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Three influential and groundbreaking documentary films made for television back at the end of the 1960s by legendary music journalist Ralph J. Gleason — A Night At The Family Dog + Go Ride The Music + Westpole — have been reissued on DVD. They are worth exploring if you are a fan of the counter culture music scene of the 1960s and early 1970s and the music of groups such as The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Steve Miller Band and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
I had heard “of” two of these films for years, mostly among completist collectors of the recorded output of seminal psychedelic-era rock bands The Grateful Dead and The Jefferson Airplane: A Night At The Family Dog and Go Ride The Music. And I had heard some of this music from the films on circulating audio recordings, which had long been bootlegged over the years. But, I had never actually “seen” the full films before.
It is very important to understand that this is archival material on A Night At The Family Dog + Go Ride The Music + Westpole in terms of video quality. This is not super high resolution footage to begin with, and it is unclear as to the sources it comes from. I suspect it’s probably if at best from 16 mm film stock; remember these were programs made between 1968 and 1970 that were designed to be shown on television at that time.
That said the visuals on A Night At The Family Dog + Go Ride The Music + Westpole at times look good especially when there are close-ups. In general the look of this is very archival in nature so go into this expecting a mix of grainy footage, inconsistent colors, blurry transfer and such. I would love to see a proper high resolution transfer of these documentaries if the original film or negative elements still exist somewhere. They would probably benefit greatly from a high quality modern digital restoration of the visuals and the audio. Until then, I suspect this is about as good as we can hope for at the moment.
The monaural audio quality is actually pretty decent sounding all things considered. It is presented in 48 kHz (probably 16-bit) resolution and the mono option on the discs sounds best (there is a simulated surround version).
It’s kind of amazing to me that the soundtracks to these films have not really shown up as dedicated recordings in their own right (at least as far as I know). Until that time, this DVD set may be the best sounding versions available.
I particularly enjoyed the music on Go Ride The Music in which then new Jefferson Airplane drummer Joey Covington rocks out very hard on the band’s material. They are playing a lot of music from their then new Volunteers album and the group sounds great! In fact, I wish there was a version of that album which had the drums mixed as hot and upfront as this film version as it rocks way harder than the official studio release (which sort of buries the drums, oddly enough).
Of course, the performances are fascinating across the board on these films as you get to see early incarnations of The Grateful Dead, Santana, The Steve Miller Band and Quicksilver Messenger Service in full flight. You’ll also hear and see a band I’ve never heard of before: Ace Of Cups, a local group that never quite got their chance in the limelight (much info on their Wiki page, click here).
Overall, this new DVD package is pretty nice and it even comes with a free fold-out insert inspired by the look and feel of an old ‘60s San Francisco psychedelic concert poster. At the end of the day A Night At The Family Dog + Go Ride The Music + Westpole a fun release and for less than $20 its a great trip worth taking.
If you’ve never seen these films before and love all the bands in them, this set is no-brainer to pick up. You can find it at Amazon by clicking the title in any part of this review.