YMMV / The Grateful Dead


  • Awesome Music: An awful lot of it, given the band's Long Runner status. American Beauty is usually cited as the band’s best, with Workingman’s Dead and Anthem of the Sun being close behind. As for the band’s live output, fan opinions are divided (as would be expected with a band that toured as long and was as thoroughly documented as the Dead; the band played some 2,350 shows), but frequently cited contenders for Best Show Ever include:
    • Live/Dead isn’t actually compiled from a single show, but it was the first live Grateful Dead recording a lot of people heard, and many fans still have a soft spot for it. While not definitive, it remains a strong document of the Dead in concert that showcases a lot of their strengths, and it’s fairly accessible to newcomers (though probably not as much so as the Cornell ’77 gig). Most of the shows from which the album was compiled (the exceptions being “The Eleven” and “Turn On Your Love Light”) were later released in their entirety in the Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings box.
    • February 13 & 14, 1970 at Fillmore East, New York, NY (parts of these concerts have been officially released, first on Bear’s Choice and then on the more comprehensive Dick’s Picks Vol. 4, though neither show has yet been released in its entirety; the 13th is usually cited as the superior show due to the half-hour-each versions of “Dark Star” -> “That’s It for the Other One” -> “Turn on Your Love Light”)
    • May 2, 1970 at Harpur College, SUNY, Binghamton, NY (almost the entire performance was released as Dick's Picks Vol. 8, but both electric sets are unfortunately in mono; often cited as highlights are the show’s nearly forty-minute “St. Stephen” -> “That’s It for the Other One” -> “Cosmic Charlie” jam, fifteen-minute “Dancing in the Streets”, twelve-minute “Morning Dew” and seventeen-minute “Viola Lee Blues”. Note that Dick’s Picks divides “That’s It for the Other One” up into four tracks for some reason)
    • April-May 1972, European tour (The entire tour is widely considered to be a high watermark for the band, and selections from several shows were compiled into their best-selling triple album Europe ’72. All 22 dates on the tour were released in 2011.)
    • August 27, 1972 at Old Renaissance Faire Grounds, Veneta, OR (can be found in full on Sunshine Daydream. Fans who don’t consider the Cornell or Fillmore shows listed here to be the band’s single best show usually pick this one. Particularly notable for its half-hour-long “Dark Star”, which then segues into “El Paso” and “Sing Me Back Home”, and superior renditions of “Casey Jones” and “China Cat Sunflower” -> “I Know You Rider”)
    • May 8, 1977 at Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY (A highly popular pick among fans for the single best show the band ever played, and as such it’s probably the one concert that casual fans know by date alone. Despite its reputation - the soundboard tape was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2012 - it wasn’t made officially available on compact disc until the 2017 Cornell 5/8/77 three-CD/five-LP set and Get Shown the Light eleven-CD box. Compounding this show’s reputation is the fact that it was the first A+-quality soundboard bootleg many fans heard, but it’s still a great performance from one of the band’s best years and contains what are widely considered to be the definitive versions of both the band’s famous “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain” coupling and their cover of “Morning Dew”.)
    • May 9, 1977 at Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Buffalo, NY (The concert held the very next night after Cornell. It’s popular with Deadheads who believe that the Dead were on a roll in spring 1977 and that every concert they played on that tour is worth your time, or those who think that the Cornell show is good but overrated, or those that enjoy it for its strong performances of “Sugar Magnolia” and the “Help Is on the Way”->“Slipknot!”->“Franklin’s Tower” medley. This also wasn’t officially available until recently - it was released as part of the eleven-disc May 1977: Get Shown the Light box set, along with May 5, May 7, and May 8. All four shows are held in high regard by Deadheads.)
    • December 31, 1978-January 1, 1979 at Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, CA (The final concert to be held at the vaunted Winterland Ballroom, a venue that the band played often. Notable for being one of the longest shows the band ever played, clocking in at over four hours, during which they played several fan favorites. The show was professionally filmed, and the footage was released in full on The Closing of Winterland DVD in 2003.)
    • March 29, 1990 at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale NY. (The Spring 1990 tour is held in high regard by Bob Weir, and also by fans who enjoy late period Dead - and in particular, their virtuoso penultimate keyboardist Brent Mydland, who would die that summer. This show featured jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis joining on the second set. Only available in the Spring 1990 box set.)
  • Archive Panic: In addition to a strong 13 studio releases, the band has hundreds of live albums – and thousands of bootlegs. They are the most thoroughly documented rock band in history.
  • Base Breaker:
    • The band’s discofied single version of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Dancin’ in the Streets”. Live performances of the song from the same era are still well loved, probably because the jamming that Deadheads love is still present then.
    • Donna Jean Godchaux’s live vocals can be this as well. Her performances on their studio records from the time period are generally pretty well loved, but some listeners feel she was off-key in some of the live shows.
  • Covered Up: A lot of listeners probably know songs like “Not Fade Away”, “Mama Tried”, “Morning Dew”, and “Turn On Your Love Light” better from the Grateful Dead’s live cover versions than they know them from the original artists (in these four cases, Buddy Holly, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Dobson, and Bobby Bland, respectively). “Morning Dew”, in a rare case of a song being Covered Up by two separate artists, was also performed by Jeff Beck on Truth (with Rod Stewart on vocals!), though it probably doesn’t help the fame of Dobson’s version that she didn’t record a studio version until 1969, by which point Beck and the Dead had both already recorded theirs. Also notable is “Me and My Uncle”, written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas and actually the song the Dead performed most often in their concerts, with 616 known performances. Phillips didn’t even remember writing it, as he had been incredibly inebriated at the time; the first commercial recording of the song was by Judy Collins, who had recorded Phillips making it up on the spot and then recorded her own performance. The Dead apparently learned it from Curly Jim Cook. Phillips would later joke that every time a royalty check for the song came in, he would regain a little of his memory of writing it.
  • Ear Worm: As innovative as their music was, it wouldn’t have had the lasting impact it had if so much of it hadn’t been so catchy. The big hits like “Touch of Grey”, “Truckin’”, “Casey Jones”, “Sugar Magnolia”, and “Friend of the Devil” are obvious contenders here, but even the extended jam pieces like “Scarlet Begonias” -> “Fire on the Mountain”, “Dark Star”, “That’s It for the Other One”, “Turn On Your Love Light”, “Not Fade Away”, and others have plenty of catchy moments.
  • Epic Riff: Again, a veritable goldmine of them; indeed, their epic riffs are often the main reasons their songs are ear worms. Not just on guitar, either - bassist Phil Lesh certainly could contribute his share as well (the bass line on “Truckin’” is probably just as much an Epic Riff as the guitar is).
  • Face of the Band: Jerry Garcia, no matter how much he insisted that he wasn’t. In fact, after Garcia died, the remaining bandmates toured a few times as The Other Ones before changing their name to The Dead.
    • The band’s first “face” was founding keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who not only acted the group’s spokesman, but was responsible for their early musical direction and sang lead on their most accessible early songs. By 1969, the band’s movement away from the blues and R&B sounds that McKernan preferred towards country and folk resulted in Garcia and Bob Weir jointly overtaking him as the band’s leaders (his growing drinking problem didn't help things either).
    • Garcia began to eclipse Weir as the band's sole face around 1972, but according to the documentary The Other One, Weir believes that what really cemented it was the popularity of “Touch of Grey”. Not only did Garcia sing lead on the song, but he was also a natural on camera, was the group’s most visually distinct member and he gave the best interviews of any of the band members.
    • Weir has been the face of the surviving band members since Garcia died, as he is the band’s best-known surviving lead singer (though Lesh also sang lead on a few songs) and he continues to have an active solo career.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks: The surprise success of “Touch of Grey” was a mixed blessing for the band and longtime Deadheads who were known for their peaceful, mellow hippie attitudes with nothing seriously bad happening at shows to…Maybe this video will explain it a little better.
  • Mainstream Obscurity and Pop-Cultural Osmosis: If you have to name a cult rock band they are perhaps the best example, due to their fanbase even having a special nickname (“Deadheads”) and many of them religiously attending their concerts. They are also most people’s idea of hippie music. Yet, when all of that is said and done: other than “Touch of Grey”, how many songs or albums can you name by this group? That’s right, the Grateful Dead are actually more famous as an iconic hippie band, stoner band and/or concert experience than for their songs or albums.
  • Most Wonderful Sound: The band's harmonies, particularly by the time of American Beauty, frequently qualify as this.
  • Newbie Boom: “Touch Heads”, the fandom name for those who became fans of the band because of the success of “Touch of Grey” in the late ’80s.
  • Nightmare Fuel: “What’s Become of the Baby” probably ruined a rather large number of LSD trips back in the day.
  • The Scrappy: Vince Welnick, the last keyboardist often saw himself as this, even after he was excluded from several of the post-Garcia reunion concerts.
  • Signature Song: Almost certainly “Truckin’”, although “Box of Rain”, “Casey Jones”, and “Touch of Grey” also have strong claims. If we consider their live output separately from their studio work, “Dark Star” is probably the signature song of their live repertoire.
  • Sweet Dreams Fuel: Some of the band’s folk material probably qualifies – “Attics of My Life”, for example.
  • Tear Jerker: Have their own page.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: At times, their music could get this way. “What’s Become of the Baby” and some live versions of “Feedback” (which is mostly Exactly What It Says on the Tin) are good examples.

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