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.'"
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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?