Aoxomoxoa is a 1969 album by the Grateful Dead.[1] One of the first rock albums to be recorded using 16-track technology, fans and critics alike consider this era to be the band's experimental apex. The title is a meaningless palindrome, usually pronounced /ɒksə.məksˈə/.

A psychedelic painting featuring a skeleton holding two fossilized eggs in the center.
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 20, 1969 (1969-06-20)
RecordedSeptember 1968 – March 1969
StudioPacific Recording, San Mateo
Pacific High Recording, San Francisco
LabelWarner Bros.-Seven Arts
ProducerGrateful Dead
Grateful Dead chronology
Anthem of the Sun

Rolling Stone, upon reviewing the album, mentioned that "no other music sustains a lifestyle so delicate and loving and lifelike".[2] The album was certified gold by the RIAA on May 13, 1997.[3] In 1991 Rolling Stone selected Aoxomoxoa as having the eighth best album cover of all time.[4] It was voted number 674 in the third edition of Colin Larkin's All Time Top 1000 Albums (2000).[5]

Background and developmentEdit

The album was a series of firsts for the band. It is the first album the band recorded entirely in or near their original hometown of San Francisco (at Pacific Recording Studio in nearby San Mateo, and at the similarly named Pacific High Recording Studio in San Francisco proper). It is the only studio release to include pianist Tom Constanten as an official member (he had contributed to the previous album and played live with the band from November 1968 to January 1970). It was also the first to have lyricist Robert Hunter as a full-time contributor to the band, thus cementing the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songwriting partnership that endured for the rest of the band's existence. It was also the first time the band would showcase acoustic arrangements (as on "Mountains of the Moon", "Rosemary", and "Dupree's Diamond Blues"), which would become the focus of the next two studio albums.

Some of the songs on Aoxomoxoa were played live briefly and then dropped. Only "China Cat Sunflower" became a set staple through the band's career, with "Dupree's Diamond Blues" somewhat less so. "St. Stephen" was played until 1971, revived in 1976 and 1977 and played a handful of times after that. Likewise, "Cosmic Charlie" was played a few times again in 1976.


The album was recorded twice.[6] The initial version, with the working title "Earthquake Country" (a Bay Area reference), was abandoned when Ampex manufactured and released the first 16-track multitrack recording machine (model number MM-1000). Offering 16 discrete tracks for recording and playback, it doubled the number of tracks that had been available when they recorded Anthem of the Sun, the previous year. Consequently, the band spent eight months in the studio, off-and-on, not only recording the album but getting used to — and experimenting with — the new technology. Garcia commented, "it was our first adventure with sixteen-track and we tended to put too much on everything...A lot of the music was just lost in the mix, a lot of what was really there".[7] Drummer Bill Kreutzmann states, "sixteen-track technology came along only after we did our initial recording using an eight-track at the end of 1968. But when the studio procured one of the first sixteen-track recorders in the world (the same one we used for Live/Dead), the decision was made to toss everything we had already done and record it all again. From scratch. This time we could go deeper and experiment with things no other band had done yet. Being able to utilize twice as many tracks essentially doubled the possibilities of what we could do with each song. The end result was dense and cumbersome in places, and all that studio time cost us a fortune, but we were experimenting on the sonic frontier, exploiting cutting-edge technology."[8]

Indeed, the lengthy sessions for the album would put the band deeper into debt with Warner Bros. Records — specifically, a total cost of $180,000 (US$1,254,936 in 2019 dollars[9]) for Aoxomoxoa. It was their most ambitious and costly venture to date and the last time the band would ever run up such high studio bills.[2] Kreutzmann later commented, "Sometime in 1969, when we realized the colossal debt we got ourselves into with the decidedly indulgent making of Aoxomoxoa, we realized that we needed to get a handle on our finances. We were a group of altruistic troubadours, a traveling psychedelic circus."[10]

Along with help from guest musicians such as John "Marmaduke" Dawson and David Nelson, Lesh played acoustic bass for the first time. He later commented, "the fun part of that was trying to play in tune with no frets to guide my fingers, just like a violin."[11] Unlike the band's other studio albums, Garcia sang lead on every track.

Title and cover artEdit

The title of the album is a palindrome created by cover artist Rick Griffin and lyricist Robert Hunter. According to Living with the Dead, the audio memoir of band manager Rock Scully, the title is pronounced "ox-oh-mox-oh-ah"[12]

One fan legend considers the words "Grateful Dead" on the front of the album, written in large, flowing capital letters, to be an ambigram that can also be read "we ate the acid".[13] Kreutzmann states, "Aoxomoxoa...doesn’t mean anything — it’s just a cool palindrome. People have surmised over the years that you could read the Grateful Dead lettering on the front cover as We Ate the Acid which, I suppose, is true enough, if you look at it just right."[8]

The artwork is adapted from a painting that was originally created as a concert poster for the band. The bottom portion depicts death, rebirth and the cycle of life, with fertility symbols and Egyptian-based imagery.[14] The top depicts a sun which doubles as an egg being fertilized. Both sides feature stylized censers.

Courtney Love has claimed to be featured among those photographed on the album's back cover.[15] Love's father, Hank Harrison, had close ties to the band at the time, and had briefly worked for them in some capacity. Love's claim was corroborated by David Gans in 2011,[16] but further research has proved her incorrect; the girl often identified as Love was actually Bill Kreutzmann's daughter Stacy, who was the same age as Love at the time the photo was taken.[17][18] Kreutzmann has stated, "...despite rumors, that’s not a five-year-old Courtney Love on the back cover in the group photo. That’s my daughter, Stacy."[8] Vince Guaraldi had become friends with members of the Grateful Dead, and supposedly sat in with them on occasion. He appears on the album's back cover crowd shot taken by Tom Weir. He is the one by the horse.

Critical receptionEdit

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic     [19]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [20]
The Village VoiceA[21]

Reviewing Aoxomoxoa in 1969, Rolling Stone magazine's Adele Novelli called it "the work of the magical band. Can you hear this music and not see them before your eyes? The music is so much the reality of their physical and spiritual bodies that seeing them is the wonder of seeing music."[22] In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau found the album "fantastic", with the exception of the "one experimental" song.[21] He expanded on his praise in The New York Times later that year:

Years later, AllMusic's Fred Thomas said "the Grateful Dead reached their true peak of psychedelia" with the album, embellishing "the exploratory jamming and rough-edged blues-rock of their live shows" with "overdubbed choirs, electronic sound effects, and layers of processed vocal harmonies."[19] According to Adam Bouyamourn of The National, the album's "iconoclastic acid rock … combined free jazz, improvisation and psychedelia".[24]


Second-guessing the end results, Garcia and Lesh went back in the studio in 1971 to remix the album, removing many parts present on the original release, including a choir singing on "Mountains of the Moon", many difficult-to-identify sounds on "What's Become of the Baby", and an a cappella ending for "Doin' that Rag," dropped for an earlier fadeout. The remix also uses different vocal takes on some songs, most noticeably "Dupree's Diamond Blues." The result, with the same catalog number (WS1790) and perhaps brighter sound, but with much of the original's experimental character removed, can be identified by the "Remixed September, 1971" legend on the back cover. Mistakenly, the song timings on the first (1987) CD release refer to the original mix, not the remix (varying most significantly on "Doin' that Rag," which was edited from 5:15 to 4:41, and "China Cat Sunflower," edited from 4:15 to 3:40).

The original mix was later planned for CD release, but the original master tapes could not be located. When the masters were finally found, years later, they were used for The Warner Bros. Studio Albums vinyl box set, marking the first time the 1969 mix has been available since the 1971 remix replaced it, in 1972. The 2013 high definition remastering for download uses the remixed version – even though promotion related to this release declared "produced from the original analog master tapes in 2013, using the original album mixes".[25]

An edit of the track "Doin' that Rag" was released on the Warner/Reprise Loss Leaders compilation The 1969 Warner/Reprise Record Show.[26] Since this set stayed in print through the late 1970s, it provided a sample of the original mix for some years after the full album was only available in the remixed version.

The 2003 reissue (originally part of the 2001 box set The Golden Road) includes three studio jams (including an early version of "The Eleven") from the original aborted eight-track sessions for the album, and a live version of "Cosmic Charlie" recorded early in 1969.

On June 7, 2019 Rhino Records released the "50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" of Aoxomoxoa. Disc one contains both mixes of the album – the one from 1969 and the one from 1971. Disc two contains previously unreleased live tracks from the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, recorded on January 24–26, 1969.[27][28]

Track listingEdit

All tracks are written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, except where noted.

Side one
1."St. Stephen" (Garcia, Phil Lesh, Hunter)4:26
2."Dupree's Diamond Blues"3:32
4."Doin' That Rag"4:41
5."Mountains of the Moon"4:02
Side two
1."China Cat Sunflower"3:40
2."What's Become of the Baby"8:12
3."Cosmic Charlie"5:29
  • Sides one and two were combined as tracks 1–8 on CD reissues.
2001/2003 CD bonus tracks
9."Clementine Jam" (Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Lesh, Ron McKernan, Bob Weir)10:46
10."Nobody's Spoonful Jam" (Garcia, Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, Weir)10:04
11."The Eleven Jam" (Garcia, Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, Weir)15:00
12."Cosmic Charlie" (Live)6:47
50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition – disc two – Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, January 24–26, 1969
1."New Potato Caboose" (Lesh, Robert Petersen) 
2."Dupree's Diamond Blues" 
3."Doin' That Rag" 
4."Alligator>" (Lesh, McKernan, Weir) 
5."Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)>" (Garcia, Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, Weir) 
6."Feedback>" (Garcia, Hart, Kreutzmann, Lesh, McKernan, Weir) 
7."And We Bid You Goodnight" (Reverend Gary Davis) 
8."Clementine >" (Lesh, Hunter) 
9."Death Don't Have No Mercy" (traditional, arranged by Grateful Dead) 



Grateful Dead

Additional musicians

Technical personnel

Reissue personnel

  • James Austin – production
  • Joe Gastwirt – mastering, production consultation
  • Michael Wesley Johnson – associate production, research coordination
  • Cassidy Law – project coordination, Grateful Dead Archives
  • Eileen Law – archival research, Grateful Dead Archives
  • David Lemieux – production
  • Peter McQuaid – executive production, Grateful Dead Productions
  • Jeffrey Norman – additional mixing on bonus tracks


  1. ^ "Grateful Dead – Aoxomoxoa Images", Discogs. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip by Jake Woodward, et al. Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2003, pg. 99.
  3. ^ "RIAA Gold & Platinum database-Aoxomoxoa". Retrieved February 28, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ "Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Album Covers" Archived July 15, 2012, at, Rate Your Music, list adapted from November 14, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone. Retrieved on July 29, 2006.
  5. ^ Colin Larkin (2006). All Time Top 1000 Albums (3rd ed.). Virgin Books. p. 219. ISBN 0-7535-0493-6.
  6. ^ Kreutzmann, Bill (2015). Deal. St. Martin's Press, New York. Chapter 6. ISBN 978-1-250-03380-2.
  7. ^ Garcia: An American Life by Blair Jackson, Penguin Books, 1999. pg. 162
  8. ^ a b c Kreutzmann, Bill (2015). Deal. St. Martin's Press, New York. Chapter 7. ISBN 978-1-250-03380-2.
  9. ^ Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved January 1, 2020.
  10. ^ Kreutzmann, Bill (2015). Deal. St. Martin's Press, New York. Chapter 8. ISBN 978-1-250-03380-2.
  11. ^ Phil Lesh: Searching for the Sound by Phil Lesh, Little, Brown and Company, 2005, pg. 138.
  12. ^ Scully, Rock; Dalton, David (1996). Living with the Dead. Time Warner Audiobooks, Los Angeles, CA. ISBN 9781570423710.
  13. ^ Peters, Stephen (1999). What a Long Strange Trip: The Stories Behind Every Grateful Dead Song, 1965 – 1995. Da Capo Press. p. 35. ISBN 1-56025-233-2. A closer examination of the top half of the flamboyantly lettered 'Grateful Dead' heading reveals a line that appears to read 'We ate the acid,' a statement which isn't too hard to believe after a cursory listen to the thickly filtered vocals of 'Rosemary' or the haunting vacuum of 'What's Become of the Baby'.
  14. ^ "Grateful Dead Album Covers", Live Grateful Dead Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  15. ^ Love, Courtney. Interview with Nardwuar the Human Serviette (November 15, 1994).
  16. ^ "Fact: Courtney Love Was On The Back Cover Of The Grateful Dead Album "Aoxomoxoa"". Feel Numb. April 4, 2011. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  17. ^ "It Wasn't Courtney", Grateful Dead Guide, January 1, 2015. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  18. ^ Cross, Alan (February 1, 2015). "Sorting Out the Grateful Dead's Aoxomoxoa Photo". A Journal of Music Things. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  19. ^ a b Planer, Lindsay. "Aoxomoxoa". AllMusic. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
  20. ^ Larkin, Colin (2007). Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0857125958.
  21. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (July 10, 1969). "Consumer Guide (1)". The Village Voice. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  22. ^ Novelli, Adele (12 July 1969). "Aoxomoxoa". Rolling Stone. San Francisco: Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. (37): 36. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  23. ^ Christgau, Robert (July 27, 1969). "The Grateful Dead Are Rising Again". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  24. ^ Bouyamourn, Adam (May 30, 2016). "Album review: It's a mixed bag, but covers album breathes new life into songs by The Grateful Dead". The National. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  25. ^ Glasser, David (October 11, 2013). "How Airshow Remastered the Grateful Dead Studio Albums", Airshow Mastering. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  26. ^ " entry" at Retrieved Jan. 2016
  27. ^ Bernstein, Scott (March 28, 2019). "Grateful Dead 'Aoxomoxoa' 50th Anniversary Edition Features Previously Unreleased Live Recordings". JamBase. Retrieved June 9, 2019.
  28. ^ Berenson, Sam (March 29, 2019). "Grateful Dead Announces 'Aoxomoxoa' 50th Anniversary Reissue Featuring Previously Unreleased Live Recordings". Live for Live Music. Retrieved June 9, 2019.