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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JeremyP's picture
Joined: Jun 8 2007
JP'sChoice #1

My number one choice has not yet been released - but that will be remedied by the Europe '72 box - nearly 40 years on I will finally get to hear a pristine copy of all of 4.7.72, my first show. Desert Island for that, and Desert Island for the exquisite Dark Star > Sugar Mags > Caution section. The segue out of Dark Star is the Dead's Ode To Joy for me, Sugar Mags a steam train out of control, and a Caution which could have been out of the bubbling primaeval swamp of '68.

This may take some time ... :-)

uponscrutiny's picture
Joined: Jan 18 2010
So many legs

Fortunately I had the privelege to attend many outstanding shows and can make my list from shows I have attended.

9-3-77 My first

10-30-80 Radio City

5-6-81 Nassau

5-15-81 Rutgers Crazy lightning

9-26-81 Buffalo

4-6-82 Spectrum Blizzard

9-21-82 Garden Cool opener

4-16-83 Meadowlands Stephen Stills

10-11-83 Garden St. Stephen

3-23-87 Hampton Stellar

9-22-87 Spectrum Spencer Davis

6-25-93 RFK Very good show

To name a few.

Joined: Sep 11 2007
1) Ladies and Gentlemen.

1) Ladies and Gentlemen. Blair - you overlooked this, unforgiveable... it's top 5 all-time official product no question ask around listen again you too can know the truth. "It's an environment!"
2) Steppin' Out
3) Hundred Year Hall
4) Aomoxoa w/ bonus tracks
5) 2/14/68 and the bonus disc
6) Fillmore 3cd set, great call BJ
7) Dick's Pick's 36
8) Anthem, w/ bonus tracks
9) Garcia's Warner Bros. masterpiece
10) 11/30/80 my blissed out front row memory of a great show will never die, but just in case...

Joined: Nov 3 2010
OK, I'll play

Fun reading everyone's choices, though I do request that those who list Dicks Picks include the dates as well as the number (not a problem the last couple of pages but it was near the start of this- I can have a hard time remembering which shows go with which picks)...

Fillmore West 69 3 disc set (if I can't take the full box set!)- certainly among the highest moments of the psychedelic era...

DP 8 (5/2/70)- amazing from start to end, and will be nice to have the acoustic set...

Steppin' Out in England- of course need some Europe 72- might go with 5/7, 5/23 or 5/26, but this is a fine-sounding compilation and the 4/8/72 Star seals the deal...

2/15/73- somewhat surprised not to see this on other lists. The Here Comes Sunshine is one of my favs, but the Jerry/Phil duet between Dark Star and Eyes is one of my all time favorite musical moments, and then that Eyes>China Doll is perfection!!!

DP 14 (11/30 & 12/2/73) Fall tour 73 was one of the very best- tempted to take 11/11/73 but this fine pick might have a slight edge...

6/18/74 Love 74 as much as 73 and this is the epitome of what made 74 so special with long unique jams like the one following the Weather Report Suite. Not to mention the great Eyes>China Doll, stellar Stella and Dew encore. And a birthday show for me to boot!

6/3/76 Yes, I love One from the Vault (8/13/75) but this first show back from the hiatus is special and has many of the same songs more fully realized- love the sweet sweet Crazy Fingers and the long exploratory Slipknot. The one thing 8/13/75 has over this is that very trippy Blues For Allah- so I'll try to sneak that on as filler...

7/18/76 One of my first tapes (recorded off of KSAN in 76), one of the shows I have listened to the most and one I will never tire of- just a perfect sweet jazzy jammy groove throughout the magical second set (the most incredible Lazy Lightnin'/Supplication), absolute perfection (other than Donna's premature vocal entrance in St. Stephen, but that is amusing rather than disturbing)...

5/4/77 Yes, 5/8/77 is wonderful, but I like this one even more. I guess I'm just a sucker for an amazing multidimensional Playin' that takes me a million different places and that Comes A Time- for me the 5/8/77 is like a very speedy cruise down a wide-open highway, which can be most exhilarating, but I prefer a more varied ride with lots of twists and turns...

10/10/82 In full agreement with Blair here, just an amazing show, esp. the pre-drums part of set 2, deep magic on a sunny afternoon- you can just feel the energy of that day shining through...

5/14/83 Haven't seen anyone else mention this one- lots of great shows in the early 80's but have to choose one from 83 and this stands out because it is a showcase for Bobby's unique playing style- he is really prominent in the mix, and it is a great example of how he would stay and do this solo thing over the start of drums in that era. Could also go with 6/18/83 or 9/6/83 as fine examples of this era...

11/1/85 Need to choose something from 85 and this show is a special one, with the little meltdown at the end of CAT esp. noteworthy; also good to have a She Belongs to Me. Could also consider 6/14/85 and 9/7/85...

If I could make it a Baker's dozen (and I should be able to, since my last name is Baker), would choose amongst 3/16/88 (one of my favorite shows attended, very powerful- lots of great stuff in 88), 3/29/90 for the fun of hearing Branford add his magic and Jerry obviously loving it, or 10/22/90 Frankfurt, an underrated very special show. Would make a 4 disc compilation of the highlights of those, but if pressed for just one would choose 3/29 so there can be some sax for variety's sake...

Joined: Jun 4 2007
Dozin' at the Knick 3/24/90

I never understood the omission of LTGTR>Help>Slip>Franklin's, Loser, Desolation Row and Tennesee Jed>One More Saturday Night from this release.

Granted, One More Saturday Night is on Without a Net and Desolation Row is on Postcards of a Hanging, plus The songs from the other 2 shows are nice, but 3/24/90 on a whole is great from start to finish. The Loser is one of the best versions ever played.

Joined: Nov 2 2010
blair, i read the blog every

blair, i read the blog every week and love it. i've often meant to chime in before with my two cents, but up until now have not; that is if you all would be willing to listen to the two cents of a "post-jerry", desert island shows, huh...

6/10/73 - is it the best show of "73? probably not, but it has a perfect dose of everything the band has to offer. the third set with a handful of allmans is incredible

Fillmore West 1969 3 disc set - i'd had 2/28/69 for a long time, and always loved it, but it never sounded like this. the third disc's "that's it for the other one," and "alligator," are explosive psychedelic madness...garcia is so note perfect that these shows should be evidence enough to any casual classic rock fan that he stands up to clapton, page, and even hendrix as the top guitar player of the sixties (in my opinion he even overshadows them all, as evidenced on these discs).

5/15/70 - 2 sets acoustic, 2 sets electric, and jerry sitting in with nrps taboot...the spring of 1970's "an evening with the grateful dead" tour contains wonderful music, and this show sums up the tour and the power of the band at the time in spades...i believe this is now out as a mostly complete show in the road trips serie; i haven't bought it yet, but want to in hopes it fixes the nasty cut in st. stephen my copy has.

6/6/70 - for nothing else then the jam that ensues out of alligator in the 2nd set, as it is 15 minutes of screaming primal grateful dead. if you've never heard this, please go find jam ever? possibly...

4/29/71 - final night of a week's run to close the fillmore east, and once again while the whole show is fantastic, it's the post "alligator" segment that makes me love this show. The ecstatic bliss of the jam itself leads to a string of tunes weaving and flowing in and out of each other as the band brings it all home.

9/21/72 - my personal favorite grateful dead show ever. i consider this show to be so special that i only listen to it every so often when everything is just exactly perfect for it; thereby making it essential desert island listening. again, just another show that has everything, and is perfectly played. dark star, dark star, dark star...a 39 minute dark star, whose first twenty-so-odd minutes are a relaxing swim through grateful dead consciousness, which then sucks you into the dephts of auditory space for five minutes or so, only to be spun out into the final nine or ten minutes that contain a breakout of psychedelic cowboy sunshine love music. This show is wonderful...i think it's a dick' picks too

5/11/72 - if europe '72 is arguably the band's best tour, then to me, this is arguably the best show from that tour. starting with a deep "playin' in the band," the band spends the night searching for the outer reaches...once again, dark star, dark star, dark star...this fifty minute monster will take you there and back again, and it just might make you hallucianate; is it the best grateful dead jam ever? Possibly, no seriously, possibly. In fact, listening to this show, almost 40 years after it was performed, i imagine that the walls of the club that night were sweating liquid acid...

12/31/72 - the final night in my favorite year of the band's career, and what a show to end the year. as with most '72 shows, the first set is full of great songs, energy, and spot on playing by the band...of course closing the set with a screeching "playin' in the band," one that does stand apart of the many first set closing "playin's" from '72-'74. as with so many shows, this one really takes off in the second set, most notably with the 60 minute truckin'->the other one->morning dew (david crosby sits in i believe), that is something to behold.

5/8/77 - cliched or not, this show stands up to its accolades. i'm only taking one show from '77 with me, a decision i may regret once on the island, but for now i'm only taking one. 6/9/77 almost wins out, but in the long run i think i need cornell's "morning dew" possibly more then i'd need anything else in the band's catalog because it just seems to make time and space stop.

12/28/79 - this show is incredible, nothing more, nothing less, just incredible.

9/6/80 - as early 70's centric as this list has been, i must admit that i think i like '79-'81 better then '76-'78, and that being said, i LOVE 1976-1978; there's just something special about the early brent years, and this show is a great example of what makes them special. Long, well played first set with great songs...longer, exploratory, well played second set weaving in and out of many tunes. you can feel the band having fun onstage, and you can still feel the combined energy of the bliss of the crowd on that field in a late summer day in maine all these years later. I'm sure some could clue me onto other shows from this era that are better, but for my desert island, this show will do nicely...

10/26/89 - passing many years, and many great shows, i have to (as this list must be concluding shortly) pass on the magic of the spring of '81, the great shows of '82, and '83 (october hartford run anybody??? - those shows worked for trey), the great energy of the audience tapes from '85, and all the great shows from '88 and '89, and settle on this little nugget from 1989. all i can think to say of this show is "hi, we're the grateful dead and we've come to experiment on your brain...hold still now."

3/24/90 - apologies, but i have to round my list up to a baker's dozen folks. the spring of '90 is another great tour, and while i could've (understanably) chosen the branford marsalis show from 3/29 at the coliseum, i have to go with this show. This show contains my favorite first set of brent's time with the band. The "help->slip->frank's" is smoking to start the show, and then bobby lays down a great "walkin' blues"(it shows up on "dozin' at the knick"). What inexplicably does not show up on "dozin' at the knick " comes next, and that is a version of "loser" where something happens, it gets taken to the next level out of no where as the energy combines between the band and the crowd, followed by my favorite version of the band's take on "desolation row." Brent's keyboard fills and backing vocals are perfect, and bobby just nails it - "but right now i can't read so well, so don't send me no more letters no; not unelss you send them from desolation row." The entire second set show up on discs 2 & 3 of "dozin' at the knick" (forever in my heart as one of my first live pick ups from the band), and is playin'->ujb->terrapin->mlb jam segment of the era? possibly...the "stella blue" is breathtaking, another song that may find itself in the category of best version two ways around it, this show is wonderful

there you have it, my desert island list, and why. hope it wasn't too long, and i hope you all can understand why i'd take these shows...check 'em out if you haven't already, and i'll do the same to ones up here i am unfamiliar with.

Final parting i hope i never have to narrow down my collection of grateful dead music, for every show i have, know, and love all have their time and place, and ability to induce that oh-so-unique and oh-so-necessary grateful dead bliss...

thanks for your time folks...
forever grateful,

Gollum's picture
Joined: Nov 22 2010
I'm a bit confused about the

I'm a bit confused about the rules here. Blair counts "So Many Roads" - 5 Cd's as one "set"- ok, that makes sense. Also, "unofficial" CD's are apparently allowed-(Cornell, Frost, Rotterdam, and Santa Fe). Up to six 6 CD's allowed per "set". Why couldn't I lose 4 CD's from The Golden Road" box - put a rubber band around the other 6 and call it a "set". Why couldn't I burn compilation discs- put a rubber band around 6, give it a name, and call it a "set". I hope I'm not bending the rules here. In light of that, I'd pick a few official representative releases and the rest would be compilation "sets". So my picks:
(1) DP22- Lake Tahoe 2/23-24/68
(2)RT 2/14/68
(3)FW 69 ("3 disc best of")
(3)DP4 2/13-14/70
(4) Steppin out with the GD(4/8/72)
(5)DP14 (11/30/73 and 12/2/73)
(6)DP 5/22/77 (agree with an earlier post- better than 5/8/77- always trust Latvala!)
(7)View from Vault 2 (6/14/91)
(8)Abbreviated "rubber band Golden Road"set: Anthem of the Sun, Aoxomoxoa, Live Dead, American Beauty, Workingman's Dead, Europe 72.
(9)rubber band set "dupree": 6CD's back to back Dark Stars. I'm not too picky as long as they're all 68-74.
(10)rubber band set "soft machine": 6Cd's back to back Other Ones, again 68-74.
(11)rubber band set "reno": 6CD's back to back Playin in the band, 68-74.
(12)rubber band set "charlie": 6 CD's back to back "space"- preferably from the early 80's but I like em all.

The "space" compilation is something I've dreamed about for a long time. Imagine, like 7 hours, no songs, no singing, just the purest Dead improvisation... Again, I hope I'm not bending rules here. Don't mean to be a smartass- but the heart wants what it wants. Of course, I'd also try to smuggle the complete Europe 72 set onto the island- you know, some Deadheads have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak...

Joined: Jun 4 2007
This is fun. Now my list

Enjoying reading everyone's list. Here is mine in no particular order:

1.) One from The Vault - Classic show. had this one on 8 track that I taped from the radio, probably WNEW.FM in NY. Love the classic intro by Bill G.
2.) DP 15 - Another classic show, excellent versions of Mississipi, Eyes... Had this one on 8 track again taped from WNEW 102.7
3.) Reckoning - Acoustic Dead. Saw two shows at Radio City. I would give this CD to anyone who I want to break into the band slowly.
4.) GD Movie Soundtrack - Just love this period. Remember seeing this movie at the Mini Cinema in Uniondale.
5.) Without a Net - Steller versions from one of the last great tours. Was at the Nassau Branford show.
6.) Go To Nassau - Some reason really like this set. Was at all three of the Nassau 80 shows. Really good early Brent.
7.) DP 10 -12-77 - Great energy set from 12-29. Sure there might be better 77 shows, but sticking to format, I am picking official releases.
8.) DP 2 - 10/31/71 Something about the jam in Dark Star that I could play over and over. like the beautiful jam on So Many Roads
9.) DP 4 - 2/13-14/70. Two words - Dark Star
10.) Europe 72 - First live LP purchased. New songs not on any studio album. Was like buying a new studio LP for me. Still love the Jackstraw and China/Rider versions.
11.) Studio Album Bonus - Go To Heaven. My first Dead studio LP. The bus came by and I got on.......

Joined: Jun 22 2008
Top Top

I'd go with, in no order except for #1.

1) JGB Live Album- If you're on a desert island you a truly Waiting for a Miracle.

2) Ladies and Gentlemen: 4/29/71 Hard to Handle, epic

3) 2-13-70 Dark Star

4) 6-18-74 Louisville, The jazzy Eyes. Perfect

5) 12-31-81, New Year's GDTR> Morning Dew ends 2nd set. Dark Star opens 3rd. Best New Year's ever.

6) Any '77 (Cornell, Colgate, Binghamton, Englishtown, DeKalb, Toronto) Coin flip or ALL please

7) 6-29-76, 1st show, feel asleep, so good though

8) 9-17-87 MSG great show that represents that time La Bamba and All Along the Watchtower

9) Wake of the Flood

10) Richmond '85- Comes a Time and She Belongs to Me

11) Worcester 4-7-87 Hand Jive and Dew

12) Reckoning- Was at many Radio City shows.

cactuswax's picture
Joined: Jun 7 2007
oh and while we're on the subject...


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