Don’t get me wrong—I love 1970s Grateful Dead. It’s the decade they made their greatest albums, introduced most of their coolest songs (both originals and covers) and played hundreds of their finest shows. Just look at the number of official releases of ’70s Dead concerts—it dwarfs any other decade.
But when the good folks at Rhino recently asked me to contribute a Spotify playlist for “Grateful Dead Week” (coinciding with the announcement of the GD Spring 1990 box), I decided to shine my light on ’60s Grateful Dead. After all, the Dead were the greatest psychedelic rock band ever — quite frankly, no one else is even close—and they made some of their most exciting, challenging and mind-blowing music in the late ’60s. That’s the band I fell in love with, through Live Dead, in the fall of ’69, and I’m still hooked on that era’s fearless, no-holds-barred musical explorations.
Spotify, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is an online digital music service that offers about 15 million tracks by thousands of artists on both major labels and big and small indies, either free (within certain limits) or by different levels of subscription. Access to Spotify requires integration with Facebook or Twitter, but beyond that, using it is easy. Spotify has a customizable “radio” function, and also allows users to set up and share their own playlists. The Warner Music Group (and its Rhino subsidiary) has developed a close relationship with Spotify, so nearly every regular commercial release in the Grateful Dead catalog can be found there—live, studio, compilations—plus all 36 Dick’s Picks, the complete, hard-to-find Download Series, and such cool discs as Rare Cuts & Oddities, the 5-CD So Many Roads (1965-1995), Fallout From the Phil Zone, Grayfolded, To Terrapin, Crimson, White & Indigo and lots more. OK, it doesn’t have the 10-CD Fillmore West 1969 (but it does have the 3-CD condensation of it), the 73 discs of Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings, or, at the moment, any of the Road Trips series, but considering the scope of what they do have, it seems unfair to be greedy about it. A handful of special Dead playlists can be found through The Warner Sound app.
The 10 tracks I’ve selected for my playlist exemplify the Dead’s searching ’60s spirit. You can find your sweet songs, concise jams and fun country numbers elsewhere. Most of this is hardcore, melt-your-face-right-off-of-your-head stuff; ragged harmonies and scarily electric interplay. Turn it up! It’s in chronological order except for the two L.A. Shrine shows.
For what it’s worth, if Road Trips releases had been available, I would have chosen the “New Potato Caboose” > “Born Cross-Eyed” > “Spanish Jam” from the 2/14/68 Carousel Ballroon show (Vol. 2, No. 2) and “He Was a Friend of Mine” from the 5/24/69 Big Rock Pow-Wow release (Vol. 4, No. 4).
1. “I Know You Rider” (Avalon Ballroom, SF, unknown date in 1966). This first came out in 1970 on a fine unauthorized LP called Vintage Dead. Its lone appearance on CD is on the box set So Many Roads: 1965-1995. It’s a nice example of how the early Dead electrified old folk material and made it their own. Those of you who only know the post- 1969 versions of “Rider” will be interested to see how different it was earlier.
2. “Viola Lee Blues”(Dance Hall, Rio Nido, CA, 9/3/67). Right before the band traveled to L.A. to begin work on Anthem of the Sun, they spent a week or so in the redwood-shrouded Russian River enclave of Rio Nido, honing their new original songs and also playing a couple of gigs in the tiny dance hall there. “Viola Lee Blues” was the Dead’s main improvisational vehicle during this period, and this 23-minute marathon, which seemingly goes a million different places, with crescendo after crescendo, shows the Dead at their jammiest. Alas. the beginning of the tune does not appear on the surviving tape. This track is from the re-mastered/expanded edition of the Dead’s first album, The Grateful Dead.
3. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” (Kings Beach Bowl, Lake Tahoe, CA, 2/24/68). One of the real crowd-pleasers of many a late ’60s Dead set was their snaky and sensuous reading of this old blues number, featuring Pigpen on lead vocals and harmonica. This version comes from a winter ’68 show in a bowling alley in Lake Tahoe, and can be found on Dick’s Picks Vol. 22. The Dead could be a first-rate blues band when they wanted to be, though it never was their main emphasis.
4. “New Potato Caboose” (Shrine Auditorium, L.A., 8/24/68). This Phil Lesh-Bobby Petersen tune, sung by Bob Weir, was perhaps the most compositionally interesting number on Anthem of the Sun, which had recently come out when the L.A. show represented on the 2-CD set, Two from the Vault, took place. Phil completely takes over the first half of the long instrumental break following the main song with a breathtaking bass assault, while Jerry dominates the back half of the jam. Stunning!
5-6. “Alligator” > “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)” > “Feedback” (Shrine Auditorium, L.A., 8/23/68). When Dick Latvala was tasked with putting together the aforementioned Two from the Vault, he originally proposed including a third disc, containing this sequence, recorded the night before the Shrine show above. But, believe it or not, in those early days of the Dead’s archival releases, they weren’t sure they could market a three-CD set, so Two from the Vault stayed two discs. It wasn’t until the release of the re-mastered Anthem of the Sun in 2001 (originally as part of The Golden Road: 1965-1973 box set of the Dead’s Warner Bros. albums) that these fantastically psychedelic tracks were formally released. (Sorry, I don’t count “Feedback” as a “song.”)
7. “That’s It for the Other One” (Fillmore West, SF, 2/27/69). Killer version of the Anthem suite (containing “Cryptical Envelopment” and “The Other One”), from the same night as the “Dark Star” > “St. Stephen” on Live Dead, and played with that kind of intensity. It first appeared on Disc Two of So Many Roads: 1965-1995 and subsequently (newly mixed) on Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings.
8-9. “Mountains of the Moon” > “Dark Star” (Fillmore West, 3/2/69). The acoustic “Mountains of the Moon” (from Aoxomoxoa) is beautiful and delicate and then segues seamlessly into an epic “Dark Star” that is nearly the equal of the Live Dead version from a few nights earlier. The ’69 versions of “Dark Star” remain my favorite of any era. These tracks appear on the 3-CD Fillmore West 1969 (culled from the 10-CD Complete Recordings mentioned above).
10. “Turn on Your Lovelight” (Fillmore West, 11/9/69). Gotta have a “Lovelight” on here, because not only was it Pigpen’s big showstopper, it gave the other musicians a chance go down all sorts of cool avenues, from R&B riffing to much weirder stuff. This final playlist selection is the bonus track on the truly magnificent Dick’s Picks Vol. 16, which features the entire 11/8/69 show plus this one song from the next night. (You owe it to yourself to hear then entire second set of 11/8, which is incredibly trippy from beginning to end.)
What—no “St. Stephen”? No “Eleven”? No “Cosmic Charlie”? Sorry, not this time. Happy listening!***
Now let’s see your lists! Get creative and share 10 or 12 Grateful Dead tracks with us. They don’t have to be thematically linked; they could just be songs you like. But if you want to pick “12 Killer Tracks from the Europe ’81 Tour,” or “The Best of Frost Amphitheatre, 1982-1989” or even “My 10 Favorite Versions of Row Jimmy,” go to town and have some fun!