Moby Grape: Moby Grape (1967)

I've already confessed my love of the Grateful Dead in this space; and I'm a huge Jefferson Airplane fan as well.  But the best album to emerge out of San Francisco's 1967 Summer of Love was Moby Grape's self-titled debut.  And it's not even close.

As with the Dead and the Airplane (and other peers like the early Steve Miller Band, Spirit, and Kaleidoscope), the Grape offered a mish-mash of styles, from blues to folk to hard rock to psychedelia, tightly composed compositions and freewheeling jams.  But they did a far better job of capturing the stylistic abandon and songcraft on vinyl than most of the other acts.  The record label notoriously released five singles from the album at the same time, overwhelming potential fans, but the simple truth is that every one of these songs deserved to be singles; the album is simply bursting with fantastic stand-alone tracks.

Over the first half of the LP alone, you get the barreling rave-up rockers "Hey Grandma" and "Fall On You," the gorgeous harmonic folk of "8:05" (as good as anything the Dead would offer up three years later on Workingman's Dead), the feel-good 60s groove of the Airplane-ish "Come In The Morning," and the stripped down psyche-punk of "Omaha" (by the band's drummer and later Syd Barrett-like acid casualty/folk hero Skip Spence).  And then you flip it over and repeat the pattern.  The album closes with Spence's "Indifference," which ably demonstrates the band's CSN-like harmonizing and raging guitar chops, managing to be both a blistering blues-rock number and psychedelic pop anthem within the space of just a few minutes.

On the whole, the album is at least as worthy of classic rock canonization as the Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow.  Later albums were perhaps less essential, but had plenty of terrific highlights as they moved in a more Americana-oriented direction after Spence's departure.  There are a number of worthy compilations which collect the lion's share of the debut as well as some of their nearly-as-great later work.

Alas, for some reason Spotify omits most of the album from its catalog, but you can find the whole thing on YouTube if you want to check it out.  Here's an audio rip of the entire album:
And here's a clip of the band performing both "Omaha" and "8:05" on the Mike Douglas show; the video is pretty terrible, but the performances (not lip-synced) are terrific, and brilliantly show off the dramatic variety of the band's sound: