I can’t rightly call myself a Deadhead. I may even be a Grateful Dead philistine (I can’t name a favorite bootleg). But I am a Grateful Dead fan, from the time I was in middle school, when I was blanketed with their music in my older brother’s car, up through when I saw the Dead—as the post-Jerry Garcia touring unit is officially known—perform in 2009.
There are many people out there just like me. (“Out there” being New England and the Northwest.) And there’s a certain conventional wisdom available to folks like us—the ones whose boomer parents (or, like me, older siblings born to boomers) introduced them to the Dead, who have never seen Jerry Garcia on a stage, who maybe owned a CD copy of the 1974 best-of Skeletons in the Closet. And this conventional wisdom holds that Shakedown Street sucks.
Shakedown Street is a Grateful Dead studio album from 1978, and the title track provides a key example of “Disco Dead.” (All of the band’s studio albums have just been remastered and made available on iTunes.) The phrase “Shakedown Street” has come to refer to the corridor of vendors, legal or otherwise, outside of a concert or festival. But it was a dubious distinction from the start. The critic Robert Christgau gave it a C when it came out. And Rolling Stone‘s reviewer wrote, “‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘Shakedown Street’ suffer from too much strain and not enough revving up musically. The disco tinges in the latter merely add to the catastrophe.” (He concluded with, “Maybe the band’s energy is still in Egypt, partial payment perhaps for sending King Tut to America,” whatever the heck that means.)