I know there’s plenty of Grateful Dead fans out there, and with any luck there will be plenty for a long time, even though they’re not really around anymore.
One of the best ways to initiate a new fan is to make them a tape (or CD) of Dead songs. Ah, but what to choose? Can’t go all eclectic on them, because they might be turned off. Best to ease them into the pantheon of beautiful and/or rockin’ songs and hope they get into the spirit of the whole thing.
So if you were making a tape for a potential Dead fan, what’s the first song you might put on there?
[It doesn’t have to be the definite first song on a tape or CD; if nothing else, a song you think would serve as a good initiation to the great unwashed?
Tough to pick just one, but for the sake of argument I’ll go with “Sugar Magnolia”. Good beat, can sing along to it, doesn’t have long instrumentals that others might not like…
I made a few starter discs for some friends this year to get them turned on to the Dead, and they worked. They had China > Rider, St Stephen, Uncle John’s Band, Dark Star, Truckin’, Sugar Magnolia, Morning Dew and Friend of the Devil on them. (I was really into Workingman’s and American Beauty at this point, now there’d be a little more variety…a Scarlet > Fire and a Terrapin, maybe Touch of Grey since that was commercially popular)
I think Terrapin Station would be a good choice. It doesn’t get too spacey, it has good lyrics, a great jam, so on and so forth. My parents hum along to it in the car, but they don’t like it when I put The Other One on, and generally don’t like the spacey stuff.
China > Rider, Jack Straw and St. Stephen are good as well.
China>Rider is a good choice because it plays to the bands strengths - sort of loopy lyric (China), followed by a terrific jam and segue into a very easily understood song (Rider). I’ve played the China-Rider from Europe '72 for a few folks who swore they would never listen to the band and they enjoyed it.
St. Stephen is a little more iffy, in my book. They lyric is just as loopy as China, but the song is a little too cumbersome for the payoff you get (see “A Gratefule Dead Travelling Companion” for Garcia’s take on why it (and most of the stuff from Aoxomoxoa) doesn’t hold up).
Other songs that may work: Bird Song (beautiful lyric followed by opportunity for great jam), Music Never Stopped (same, but with Weir’s weird time changes and quirky melody), Help>Slip>Frank (good ones have that seamless quality, before you know it you’re already in the middle of Franklin’s Tower).
If they’re having trouble sleeping or need to go the bathroom, throw Row Jimmy on 'em.
The thing I’ve noticed when making these tapes (sorry, I’m not up to burning CDs yet!) is that you sort of have to convince the newbie about the awesomeness of the music. I mean, let’s face it - the songs aren’t garden-variety, top-40 tunes.
So I like to pick songs that are similar to the music that most people listen to in general. Relatively short, crisp, good lyrics, but not wandering off on odd tangents.
This is why I wouldn’t put Terrapin on a first tape, or Dark Star, although they’re two of my favorites. Best to spring them on the novice on a later tape. St. Stephen’s good, but it’s a little too lyric-centered.
Now, In the Dark had plenty of top-40ish songs on it, and I’d probably put one or two of the tracks on a new tape (Touch of Grey, for example), but I’d want to try to get the novice away from that type of music and more into the eclectic stylings of the bulk of their work.
[BTW, what brought this question on was a song I found on an old student-radio show I did years ago; it was Ripple, covered by Jane’s Addiction. Great cover, I think.]
I’m not a big Deadhead, but I am a minor fan. I was turned onto the Dead after hearing “Jack Straw” on my sister’s walkman (she’s a big fan). I also enjoyed “It Must Have Been the Roses” and “Friend of the Devil” from the get-go.
Ah, great choices, I agree. And I thought of a possible way to tell whether a song would be appealing to a non-Head. Think of how the song would sound if it were covered by a popular band, albeit in the tradition of the song itself (as opposed to being completely bastardized).
Go with “Sugar Magnolia,” “Casey Jones,” “Truckin’,” “Fire on the Mountain,” “Playing in the Band”, “Friend of the Devil,” “Scarlet Begonias,” “Tennessee Jed,” their cover of “Lovelight,” and, well, “Sugaree.” My theory here is that those are the songs that get the most airplay, along with “Ashes, Ashes” and “Touch of Grey,” so they must be the most populist.
Well, except for “Turn on Your Lovelight,” which I never hear on the radio, but it’s a reallyreallyreally fun song and I just fucking love it.
I think I’d have to introduce a Newbie Head to the Dead with something up-beat, both musically and lyrically. I’d have to go with:
[li]Early FOTD (not the JGB slow one - maybe from AB).[/li][li]Me and My Uncle from Europe '72 (and no other version)[/li][li]Monkey & Engineer from Reckoning[/li][li]Casey Jones (The song that turned me on to the Dead)[/li][li]Franklin, but maybe not Help>Slip>Frank (especially from W/O a Net) The trio is a bit long for a Newbie. Maybe just the version from Blues for Allah[/li][li]Not Fade Away is a recognizable enough.[/li][li]Probably add a Begonias (it’s got a great spin groove)[/li][li]I think the only tune I’d add from In the Dark might be Throwing Stones. (see below)[/li][/ul]
Not sure if I’d put on a Deal or a Fire ot Mountain. Great tunes, not sure how they’d go over on a newbie
I’d avoid damn near everything off of Terrapin Station (not the live recorded TS from the Cap Center) and damn near everything off of Go To Heaven. As referred above, I’d probably avoid most “popular” stuff like In the Dark, but I’m a purist. I know this might work against the “Suck the Newbie in” ideal, but dammit I gotta keep it real!
Or, you could just toss them a copy of Hundred Years Hall and have them listen to it.
No mention of “Ripple” yet?
Actually, I did mention “Ripple”, although only tangentially…
Hundred Years Hall works for me, too. You surely want to capture the real feel of a live show without scaring the little whippersnapper off, and that CD should do the trick.
Me and My Uncle isn’t on Europe '72. It is on “Skullfuck” aka “Grateful Dead”
In my experience, “Friend of the Devil” “Casey Jones” and “Truckin’” are most appealing to the uninitiated.
Of course! “Box of Rain” - I completely forgot about that one!
I’d stay away from material from WMD, AB, or any of the 1980s studio releases because it didn’t really represent what the band was actually about, IMHO. All of the that material, while good, is sort of bland and middle-of-the-road. Live versions of some of this material, where the music can, as Weir put it, “stand up and grow hair,” might be representative, but the studio versions would give the wrong impression of the band.
That’s why I suggested material that is a little more challenging, but still accessible. The “song” parts are interesting in and of themselves, and then the band uses those songs to go explore more interesting musical spaces without getting too weird (in most cases - some early Bird Songs got waaayyyyy out there).
If I were putting together another tape for someone, I’d almost certainly stay away from studio renditions, except perhaps as filler material. I have tons of tapes from other collectors, and there’s a great variety of songs on them.
Of course, letting the newbie know some neat trivia bits about a song is helpful: “Birdong” is about J. Joplin; “He’s Gone” is not about Jerry, but feels like it’s apropos, “Box of Rain” is dedicated to Phil’s dad, and so on.
oops! I combined two bullet points.
Me and My Uncle (fr. Grateful Dead)
He’s Gone (from Europe '72 - and no other version)
Guess I’ll have to pass on the next “go 'round”
If you are curious about the band, I’d avise you to stay away from the more “accessible” areas of their output. While always still unique, I always felt that their much-vaunted early 70’s classics, Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty sounded too much like the rest of the country-influenced rock that was so prevalent at the time.
If you want “head” music, go for the early psychedelic stuff. I recommend Aoxomoxoa,Live Dead and Anthem Of The Sun. The content of the last two albums can also be found in a fine live release From The Vault II. Another interesting album is their first studio effort, Grateful Dead. This album has many failings, and from the get-go was thought to be a very inadequate rendition of what the band was about. According to one of the members, they could play most of the songs much better by the time the album was released, than they actually came out on the album. But regardless, I find it has a sort of psyche-pop feeling which is appealing. “An innocent good time”, as one GD historian put it.
Morning Dew. Then all the rest.
Thanks, javaman - I should point out that I’m not ‘curious about the band’ myself - been a fan for more than a decade now. I’ve made tapes for others, inducting them into the music, though…
I think a lot of the studio stuff is crap, at least in comparison with the live stuff. When I put tapes together, it was always live performances. I have the two From the Vault CDs (did they ever do a third?), as well as many of the Dick’s Picks.
I love their first studio album, though - and, as a bonus, it has a * great * album cover.
I played Here Comes Sunshine for my mother when I was in college to convince her that I wasn’t going off to see some devil worshippers. It worked. (Thank God - 3 shows at the Rosemont Horizon, Chicago '89)
There’s a good rendition of it on Dick’s One. (Tampa '73)