50 Years Dead
Looking back on the creation of this compilation and how my preferences crystallized, I've also come to understand my dislike for certain material. It's a funny thing talking to other Deadheads about their favorite shows, top tunes, moments, etc. Opinions vary so widely. If the music intersects with our personality, life history, and taste at the right moment, a new favorite may be born. That may partly explain why all these tracks made my compilation but may not be on others' best of lists.
If that initial exposure to the music is negative though, it can also have a lasting effect. Like a lot of other Heads sorting their way through the Dead's catalog, I fumbled through officially released material and whatever tapes I could get my hands on. It being around 1990, there was surprisingly little in the way of live albums. Live/Dead, Skullfuck, Bear's Choice, Reckoning, and Dead Set. Europe 72 and Anthem, kinda. At this point, I had exhausted all my options, but I had to have more. I had seen it before, sitting on the shelf, but something about it just gave me a bad feeling. Eventually I caved to my addiction, and coughed up the $15 for Steal Your Face. Should've trusted my instinct.
What a weirdo album. A bunch of country and Chuck Berry covers by Bobby. Some slow Jerry tunes. All muddled in an audio sludge. Hard to believe they were recorded at such legendary shows, Winterland '74. This is what they chose? Really dreadful stuff. I still haven't been able to shake the initial impression some of those tunes gave me. Of the 14 songs on that album, only 7 versions of those tunes made it onto this compilation. I was likely already familiar with Casey Jones and U.S. Blues. Around and Around and Big River are undeniably catchy. Black Throated Wind is vintage Weir, but a bit beyond my years at the time. There are more than enough big versions of Sugaree and Stella Blue out there to melt an icy heart. But Cold Rain and Snow still leaves me kind of cold and wet. I've previously written of my mixed emotions regarding MS 1/2 Step. Promised Land, Beat it on Down the Line, El Paso? No thanks. I'm starting to warm up to Ship of Fools. That song has got potential. Must've Been the Roses will always be a nice tune.
But for other people, maybe they were lucky enough to hear this batch of songs for the first time from another source. Maybe they caught Cornell '77 or Veneta '72 prior to SYF, and El Paso is elevated to cherished status by the strength of those shows. Or maybe their dad was a big Marty Robbins fan. Or maybe they were just at the right place and time in their lives to break through the sludge and appreciate the genius lying beneath the surface of this album. A summer break in college. The only tapes in your car, along with Tommy and Joshua Tree. A never-ending bag of shake, seeds, and stems. A job that didn't require you do much more than show up. Things could've turned out differently. This could've been an entirely different compilation. Or maybe I would be extolling the virtues of U2. I don't think so. There ain't enough grass in Mendocino County, broseph.
So enjoy this round of tunes and moments that hit me at the right place and time in my life. If these aren't your favorites, give it a few years, see what happens. Or maybe the stars will align for you now. As always, give it a spin prior to reading below to enjoy the surprises as they come. Previous volumes are in previous blog posts. You know where to find em. See you back here next month for more of the same.
Disc 8: Soy Capitán
THIS is kind of the "80's" disc, although much of it is probably from the late 80's or early 90's, but whatever. As I've said, not my favorite era of the Dead, but it has some nice moments, particularly the incorporation of interesting sounds into the music. This disc is also very Bob Weir and The Other One heavy. It features several Weir songs that benefited from the sound and playing of the era. I decided to use The Other One as the thread that holds it all together. I think it turned out quite nicely as a cohesive whole.
1. Introduction – 4/23/69. From a fairly enthusiastic new convert.
2. We Want Phil – 6/10/90. Loved to hear those old tapes when the crowd would break out into a "we want Phil" chant, so I had to include one here. This version includes some nice banter from Phil, as well as Jerry.
3. Box of Rain – Fallout from the Philzone. What can I say about this tune? It's a beautiful song, priceless melody, brilliant lyrics. Phil wrote the song while his father was dying in the hospital, coming up with the music as he drove back and forth to see him. Quite a departure from his more avant-garde leanings, the music has a very emotional quality. Hunter's lyrics were a perfect match, essentially describing what Phil was going through. I don't think lyrics can get much deeper than this, tapping into existential truths of the human condition. Thoughts and feelings we all share, with images familiar yet ambiguous enough for each of us to transpose ourselves into the song. Really genius at work here. Hunter has said that he came to realize he didn't need psychedelics to tap into his unconscious. As with many artists, the veil between his conscious mind and the nether regions was thin and more readily accessible than it is to other people. You can really tell by listening to this song. It's also my wife Julie's favorite song, and she has requested that I play it at her funeral. I guess she likes to plan ahead. An excellent choice.
4. Shall We Go Jam – Jamming at the Edge. Just a short little snippet of the Dead teasing Dark Star. This is with Hornsby, and he seemed to bring the playfulness back out in later years, nudging Garcia to have a bit more fun.
5. Shakedown Street – Dead Set bonus track. A dose of Grateful Dead disco funk, bringing some pop influences of the era into their music, and turning it into something absurd. Love all the different effects they used in this song, kind of a defining song for the late 70's and early 80's. Some versions tend to drag on and go nowhere, which is cool. But this version clocks in at about 10 minutes and is straight to the point, no messing around.
6. Mermelada – Jamming at the Edge. Also known as Spanish Jam, previously seen on disc 4. Musically they are similar, but sonically quite different due to the different midi and synth effects used. This version is like a psychedelic haze, the spaceship getting ready to land. Very cool indeed.
7. Estimated Prophet – So Many Roads. A classic Bob Weir tune from the second half of the Dead's career. Like Shakedown, it does a great job of incorporating the advances in sounds that the Dead were on top of, and allows Bobby to get loose with his vocals and do some howling. Classic murky, yet bouncing, reggae guitar line from Garcia too.
8. Jam out of Foolish Heart – So Many Roads. Again we see the effect that Hornsby had on the band, and Garcia in particular. Following Foolish Heart, and preceding drums, Garcia stuck around to jam with Hornsby, with some support from Vince Welnick too. The jam dances around The Other One melody, exploring it inside and out, without ever really touching on it. You can really hear them feeding off each other, pushing back and forth, further and further. Some cool interstellar Floyd type space explored towards the end.
9. Spanish Lady Jam – Jamming at the Edge. Another Other One jam. It was one of, if not, the most played songs in Dead history, for good reason. There were just so many directions the song could go, fast, slow, weird, into other songs, or who knows. Again, nice use of the effects in this version.
10. Throwing Stones – 3/15/90. A classic late era Bob song, kind of a grownup hippies' call to arms. A very well composed to song, with various sections. Bob tells the story, the song builds, Jerry takes off on a soaring riff and solo, ala St. Stephen and Samson, and then a nice vocal breakdown. After the chaos that typically preceded this song towards the end of a second set, where you might have gotten a bit lost in your head, this song did a good job of pulling you in, helping you focus, sing along, and get down.
11. Faded Jam – Jamming at the Edge. This is kind of a hybrid Other One/Not Fade Away jam. I think it does a great job of showing how the Dead could really get out there and be playful with the up-tempo rockin' stuff too.
12. West L.A. Fadeaway – Jerry Ballads. Musically and lyrically a darker version of Althea. Always a treat to hear, it allowed Jerry to dig deep and get nasty. Is the song about a mobster, or is it about Jerry searching for a fix. It was commonly believed that this song was about John Belushi, and his fatal overdose at Chateau Marmont in L.A. And it could be about that too, but it isn't quite about any of these things really. But there does seem to be something in the meaning of it, whatever that is, that we can all relate too. Makes me wanna smoke cigarettes. Some decadence on the dark side of town. Hornsby appears on this version too. This verse appeared in the first live version in 1982, but subsequently vanished:
Here's what Ginger says, she talks like she ain't nobody's fool
Here's what Ginger says, she tries to live by the golden rule
She says you treat people all right,
other people will probably treat you cool
13. Neal @ The Wheel Jam – Jamming at the Edge. A very extended jam on the Other One, this version breaking it down, and breaking out the flute synths along with other sonics. What other rock band lead guitarist played flute synth? This rendition reveals what Jerry might have described as the patterns existing in chaos.
14. Good Lovin'>
15. La Bamba>
16. Good Lovin' – 9/18/87. A Good Lovin' with La Babma seamlessly sandwiched in the middle. I believe this would've been around the time the Richie Valens movie, starring Lou Diamond Phillips, came out. Los Lobos supplied much of the music to that movie, including covering the title song. Jerry was a fan, and became friends with the band, performing with them live following one of his two comas. Jerry also exploring his Spanish roots here, and you can tell he's having a helluva time. Bob turns up the heat in Good Lovin' nicely too. Just some of that classic Grateful Dead playfulness.