40 Years Ago Today / Dark Star Forever (Record Store Day, Part 5)

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"Dark Star" is the name of the song and album issued by The Grateful Dead on Record Store Day 2012, featuring the longest version of the song.


“This is the best part of the trip, This is the trip, the best part. I really like….”

The Doors

“The Soft Parade”

It’s all about the journey. “Dark Star” is (as some of you probably know) a two chord vamp that provided The Grateful Dead an outlet for extensive exploration and improvisation during their concerts.  Every version of “Dark Star” that is out there is quite different. So much so, there is even (at least one that I know of) remix album that explores jams and improvisations from dozens of different versions of “Dark Star” (created with the support and enthusiasm of the bands’s members).

Slightly different art was issued to promote the Dark Star LP release

Slightly different art was issued to promote the "Dark Star" LP release

What we have here is a piece of Grateful Dead history: a 180-gram audiophile LP pressing of a legendary version of “Dark Star,” issued as a very limited edition on Record Store Day. Recorded 40 years ago this day, on May 4, 1972, during the band’s performance at The Olympia Theatre, Paris, this version of the song clocks in at just under 40 minutes and takes up both sides of the LP.  (Note: while Paris 5/4/72 is one of the longest versions, there appears to be a longer version from the same tour clocking in at 48 minutes; perhaps they will put that out for Record Store Day next year).  It was recorded during the same tour that resulted in the equally legendary Europe ’72 album (and the recent Volume 2 that was put out last year).

If you like "Dark Star" you should explore more Grateful Dead releases, such as the classic "Europe '72" collection

If you like "Dark Star," you should explore more Grateful Dead releases, such as the classic "Europe '72" collection

This new album looks and feels like a period release from 1972, sporting the olive green Warner Brothers Records label with the “Skull & Roses” logo printed on it (click here to see it).  For uber-completists, the entire tour can be purchased from The Grateful Dead or Rhino Records (for just under $500)… but I digress.

There isn’t much to say about “Dark Star” that hasn’t been said before many times over (look around on the web and you’ll find may discussions about it). The key thing is  that it’s fascinating music and to “get it”  you really do need to be in the mindset to enjoy it, just like you have to be in the mindset to enjoy outer-reaching music by John Coltrane or the subtle ambient excursions by Brian Eno or the pulsating hypnotics of Robert Fripp’s “Frippertronics.” And in case you are wondering, I’m not talking about being stoned — I am talking about being openminded and free to let your mind follow the journey the musicians take.

This Paris “Dark Star” sounds pretty darn awesome, mixed from the original 16-track multi-track master recordings (this isn’t just one of the soundboard mixes or audience tapes that circulates among Dead Heads). Kudos must go to then Grateful Dead primary recordist, Betty Cantor Jackson, who made sure that the band captured as much of their essence on tape as possible. Among Dead Heads, shows recorded by Ms. Cantor Jackson are revered for their fidelity and known as “Betty Boards.”  Paris 1972 is a fine example of her work.  What gets me is how quiet the recording is for a live performance: there is very little hiss, and little audience noise interfering with the magic spell the band cast that night. The audience was listening! So all you audiophiles out there, don’t you dare poo poo releases by The Grateful Dead!

A studio version of Dark Star was issued as a rare 45 RPM single back in the day

A studio version of "Dark Star" was issued as a rare 45 RPM single back in the day

Whether you want to own this on one of the 4200 LPs — in reference to 4/20 day, for those of you who get that sort of connection — that were pressed for Record Store Day, or if you get a CD copy as part of the full show, this is probably as good a place to start listening to The Grateful Dead as any.  If you get into this, you’ll probably enjoy the rest of what the band has to offer.   There seem to be plenty up on eBay right now.  And there are some on Amazon, too. I’ll bet if you look around you may find one tucked away at your favorite music store.

And for those of you who are already devotees of the Grateful Dead — Dead Heads, as we are known — then you will want this release to round out your no doubt already sizable collection of live recordings by the band.  Really,  you’ve probably never heard “Dark Star” sound quite so sweet!

Here is a bit of “Dark Star” from another classic 1972 show, performed on the grounds of Ken Kesey’s farm in Oregon in sweltering heat before thousands of devoted fans”

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