In this episode, the Dead to Me crew check into the Mars Hotel, where rooms are cheap and the vibe is high. In March 1974, the Grateful Dead unleashed their fabled Wall of Sound live audio system at the Cow Palace in San Francisco—a few weeks later they holed up in CBS Studios on Folsom Street to lay down tracks for their second album on their very own Grateful Dead Records. From the Mars Hotel showcases a well-oiled band with a handsome assortment of tunes that run the gamut from psychedelicized ballads to raunchy rockers, with experimental flourishes courtesy of computer scientist and synthesizer enthusiast Ned Lagin. The last studio album before a year-long hiatus, Mars offers such Dead staples as “Scarlet Begonias” and “U.S. Blues,” along with a pair of delightfully obtuse Phil Lesh compositions, “Unbroken Chain” and “Pride of Cucamonga”—both featuring lyrics by Phil’s buddy Bobby Petersen. We consider how these songs fit into the Dead’s songbook and ponder the captivating and confounding aspects of a record that stands among the finest in the band’s catalog.
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