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: Jun 4 2007
Interesting comment BJ

Another thing too that struck me - you didn't have one '85 on there. I remember back in the day you claimed '85 was the best of the 80s...."every show from June on is a knockout."

That '82-'83 stuff to me is all about the emotional experiences of those who were fortunate to have seen them in those great venues with what apparently was a wonderful, close knit scene. I'm 40 so that was before my time. Musically that period is very mind-numbing to me. How can you listen to Cal Expo 6/10 or Eugene 6/23 and not immediately hear how much more chiseled, refined and telepathic the music is in comparison? Silky smooth. Plus, Brent and particularly Phil were so "on" during the Brent portion of '90. Phil was a fat drunk slob on that early 80s stuff - barely doing anything. So, just for that reason alone, I don't get it. But one thing I did miss in my relatively obnoxious intial post - yes, Live Dead needs to be on my list as well.

Joined: Aug 31 2010
Awesome challenge, Blair.

Awesome challenge, Blair. At the risk of tweaking things a bit, I'd have to go with a baker's dozen:

2/14/68 - Carousel Ballroom - One of the absolutely essential, all-time classics.

Live/Dead - Since I can't include the Fillmore West Box Set, I will go with the utter timelessness of Live/Dead. Even though it's permanently encoded in my synapses and DNA, it's a piece of music I will always want to have with me.

American Beauty - The Grateful Dead's best studio album, and one of the best studio albums by any band. Some of Robert Hunter's most timeless lyrics performed and recorded exquisitely.

5/2/70 - DP 8 - If I had my druthers, I'd go for the trifecta and grab this, 2/13-14/70 and 5/15/70. But as it is, this squeaks through as my favorite of 1970 with a wonderful acoustic set, and one of the most mind-melting Other Ones evan! (can I please squeeze in that Gator . . . Caution from 2/14/70?)

Ladies and Gentlemen – Fillmore East 1971 - 4 disks offering a just exactly perfect overview of the Dead's career up to that point. Plus it has my all-time favorite Lovelight!

Stepping Out – England 72 - A superb sampler of E-72

GD Movie Soundtrack - it's a tough call between this and DP12 (the latter offering one of the very best China > Riders ever). But this set has some amazing music on it - and that 10/19/74 disk, from Uncle John's on, is an amazing set of music (plus the cd set includes my favorite Eyes, and an absolutely melting Playin'.

3/18/77 - My first show. Alltime best NFA - and the night that dissolved my frontal lobes and got my on the bus for life.

12/31/78 - Closing of Winterland - there may have been better shows - but I was fortunate to be there, and this night is one of the greatest nights of my life. Whenever anybody asks me why New Years shows mean so much to me, I refer them to 12/31/78. It ruined me for life. :)

9/12/81 - Probably the best show of the pre-coma Brent era. Absolutely fluid first set, with outstanding Shakedown, Bird Song, Cassidy and China > Rider. And that Scarlet > Fire is beyond amazing!

12/31/81 - #2 of my three favorite NYE's. Best one of the Brent era with three very strong, well played sets and outstanding song selection

6/15/90 – VFTV 3 - second set is beyond wow - longest China > Rider since '74 and an endless Terrapin (another night that has stayed with me ever since).

12/31/90 - The last truly great NYE show. The second set - with Garcia, Hornsby, Lesh and Branford weaving a musical tapestry through Eyes and Dark Star - and then going into drums with Hamza - what can I say. Still in the top 10 - and probably top 5 - GD shows I ever had the good fortune to attend. As my friend Dennis said that night, it was one of those shows that can last you a long, long time.

Joined: Jun 6 2007
Double T...

We're gonna have to agree to disagree on this one. Not that big a fan of June '90 stuff, frankly. Definitely some good shows in there. But Desert Island-worthy? Um, NO!

Joined: Jun 4 2007
Jackson's list is hurting

The Santa Fe '83 and Frost '82? No, no, no dude. Why squander choices on that underwhelming stuff? I could take all of June 1990 with some 73 and 77 and that's all I would need!

Joined: Jun 5 2007
Had to think about this a

Had to think about this a while, but I guess it would be as follows.

If you're going to give me up to six discs per pick, then I'd go for the sixes where possible.
1. Dick's Picks 29(I think) the six-discer from '77.
2. So Many Roads. So many choice cuts.
3. The first Road Trips release, including bonus disc. Go back and listen, if you doubt me. Awesome.
4. Nightfall of Diamonds. 89 = underrated
5. Two From the Vault, love love love this one.
6. Dick's 36, Philly '72 all awesome, but the Boulder Other One is just phenomenal
7. Dick's 35, August '71. Phil is just all over these tracks, such driven rock and roll.
8. Road Trips, From Egypt with Love
9. Road Trips, 10/77. Help>Slip>Franks, Black Peter = majestic
10. Formerly the Warlocks, 10/89

gratefaldean's picture
Joined: Jun 22 2007

I agree, @chrisd, they ARE one album as far as I'm concerned. And they make my list for sure, along with Wake of the Flood, for no good reason than I can think of other than it was the first Dead album that I bought immediately on I listened to it until I wore the grooves down to nothing. So despite the fact that I'm generally unimpressed with the Grateful Dead studio output, there are still a handful of albums that I hold dear to my heart.

I've put together a couple of lists so far, can't really decide on a definitive one unless I cheat to no end. And in the end, stuck on that desert island, I'd be just plain glad that I HAD cheated, I think.

Joined: Nov 1 2010
Ok, so lets give this a try...

I had to do a bunch of listening to make this list and I put a few extra restrictions on my list - I have to own the album OR I was at the show. This list is in no particular order:

1. Reckoning, 2 disc edition. I have listened to this too many times to count and to my ears, this is the greatest example of the Dead using dynamics.

2. Dozin at the Knick. Discs 2 and 3 of this set are amazing.
3. Nightfall of Diamonds. Love the Darkstar>Playin>UJB.
4. One From the Vault - One of my first GD shows on cd and still one of my favs.
5. To Terrapin Hartford 77 - the Sugaree alone is out of this world and nothing else really can come close to matching it. The rest of the show is really good too.
6. The Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack - Tons of highlights here. My favs are Darkstar, Missisippi Half Step and the awesome Eyes of the World.
7. Crimson, White and Indigo - I had a bootleg of the second set in college, and this Scarlet Fire is etched in my DNA. This brought back a flood of memories upon hearing it again!
8. Palladium, NY 4/30/77 - The first GD download series and it is awesome. The first set Peggy-o is one of my favs.
9. DP #36 - 9/21/72 - This is a great show. I was able to see a bunch of spectrum shows in the late 80's and early 90's and I LOVE philly so I may be a little biased...
10. DP #24 - 3/23/74 - Love the Wall of Soundcheck.
11. American Beauty/Workingman's Dead - Yes, they might as well be one album.
12. 10/19/89 - My first show.

Joined: Oct 1 2007
one more thing.....

Hope you are enjoying the beach and happy anniversary Blair! (note of jealousy in my voice, sitting at home VERY far from a Hawaiian beach!)

Joined: Oct 1 2007
Desert Isle discs.....

Wow the holy grail of Dead Head questions, bound to annoy as much as inform/amuse! My list changes with the seasons, years, my moods and so on. Certain shows have burned themselves deep into my consciousness, due not just to the power of the music, but the role they played in my own personal development and psychic/spiritual adventures and growth. Both the shows on Dicks Picks 4 I can summon in my minds ear instantaneously. I spent many a night (and early dawn) listening to Louisville 6/18/74. Both Reflections and American Beauty conjure long lost carefree summers of youth, when every day was a new adventure. The opening show of the 76 tour from the Paramount Theatre, so full of joy and energy, with an audience that has found again it seemingly lost for ever talisman. The first show at Saratoga, perhaps the last time live that the Dead got me to that special place.... Time to stop writing and go listen to something on my extended list!

Joined: Jun 7 2007
I will post my list later,

I will post my list later, but very little mention of Winterland in June of 1977. I consider these amongst the finest shows ever played.


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