Grateful Dead

Blair’s Golden Road Blog — Desert Island Dead

If you’re reading this blog post in mid-July, chances are I am sunning myself on one of Kauai’s white-sand beaches, or gazing at a humuhumunukunukuapua’a through my snorkel mask, or sipping a mai tai under graceful swaying palm trees. Then again, maybe it’s pouring rain on the North Shore and we’re stuck playing Uno in the house. Anyway, it’s vacation time for the Jackson family—our first exotic one in several years—and I’m taking a breather from writing and really kicking back for a couple of weeks. The trip also coincides with my 30th wedding anniversary. If only my wife had gotten to come along! (Just kiddin’. Got the whole family with us.)

I spent part of the week before the trip loading up my teeny iPod Nano with a bunch of Hawaiian and Grateful Dead music, and it got me thinking: If I was stranded on a desert island (I’ll take a tropical island, please) and I could only bring 12 Dead CDs/shows (sorry, no iPods in this fantasy—we’re making it hard!) to last me for a couple of months until I was rescued, what would I choose?

Question: Do giant box sets count as one, or the number of discs in the box? Well, fortunately the Europe ’72 megabox isn’t out yet, so that’s off the table for this discussion. Here’s my completely heartless and arbitrary ruling: No box sets containing more than six discs—so no ’73 or ’77 Winterland or Fillmore West ’69 or giant GD studio album box sets are allowed. But, yes, a four- or even six-CD Dick’s Picks would count as one. Hey, nobody said life was “fair,” so quit your whinin’! You’re lucky you’re getting a CD player and headphones!

Now, I suppose there are many of you who could be blissfully happy spinning nothing but shows from ’72-’74 during your time on the island. That’s cool. It’s your choice. However, I’d like to have a much wider span of the Dead’s history represented in my Desert Isle Collection, as I like all eras of GD music and would want to have a greater variety of different songs and styles at my disposal. And so, my 12 picks (in chronological order):

1. Road Trips Vol 2. No 2: Carousel 2/14/68. One of the best ’68 shows, with primo versions of Anthem material, plus other bonus tracks from the Northwest tour (and another bonus disc besides).

2. Fillmore West 1969 (the 3-CD Set). Tough to pick between Live Dead, which I’ve loved forever, or this one, culled from the same shows but including much more material, all of it great. I’ve heard Live Dead so much I can always replay it in my head.

3. Dicks Picks Vol. 4: 2/13-14/70. Besides the deservedly admired “Dark Star,” this has a killer “Dancing in the Street” and a super-charged “NFA” > “Mason’s Children” > “Caution.”

4. American Beauty. Taking a studio album? Yes! Simply because it is beautiful and moving beyond compare.

5. Rotterdam 5/11/72. I could get more Europe ’72 music by bringing the excellent Stepping Out 4-CD set, but this is possibly the best show of the tour (and the longest) with my favorite of the 11 (!) Europe versions of “Dark Star” and everything else that’s important.

6. The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack. There are better individual shows and sets from ’73 and ’74, but this has so much good stuff, I’m happy to have it representing that era.

7. Dicks Picks Vol. 33: 10/9-10/76. Some folks don’t care for ’76. I love it. If this only had Disc Two, with “St. Stephen” > “NFA” > “St. Stephen” > “Help on the Way,” etc., it would be worth having, but all four discs are strong.

8. Cornell 5/8/77. We can all pretend that there are better ’77 shows and this has been overhyped, but why accept less than the best? (It is not, however, the best show of all time.)

9. Frost 10/10/82. This show is juiced from top to bottom, and includes one of the best pre-“drums” segments I ever saw. A classic!

10. Santa Fe 9/11/83. One of my favorite versions of “Help on the Way,” a rare second-set “Let It Grow” and “Morning Dew” are among the highlights. It helps that I was there and it’s still fresh in my mind.

11. Grateful Dead Download Series Vol. 5: Hampton 3/27/88. I never get tired of this; the late ’80s at their most exciting.

12. So Many Roads: (1965-1995). Lots of rarities and oddities; not a “Best of” by any means, but the five CDs are packed with enough great and strange stuff from all eras that it’s worth having around, and I can always ignore the stuff I don’t care for.

Well, that was hard and frustrating, and no doubt a whole bunch of “essentials” will come to mind over the next days and weeks. But enough about me. What 12 Grateful Dead CDs/shows would you bring to this remote and beautiful island? They better be good, in case we’re shipwrecked together!


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Joined: Aug 23 2011
desert island picks

theres a show from mississippi gd listening guide turned me onto, 12/19/ 78. the boys are on point every note which becomes totally apparent when they jam from stella into nfa. also the pittsburg download from 89. keep up these cool questions because i like finding cool new music (to my ears).
One more to note, its not gd . 7walkers 12/11 and 12 2010 dont get boring.

unkle sam's picture
Joined: Oct 3 2008
12 ain't enough, but if that's all I can take...

no one seems to have touched upon a few cherished shows from the nineties, so lets start there:
4-2-95 Memphis, home of Elvis with a wonderful shakedown opener, Stuck inside of mobile with the Memphis blues again, Tennessee Jed and a promised land closer, HCS opens second set with a solid Eternity that flows into the best Estimated of the late 90's into Drums/space that will spin your head off, unbroken chain as the encore
4-1-94 Atlanta, Six pack first set with Deal, dire wolf Black throated wind and a bird song.
Jerry is in a great mood here and his playing shows it, Second set china cat, box, estimated, he's gone, that would be something into another deep drums and space into TOO, wharf rat and lovelite, Brokedown palace encores, just a great show from beginning to end.
Infrared roses, with spacey titles like Little Nemo in Nightland, Post-Modern Highrise-table top stomp, silver apples of the moon and speaking in swords to name a few provided by Hunter just a cornacopia of spaces and drums and beautiful jams from the 90's, it's a gotta have on the island.
3-24-93 Chapel Hill, strong first set but the second set is to die for, with a killer HCS into PITB into box into the sweetest and most emotional Crazy fingers>spanish Jam>playin' reprise ever, into another deep deep drums and space, Jerry shines here like it's 20 yrs ago, just beautiful, with a killer Lucy in the sky encore
4-9-91 Orlando, wharf gator, great way to end a three night run, with a trippy TOO and a classic Whart Rat.
10-26-89, Miami, best Dark star of 89, nuff said.
Grayfolded, both discs, plunderphonics remixed, rewound darkstars, how cool is that?
10-30-80 Radio City Music Hall, all of it, acoustic set too, a gotta have.
10-29-77 Decalb, best Might as Well ever, Jerry jumps of the disc, a solid show from a great year.
Dick's Picks 29, all six discs, was at the Lakeland show so have fond memories.
So Many Roads all five discs, just cherry picked beauties of an awesome career.
4-25/26/27/28/29-71 Filmore east, lots of fun with Duane allman joining on 4-26, Beach Boys on 4-27, TC on 4-28 with that Killer Darkstar and I love the pre show interview with BG, and the Alligator on 4-29 makes for 5 shows in a row that were all excellent.
That's more than 12 shows but I threw out socks, so I've got room. :) I know a lot of heads wouldn't take post 91 shows, but check these out, you will be surprised, astonished, and glad you did. .

birdynumnumz's picture
Joined: Jul 30 2011
I love threads like this and

I love threads like this and it's been a real good time reading all y'all's lists and comments. Being a bit of an old timer (first show: Buffalo '73), my list leans real heavy on the 70's stuff. Here's what I finally whittled it down to (with alternatives -- I couldn't resist):

1. Road Trips Vol 2. No 2: Carousel 2/14/68 (Two From The Vault)
2. Fillmore West 1969 (the 3-CD Set) (Live/Dead)
3. Dicks Picks Vol. 4: 2/13-14/70 (DP8 Harpurs 5/2/70)
4. Ladies and Gentlemen (April 1971) (Skull****)
5. 100 Year Hall (4/26/72) (Rotterdam 5/11/72)
6. Europe '72 (DP11 9/27/72)
7. Steppin' Out (April-May 1972) (Veneta 8/27/72)
8. Winterland '73 (11/73) (Madison, Wisconsin 2/15/73)
9. One From The Vault (1975) (GD Movie Soundtrack ('74 overrated))
10. DP29 (Atlanta-Lakeland May 1977) (DP15 Englishtown (9/77)
11. So Many Roads (Best Comp) (Grayfolded)
12. Reckoning (1980) (Without A Net 89-90)

Joined: Jun 4 2007
Love the debate....

Too much, too loud. LOL. That's what I liked about him during that period. Playing like his life depended on it. I dug it. I like all the color in the music at that time. I'm one that likes blistering "trumpet" solos like the one in "Fire" on 7/4/90. You don't get that in 1982. You get a lot of one sound, one dynamic level, and no crisp, inventive bass playing that is way up in the mix like you do in '90.

And for 3/27/88 to make the list - now that is just incredible to me. I think I've fallen asleep or lost interest in that every single time I've tried it!

Is there one of those epic 6 minute versions of "Eyes" on that one? Ha - just teasin' now (but not really). :)

jonapi (not verified)
keep it dusty!

No hatin' on '82 from me! Some classics from that year.
I love it.

Joined: Jun 6 2007

Great year, obviously. No Desert Island choices for me, though. I'd personally love to see a Greek '85 box come out... 4/28 is sloppy but has some amazing stuff--"She Belongs to Me," that beautiful little melodic jam after "China Doll," etc... Many excellent shows that summer and fall.

Don't be hatin' on '82, though... ;-)

jonapi (not verified)
action jackson

Well Brent certainly had his problems, poor soul, but the June 16, 1990 and July 8, 1990 shows were fine. Same with the RFK & Rich Stadium shows i mentioned.
As for playing too loud, well that's not necessarily going to come across on disc/download.
But i do think that maybe one has to readjust his or her's approach to that particular period; you are kinda listening to someone's personal meltdown (witness that moment in the Summer Solstice show?? i think, not sure, during The Other One when the camera catches his eyes as wide as the Grand Canyon; and that is earlier, in '89!).
But there is a beauty to be found in those sad moments. Over-playing and over-loud maybe, but its real, honest and from the heart which is what i want from the Dead; questionable intonation, fluffed lyrics and some meandering then so be it.
I'd rather listen to fluid jamming (although Summer '90 has that), seamless segues (although Summer '90 has that) and impassioned vocals (although Summer '90 has that) but that's okay. It's just a different reflection through the prism, that's all.

Come on, don't be a Latvala ha ha!!!
By the way, you going to answer the '85 claim that DoubleT mentioned he he!!!

Joined: Jun 6 2007

Not snobbery. Brent was playing too much too loud in June-July '90. The guy was messed up and sounded like it IMHO.

Don, that 3/18/77 NFA was the best I ever saw, for sure; that's in my personal top 5 of shows I saw.

ds smith's picture
Joined: Jan 2 2008
my 12

1. So Many Roads
2. Cornell 77
3. Dicks Picks 18 1978
4. Dicks Picks 20 1976
5. Download Series 9 1989
6. Europe 72
7. Without A Net
8.. Ladies and Gentleman....1971
9.. Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack
10. Dicks Picks 1 1973
11. Dicks Picks 16 1969
12. (TIE) Dicks Picks 3, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

jonapi (not verified)
true DoubleT, true

It's that ol' '90's snobbery again!!

There were some great shows from that year; 03/19/90 at the Civic Center, Hartford, CT, 07/12/90 at RFK Stadium, Washington, DC, 07/16/90 at Rich Stadium, Orchard Park, NY and many others.

Time stopped for some it seems....


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