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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SaintSteveg's picture
Joined: Nov 19 2008
You have incredible memories

I've gotta hand it to you folks, the way you can keep all those concerts straight in your minds as to what version of what song(s) are tops. Truly, it all runs together for me; maybe I have too much brain damage from the early 70s.

I know this is heresy to the purists, but I have traded/collected so many tapes over the decades that I'm kind of fried on whole concerts. The occasional entire set or show is OK in a few cases for me, but in general I like it when some discerning individual - either the band or one of their own experts - chooses the high spots for me. Yes, I get the "context" thing, but this isn't a music history class; I want to have fun.

• I'll go with the Road Trips 2.2, Carousel 2-14-68
• Live Dead- absolutely essential
• Skullfuck - Not Fade Away>GDTRFB is the greatest piece of music ever recorded by anyone anywhere anytime period.
• Ladies and Gentlemen... April '71 Fillmore East
• Workingman's Dead
• American Beauty
• Europe '72
• I made a 2-disc compilation mostly from shows I downloaded from Wolfgang's Vault in addition to the above releases that is strictly performances featuring Pigpen - very intense
• Yes, Cornell 5-8-77 (Sadly, and perhaps unfairly, I have to stay away from mid to late 70s Dead because of Donna dread. She seems like a nice person, but honestly, she is the only human to utter noises that make Yoko Ono sound sweet by comparison.)
• Dead Set, 9 & 10-80
• Reckoning, 9 & 10-80
• Postcards of the Hanging
• Without A Net, 1990
I know that's 13 titles, but since I didn't take any 3 disc DPs etc., I pushed it.
Also the rule about solo discs cramps me a lot, because I am a huge Jerry Band fan.

But I could keep myself happy with the above, particularly if the tropical island I was stranded on was good for growing bud.

~ I'll meet you some morning in the sweet by and by

new_england_dead's picture
Joined: Apr 1 2010
The ultimate 12

DP 12 Providence/Boston June 74
DP 28 Lincoln/Salt Lake City Feb 73
One From The Vault American Music Hall 1975
Reckoning Fall 1980
ladie and Gentlemen April 1971
Postcards for the Hanging
GD Movie Soundtrack
SF 12-31-72
Washington DC 6-10-73
Williamsburg 9-12-73
Chicago 7-25-74
Tuscaloosca 5-17-77

Joined: Nov 1 2010
Desert Island Discs

Completely agree on the Fillmore West 1969
The sound is very high quality with great dynamics on the bass and drums
Even "School Girl" is very powerful here

shwack's picture
Joined: Apr 12 2008

Hey man,
as a practicing minimalist just for this excercise:
Official:Dick's Vol. 4 2/13-14/1970
Unofficial: Cape Cod 10/27-28/1979 After all these years,still cannot get it out of my mind.Who would really want to?
You all know how it is...

Joined: Feb 28 2011
bear 14's choices

Just looked at my iPhone:

- Winterland 77 and I reject the arbitrary cd count rule. I was there. Had just got back from a trek to the Palenque, Yucatan and the Belize Maya sites. Takes me away,all of it. Hear it in colors not seen by eyes.
- Dicks Picks 8 esp disc 1 Rider>FOTD>Wolf>Beat it on down the line.
- Grateful Dead Movie
- 5-12-77 Auditorium Theater
- Reckoning
- Lonesome Prison Blues
- Old and in the Way esp Wild Horses
- UIC Pavilion 4/9-10-11/87 Epic NFA 9:33. The tribe was in town and really on it. Took 3 days off from work for this one.
- Waiting for a Train- by Kory Quinn and the Comrades,my son. Sings his songs. Plays with his friends. A real nice music maker. Coming soon to a bar near you. Took him to his first show in a baby carrier. Alpine 6/85 he was 2 months old.
- USNA Men's Glee Club- Handel's Messiah and Eternal Father. Youngest son sang on these. He graduated in '09 and commissioned in USMC. Obama gave him the diploma and we were proud of both of them. Now he is doing the Marine thing. We live in hope and pray for those in harms way.
- Courtney my spouse singing the Exultet and Psalm at Easter Vigil. Connects me to the ineffable.

It MUST have been the Roses
Bear xiv

antonjo's picture
Joined: Jun 4 2007
upon scrutiny....

Ah, Hampton 3/23....the most exhilarating Touch of Grey ever, and Jerry again on that Iko.....but the next night, Loser, Let It Grow, and THAT TERRAPIN. Sigh, do I need to revise my list again?

Spencer Davis Spectrum night also had the haunting Handsome Cabin Boy jam out of space. It took me over a decade (a housemate's blaring Shady Grove out of his car) to finally identify that piece of music.

spinyn's picture
Joined: Jun 29 2007
I agree with so many of what

I agree with so many of what has been mentioned but would have to include NYE 72/73...a Desert Island show for me.

spinyn's picture
Joined: Jun 29 2007
I have nothing but affection

I have nothing but affection for all those that sailed with me...

hippyjameZ's picture
Joined: May 4 2008
if it wasn't limited to

if it wasn't limited to taking only official releases ...i would make it a point to take along shows unheard. .... i think that is one of the best aspects of the GD's music .. seems like i still uncover music that my ears haven't heard before....

"I have spent my life
Seeking all that's still unsung"

JeremyP's picture
Joined: Jun 8 2007
JP'sChoice #2

Now that I mention it, the 1969 Mystery discs would have to be in there as well. May have to reorder these...


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