Only the second major career-spanning retrospective of the Dead, The Best of the Grateful Dead – released in the spring of 2015, just before a series of farewell shows in the summer – takes advantage of the extra disc 2003's The Very Best of Grateful Dead lacked. Weighing in at 32 tracks – a full 16 cuts longer than Very Best – The Best of the Grateful Dead also follows a strict chronological sequence, so it takes a little while for the psychedelic haze to lift and the Dead to settle into the rangy, rootsy groove that characterized so much of their existence – right around "St. Stephen" and "China Cat Sunflower," both from 1969's Aoxomoxoa. From there, many – but by no means all – of the group's warhorses are marched out, all in their studio incarnations.
Few concert runs (read: several shows in the same venue) are as highly lauded by Grateful Dead enthusiasts as February 27 through March 2, 1969, at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Although the title Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings is misleading – as they played there upward of two dozen times during the year – practically every second of their eight-set, four-night stand is captured on this ten-CD box. The concurrent lineup included founders Ron "Pigpen" McKernan (vocals/organ/harmonica), Jerry Garcia (guitar/vocals), Bob Weir (guitar/vocals), Phil Lesh (bass/vocals), and Bill Kreutzmann (percussion). In September of 1967 that quintet was augmented by Mickey Hart (percussion) and the following March Tom Constanten (keyboards) joined to complete the incarnation heard here.
Aoxomoxoa is the third studio album by the Grateful Dead. It was originally titled Earthquake Country. Many Deadheads consider this era of the Dead to be the experimental apex of the band's history. It is also the first album with Tom Constanten as an official member of the band. Rolling Stone, upon reviewing the album, mentioned that "no other music sustains a lifestyle so delicate and loving and lifelike." The album was certified gold by the RIAA on May 13, 1997. The title of the album is a palindrome created by cover artist Rick Griffin and lyricist Robert Hunter. According to the audio version of the Rock Scully memoir, Living with the Dead (read by the author and former Dead co-manager himself), the title is pronounced "OX-OH-MOX-OH-AH". The words "GRATEFUL DEAD" on the front of the album, written in large, flowing capital letters, can also be read "WE ATE THE ACID". The artwork around the bottom edge of the album cover depicts several phallic representations.