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YMMV / The Grateful Dead

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  • Awesome Music: Have their own page.
  • 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.
  • Audience-Alienating Premise: They are up there with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground as defining unconventional music of the 1960s. Jerry partially lampshaded this with the "liquorice" quote.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Donna Jean Godchaux’s live vocals can be this. 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 (her wails on "Playin' in the Band" are a frequently cited reason). Others defend her by pointing out that the rest of the band members weren't terribly good singers themselves and by claiming that she can sing very well most of the time, but the fans often judge her worst moments as being indicative of her singing as a whole.
    • Paul Buckmaster’s (Elton John, amongst others) string arrangements on Terrapin Station. They’re sometimes considered to clash with the songs themselves, and the band members themselves didn’t like them; Garcia in particular complained that the rhythms of his arrangements for the title suite clashed with the song’s rhythm: Buckmaster and producer Keith Olsen "changed it from a dotted shuffle to a marching 4/4 time". The song was never performed in its exact studio configuration live, though the first three movements (with an extended instrumental coda) stayed in rotation until the band’s dissolution. “Terrapin Transit”, “At a Siding” (with no lyrics), and "Terrapin Flyer" were performed once (on March 18, 1977 at Winterland, San Francisco); the final segment, "Refrain", was apparently never performed live.
  • Broken Base: As could be expected given the band’s massive discography, there are disagreements about almost every aspect of their output. They rarely get as heated as a lot of other Internet arguments, but almost every release in their canon has its defenders and its detractors, and you’ll also find disagreements about which band members were best in which positions in the band, when they were at their best, and even which songs were best in which performances.
    • The most obvious split is "who was the best keyboardist," with the most common contenders being Pigpen, Keith, and Brent. Pigpen fans praise his personality and charisma, and enjoy the blues touch he brought to the Dead's early sound. Keith fans enjoy his creative playing style (especially pre-hiatus), and credit him with pushing the Dead's jams to interesting new territories and helping the Dead recover from Pigpen's decline. Brent fans hail him has a point of consistent creativity who crafted his own unique sound with the band through his heavy use of the Hammond organ, and also enjoy his songwriting and singing touches in the discography. Sometimes Bruce Hornsby is added to the list for balancing his already-established solo style with the greater Dead sound. TC and Vince Welnick aren't mentioned as often, but even they have their fans.
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    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Dork Age:
    • Fans generally don’t speak too highly of 1978’s disco-influenced Shakedown Street, which is a borderline case of Fanon Discontinuity. The previous year’s Terrapin Station, which also had some disco influence, is more warmly regarded, though still considered a flawed effort. Most songs from both albums are much more highly regarded in live performances, and indeed, 1977 in particular is regarded as one of the band’s golden ages in live performance, with several candidates for Best Show Ever appearing that year. This may be at least partially because Terrapin Station producer Keith Olsen insisted that they rehearse its material repeatedly until they could play it flawlessly; while they understandably chafed at this, since they had a reputation for never performing songs the same way twice, it probably also resulted in their live performances from the era being tighter than usual. 1980’s Go to Heaven is also sometimes considered part of the band’s studio Dork Age.
    • Dylan & the Dead is rarely spoken of by fans of either artist; sometimes it’s even considered the worst release by either of them. Oddly, they’re considered to have had much better performances together than the versions that appear on the album, so it’s not clear why those particular recordings were selected. However, even it still has its defenders.
    • Despite being in a few fan favorite shows, Keith Godchaux's playing is generally agreed to have declined in quality in the late seventies, so much so that even the band's official website admits as such. By then most of the band, Keith included, had developed nasty drug habits and struggled with juggling the band and their families. In Keith's case, it actively hampered his playing; before the hiatus he played a unique piano style that took influence from dixieland, bebop, and classical music, but by the late 70's, he had slowly but surely shifted to a more conventional "comp the chords" style, occasionally copying Garcia's licks. And on top of that, he and Donna would argue viciously behind the scenes with both each other and the other bandmates. Because of all this, the Godchauxs would leave in February 1979.
    • Fans usually consider the 1990s to be the worst part of their career. The band, and Garcia in particular, were demoralized and heartbroken by Brent Mydland's death in 1990. Garcia let his health go shortly thereafter, and his guitar playing and on-stage composure suffered. Although the band mostly sounds fine through 1992 (and especially whenever Bruce Hornsby was behind the keyboards), many of the concerts from their last two years (1993-95) usually have pretty bad reputations with Deadheads. By comparison, Phish, the Dead's heirs apparent on the jam scene, were going through something of a golden age in concert in that same two year stretch. The difference in quality between the shows of the two bands caused more than a few Deadheads to follow the younger band instead, well before Garcia died.
  • 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.
    • Their arrangement of “Big River” is somehow even more infectious than Johnny Cash’s original.
  • Epic Riff: Again, a veritable goldmine of them; indeed, their epic riffs are often the main reasons their songs are ear worms. (“Terrapin Station” alone probably has about five of them.) 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). And for that matter, some of their drum patterns are pretty much Epic Riffs too - when Hart and Kreutzmann come out of a drum solo to go into “Not Fade Away”, you’ll know exactly what song is coming up before any of the other instruments come back in.
  • 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 in the 1960s (he was the only founding member who did not take drugs, preferring alcohol, which made him the natural choice to put in front of non-hippie media), but was also 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), continues to have an active solo career and leads the very popular Dead & Company group.
  • Follow the Leader: The Dead, and their improvisational concert performances, inspired an entire "jam band" musical genre that began to take shape in the 1980s. Phish are the best known of these groups, with Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, The String Cheese Incident, The Aquarium Rescue Unit, moe., Gov't Mule, Blues Traveler, The Spin Doctors and the Dave Matthews Band also gaining renown in the 1990s. Although all of these bands counted the Dead as a major influence, all of them were musically different from both the Dead and each other.
  • Friendly Fandoms: Apart some friction in the early 90s, Deadheads have gotten along just fine with the fanbase for Phish. It's not uncommon to find people who are fans of both bands.
  • Fridge Brilliance: “Friend of the Devil” was introduced as a fast-paced bluegrass-influenced tune on American Beauty. By the mid-’70s, it was retooled with a much slower reggae arrangement. The first line of the chorus is, “I set out running but I take my time”; the song evolved in the exact same way.
  • Heartwarming Moments: “Comes a Time”, a gorgeous Garcia/Hunter ballad that also doubles as a Tear Jerker.
    Been walkin' all mornin', went walkin' all night
    I can't see much difference between the dark and light
    And I feel the wind and I taste the rain
    Never in my mind to cause so much pain

    Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand
    Says, "Don't you see?
    Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe
    Don't give it up, you got an empty cup
    That only love can fill, only love can fill, only love can fill"
  • Ho Yay: Arguably, anytime Donna sings along with the male vocalists on a love song, since they're basically all directed towards women.
  • 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. As a result, many longtime fans took out their disgust on the song itself, which was previously a well-liked concert favorite for years before the band recorded it. This has largely subsided since Jerry Garcia died, and the song now has a much better reputation, but it isn't uncommon to find older fans who do not like "Touch of Grey" or the In the Dark album.
  • 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. The Touch Heads had a reputation (and not an unearned one) for being a bunch of college frat boys who had heard about the scene outside of Dead shows and the ease of acquiring drugs therein, and were coming to concerts to party, not for the music. This resulted in several ugly or violent incidents outside of the shows that were not at all common before the song became a hit, and were thus blamed on the new fans. That strain of Touch Heads wasn't representative of the whole of the band's new and younger fanbase, but they did make it difficult for some newer fans in the late 1980s and early 1990s to admit that they had fallen in love with the Dead and become Deadheads after first being exposed to them through "Touch of Grey".
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • “What’s Become of the Baby” probably ruined a rather large number of LSD trips back in the day.
    • "Blues For Allah," especially the second movement "Unusual Occurrences in the Desert." The dissonance continually grows throughout the piece, becoming a chaotic whirlwind (or sandstorm, as the case may be) of dizzying instrumental mayhem.
  • The Scrappy: Vince Welnick, the band's last keyboardist often saw himself as this due having to fill Brent Mydland's shoes and his relative lack of improv chops. This worsened after he was excluded from several of the post-Garcia reunion concerts. This may have been his depression manifesting itself.
  • 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” and "The Other One" have the strongest cases to be 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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