Grateful Dead’s Long-Underrated 1974 LP From The Mars Hotel Is Now Occupied With Vibrant, Fuller Sounds on Its Newly Remastered 180g 1LP 50th Anniversary Edition

Grateful Dead’s June 1974 LP From The Mars Hotel often polarizes fans, with some considering it an all-time classic while others sadly overlook it, especially those newer to the Deadhead universe who came onboard the bus (if you will) around the time of their July 1987 megahit LP, In The Dark.

Originally issued at a time when the group was running its own short-lived Grateful Dead Records label, From The Mars Hotel was sandwiched between two of their more cherished and expansive albums — October 1973’s Wake of the Flood and September 1975’s still-stunning, progressive-leaning, jazz-rock, funky-fusion experimental space masterwork, Blues for Allah. Looking back, all three albums were, in fact, Top 20 hits!

An arguably simpler but still great collection of songs, From The Mars Hotel — released almost exactly 50 years ago on June 27, 1974 — warrants reconsideration as an ultimate equal in that now-classic trilogy of “indie” Grateful Dead albums. Lucky for us, this underrated album has been officially reissued by the Dead and Rhino in its newly remastered 180g 1LP form today, June 21, 2024.

From The Mars Hotel is home to many beloved, now-iconic tunes, as well as under-the-radar gems that the hippest of Deadheads consider peak-period jams. To celebrate the album’s 50th anniversary, the Grateful Dead, in association with Rhino Records and Warner Music, have deigned to reissue it on 180g vinyl in a few variant options (in addition to a separately expanded 3CD set with live recordings and demos). The LP versions include standard black vinyl, a limited-edition web-exclusive neon-yellow-green splatter-vinyl pressing, and a nifty “Zoetrope” animated picture disc. (More on all these LP variants in a moment.)

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotel.cover.jpg

From the band’s official site, we gain more insights into this reissue project: “From The Mars Hotel (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) features remastered audio by GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer David Glasser, with Plangent Processes tape restoration and speed correction [and] produced for release by Grateful Dead Legacy Manager and Audio Archivist, David Lemieux. . . . Recorded in San Francisco’s Coast Recorders studio, From The Mars Hotel finds Keith Godchaux particularly shining across a variety of keys, from the “China Doll” harpsichord to the pounding piano on Bob Weir’s “Money Money,” to the churchy organ that elevates “Ship of Fools.” . . . Jerry Garcia’s jaunty lead guitar drives bouncing melodies across the LP, while guests include Ned Lagin’s unnerving synth effects on “Unbroken Chain,” Clover member John McFee’s country-rock pedal steel on “Pride of Cucamonga,” and more.”

The SRP for both the new 1LP black vinyl and web-exclusive green-swirl edition is a very reasonable $24.99, respectively. For those of you perhaps on the fence, here’s some additional perspective via a quick comparison on Discogs, which shows there are only a few original copies listed as NM with prices skewing upwards of $80. Indeed, I’ve seen stock copies selling in local stores for $50 or more. Meanwhile, the 1984 Mobile Fidelity edition goes for about $80 to $150. So, for a fraction of that expense, getting a clean and generally great-sounding brand-new reissue holds strong appeal.

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotel.greenvinyl.jpg

The deluxe web-exclusive LP of From The Mars Hotel — the version both I and AP editor Mike Mettler received for this review, as seen above — came housed in an audiophile-grade, plastic-lined black-paper inner sleeve. This version even includes a bonus set of nifty stickers that feature cartoon-ized Grateful Dead bandmembers, as seen on the album’s back cover. (Fun!)

Unfortunately, as of this posting, that green-swirl version is sold out — but if you’re into picture discs, you can get the aforementioned Zoetrope version (seen below) for an SRP of $27.98 directly from Dead.net. The black vinyl edition is available for the above-noted $24.99 SRP via Music Direct, right here.

 062124.aprev.GratefulDead.MarsHotel.ZoetropeVinyl.jpg

As with the prior releases in the Grateful Dead’s current reissue series, we had to resort to some firsthand sleuthing to connect the dots regarding who cut the physical lacquers used for making these new vinyl pressings. And, in keeping with how we tracked previous, recent Dead LP reissue sources, our AP-style record-collector geekery again has determined the new lacquers for these reissues were cut by Chris Bellman of Bernie Grundman Mastering, Los Angeles. Bellman’s iconic connected “CB” etching — which we found in the deadwax/run-out groove of the 2020 Vinyl Me Please edition of July 1977’s Terrapin Station as well as that LP’s own recent remaster — matches up to similar markings found in the new 2024 Rhino edition of From The Mars Hotel (which you can see in the photo we’ve included below).

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHoteGBellmanDeadwaxEtch.jpg

From The Mars Hotel was recorded at the now defunct Coast Recorders, which, at that time, apparently had been restored by CBS. From the interwebs, I learned that Dead guitarist/vocalist Jerry Garcia took a shine to the space when he had recorded some overdubs for Art Garfunkel’s debut solo album on Columbia, September 1973’s Angel Claire. (Brief sidenote: Yeah, I didn’t know that Jerry was on that album either! From what I’ve gleaned, Garcia reportedly wasn’t too happy with the final result. Indeed, it is hard to detect his contribution amidst the mushy layers of evident overdubbing — but I digress.)

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotelstickerset.jpg

One of the significant details about this new reissue of From The Mars Hotel is the recording has been restored using the Plangent Processes tape-speed restoration technology. I have explored this technology in prior reviews, and you can find some of that dissertation here. Plangent’s work has been embraced by many other artists to great effect, including the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Who, and David Crosby.

Of course, some analog purists may continue to balk at this because it technically adds a “dreaded” digital stage to the remastering process. However, from our perspective, and having listened to many releases Plangent technology has restored — from Springsteen’s Born to Run, The Who’s Who’s Next (which I reviewed here), and Erroll Garner’s Concert by the Sea — it doesn’t impact the actual audio in any negative sort of way, and it in fact improves the listener’s ability to hear the actual performances the artists recorded. (If anyone wants to continue this debate, feel free to chime in via the Comments section that follows this review.)

As with most of the Plangent Processes restorations I have heard to date, the results speak for themselves, and From The Mars Hotel is no exception, offering at times startling and surprising insights. This new LP generally sounds wonderful with much interesting — even exciting — fresh detailing newly apparent. Remember, this is not a remix, but a remaster and restoration. Overall, the music sounds tighter and more stable in a way that was never quite fully apparent until you hear this new edition. We are also no doubt getting to hear more of the music as it was recorded, which was inevitably compressed for mid-’70s average record players back in the day.

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotelCustomLabel2.jpg

The backing vocals on bassist Phil Lesh’s jaunty country-spunky “Pride of Cucamonga” (Side 2, Track 2) are much more distinct, and the drums are especially super-steady while navigating the stop-start time changes there. When the band kicks into those jamming blues moments — as Lesh sings, “and I’ve done some time” — this new edition delivers quite the rock punch that was always there, but never quite fully realized.

I am noticing really sweet guitar amplifier presence at the start of guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir’s “ Money Money” (Side 2, Track 3), and little percussive details — shakers, tambourines — that were previously mostly buried, and are now much more apparent. Take note of the natural decay on those now super-natural sounding ride cymbal crashes.

Meanwhile, the acoustic guitars on “Ship of Fools” (Side 2, Track 4) are lovely and more detailed, as is the reverb on the snare drum hits. Also, Donna Jean Godchaux’s harmony vocals there are gorgeous.

I found the nylon-string classical and steel-string acoustic guitars on “China Doll” (Side 1, Track 2) quite stunning. Rich and round, they now more fully balance the sparkle of Keith Godchaux’s harpsichord work. Lesh’s acoustic bass is more apparent there too — as in, those fret-free fills appear more audibly now.

“Unbroken Chain” (Side 1, Track 3) feels more widescreen and cinematic, with Lesh’s bridge vocals sounding almost as if you are in the studio with him. Listen closely as he steps back from the microphone for that beautiful moment of vocalese. Those layered acoustic and electric guitars introducing the song are gorgeous, while guest performer Ned Lagin’s periodic synthesizer space effects now pop out of the stereo mix in an almost 3D manner. Listen closely for that little acoustic guitar harmonic plink at the very end of the song— a detail I’d never really noticed before and is now very much present. Thanks to the combination of David Glasser’s sympathetic remastering and Plangent Processes’ restoration, we can more readily hear all this nuance that was previously buried.

 062124.aprev.GratefulDead.MarsHotel.origphoto.jpg

Before I get to the Sound rating section, I do have to share some neat, related back stories I discovered along the way while researching this review. The cover art of From The Mars Hotel holds its own iconic status on numerous levels, details of which are fascinating to explore. Back in the day in San Francisco, there really was a Mars Hotel, and this image of the building used in the cover art was chosen as it was a place where legendary beat-era writer Jack Kerouac stayed for a while.

The Mars Hotel was something of a noted flophouse in an area that’s now the site of the major Moscone Convention Center complex for San Francisco. At the time, it was a dumpy, rundown part of town. Incredibly enough, in 1972, David Bowie did some shooting there for a promotional film supporting his then-new track, “The Jean Genie.” There’s even a fantastic moment in the video clip, showing him posing outside the hotel with the Mars Hotel marquee in clear view, as seen via our screengrab below.

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotellBowiepic.jpg

On another note — adding to the mystique and mystery of the Mars Hotel album, most Deadheads know it features upside-down and backwards lettering that reads "ugly rumors,” a phrase that, for years, circulated among fans with its own special meanings. You can look it up on the interwebs for yourself to find out more about that phrase’s origins, as intended by the band.

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotelCustomLabel.jpg

Back to discussing the sonics. From The Mars Hotel was always something of a bright-leaning recording, but now it sounds fuller and rounder. And even when you turn it up loud, the music holds together. My original 1974 pressing, when pushed volume-wise, could actually sound a little bit brittle at times. Again, the original pressings were never the greatest.

For those of you potentially seeking out an original pressing for your collection, it is important to understand some details about From The Mars Hotel from back in the day. Pirated editions aside, original pressings of this album were often fairly noisy back in the day. The Grateful Dead didn’t quite have their game fully together in terms of monitoring the QC when it came to pressing the vinyl. I’ve never been 100 percent satisfied with the numerous original pressings I’ve owned over the years, thus, obtaining a fresh, new copy was an especially welcome prospect this time around.

More about the splattered, neon yellow-green color vinyl now, which sports really nice custom picture labels of the band from the back cover on each side. Admittedly, this LP does look great! And while the sound of the original recording is good — and, as noted, the restoration from Plangent Processes brings out new levels of detail and more natural sound closer to how the actual original sessions sounded — unfortunately, this particular vinyl pressing does have a fair amount of surface noise, which is a shame.

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotel.blackvinyl.jpg

Because of that, we have to ding the Sound rating down a notch to an 8. This issue is only really noticeable when you turn up the volume, and it is mostly noticeable between tracks and on quiet songs like “China Doll.” Keep in mind this surface-noise issue pertains to the special color vinyl edition only, as AP editor Mettler was able to confirm the black-vinyl version does indeed have a quieter noise floor, in turn warranting it an 8.5 for Sound. As for the Music, we both give From The Mars Hotel a 9.

If, like me, you have an older, original pressing you’ve never been totally satisfied with, this new edition of From The Mars Hotel goes a long way to improving that viewpoint. If you have the 1984 Mobile Fidelity edition, I suspect that version will sound pretty sweet for the most part — especially since the master tapes were just 10 years old when that LP was made, and thus still pretty fresh. Of course, if you are curious to hear the impact of restoration via Plangent Processes technology and highly sympathetic 21st century remastering, then, by all means, the new Dead/Rhino From The Mars Hotel LP is worth picking up to compare and contrast — or simply enjoy in full, all on its own.

Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for AudiophileReview.com, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.

Music Direct Buy It Now

 062124.aprev,GratefulDead.MarsHotel.cover.jpg

GRATEFUL DEAD
FROM THE MARS HOTEL

180g 1LP (Grateful Dead Records/Rhino)

Side 1
1. U.S. Blues
2. China Doll
3. Unbroken Chain
4. Loose Lucy

Side 2
1. Scarlet Begonias
2. Pride Of Cucamonga
3. Money Money
4. Ship Of Fools

 062124.aprev.GratefulDead.Mars Hotel OG backcov.jpg

COMMENTS
eugeneharrington's picture

I have the 1984 Mobile Fidelity reissue version of 'From The Mars Hotel' so I think I will skip this reissue, which I am sure has its merits. Colour or Splatter vinyl isn't my thing, but I am sure the black vinyl will be appreciated by those who do not own a nice copy of this recording.

ivansbacon's picture

But, "Once in while ---"

Color me an analog purist.
I want nothing to do with Plangent Processes tape restoration for analog studio recordings. I understand how it is beneficial for live show tapes with issues but even then i would rather have the analog, warts and all.

Do not color me a colored vinyl fan.
I remember that "The sky was yellow and the sun was blue"
and that has colored my thinking.

Tom L's picture

but I have fond memories of listening to it over and over when it was new. Nice to see that they're taking so much care with these reissues. Well, except for the silly colored vinyl.

Glotz's picture

and at this very reasonable price vs. the other out of print editions.

Plus, these 50 year anni releases have proven to be as good or better than previous releases, notwithstanding this particular Mofi comparison of Mars.

Workingmans, Wake and American 50th's all seem to be really great editions!

je32122's picture

Unlike the standard Wordle, where each guess is crucial within a limited number of attempts, Wordle Illimitato allows players to freely experiment with different word combinations and strategies without the pressure of running out of guesses https://mywordle.net/wordle-italiano-illimitato-3-lettere/. This freedom encourages players to delve deeper into word patterns, analyze feedback more extensively, and refine their guessing techniques over time.

X