Grateful Dead

Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)"

By David Dodd

It makes sense to me to tip my hat big-time to Blair Jackson—not just as the next blogger to take up the place he established here on Dead.net, but for all of his amazing writing about the band, and about music in general. The Grateful Dead fan magazine he started with his wife Regan McMahon, “Golden Road,” was a much-anticipated treasure each issue, from the spectacular cover art to the incisive, fun-to-read show reviews, to the short articles about the cover songs. So let’s take a look at that song this week—the song that gave the magazine its name: "Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)."

Recently (Saturday, December 29, to be exact) I was at the Furthur show at Bill Graham Civic, when the band played “Golden Road” in the number two spot in the first set. I had never heard the song played live before (though it has been in the repertoire of several post-Grateful Dead aggregations starting in 2003) and certainly never by the Grateful Dead, since they only played it three times, each in 1967, when I was ten years old. I was unprepared for the very loud audience participation in the “hey!” response to the chorus’s opening words—the place shouted “HEY!” and seemed to wake everyone up.

The songwriting credits are simply to “The Grateful Dead,” so the band considered it a group composition. Its rollicking chords open the band’s first album, and it sets the tone for an ongoing party—the party that would be the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. Vince Welnick was an advocate for this song within the band, and played it with his own side aggregations, including The Affordables. The Bobs, a wonderful a capella group, recorded the song in the 90’s.

But it is, really, a rarity. A rarity in performance that nevertheless is an exemplary piece of every Deadhead’s experience of the band, I would venture to say. Did anyone else (besides me) try to remember what songs were played following a show by mentally going through the tracks on all of the albums, one at a time? That’s what I did. Maybe I was weird—maybe it’s a “librarian thing..” But it meant that, following every concert, the first thing to pop into my head would be “Golden Road.” “See that girl, barefootin’ along…”

I am reminded of the proto-Deadheads, the “Grateful Dead Fan Club” that was called together early on in the Dead’s career with Alton Kelley’s amazing poster.

I am probably not the only Deadhead who would think of the song every time I saw “The Wizard of Oz” — after all, the yellow brick road is a golden road, right?

Roads. So many roads….a huge theme in the Dead’s songs. And, a huge theme in the lives of the Deadheads, many of whom lived on the road, following the band. Definitely something to identify with—a golden road, to unlimited devotion. There’s almost no better phrase to describe the journey of a Deadhead.

And, while the phrase “unlimited devotion” automatically invokes a cautionary reaction in my own intellect, I do think that my path has led to devotion. Not just to this music, but in many aspects of my life—to my family, to my friends, to my community. In a way, the use of the word “devotion” in the title of the song is somewhat akin to the use of the word “miracle” in our song of discussion last week—“I Need a Miracle.” “Devotion” is a highly-charged word, just as “miracle” is, but putting such words into the context of rock and roll makes them approachable somehow, and familiar.

Do you have a golden road story? Was there a time when your life exemplified the song’s ethos of being a neon light diamond who could live on the street? Is “devotion” part of your life? Let’s hear some more stories from each other!

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Joined: Jun 17 2007
"Everyone's dancin' in a ring around the sun."

For me, Dead shows were special and the end all of concerts for me... because of the non-stop dancing-- even during drumz>space!

The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) is a set of book ends: the kick-off of the new Dead experience (from that of the dance hall dead, to the Anthem sound, then onto the '69 Dead sound and beyond...)

The sudden, discordant ending to the tune is just as it felt for me in August '95 :(

Forty-five+ years later, the invitation is there still... "come and join the party."

Thank you for a real good time!

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Joined: Dec 31 2008
golden road

I have thought about this song many times recently after reading about how Jerry absolutely refused to play it despite prodding from various people over the years. I love the tune, but agree with Jerry's reported opinion that it was a song of its time (paraphrasing here). I just can't hear Brent-era Dead doing the song justice.

I did not realize it only had three recorded appearances. I have long had one version as a filler on a different show, always figured it was from an Acid Test based upon other weirdness in the leadup to Golden Road. I never researched the version, but might have to check out archive.org now to pin it down. Now I need to plug in my tape-deck to listen to it!

I definitely agree with corry, too-- they surely played it more than 3 times. I would guess that it was probably in fairly heavy rotation in 1967.

Interesting new blog format. I like it.

ddodd's picture
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Joined: Jun 6 2007
How many times played?

Excellent point, corrycorry! That early stuff is not so very well documented.

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Joined: Dec 3 2007
How Many Times Did The Grateful Dead Play "The Golden Road"?

It's certainly appropriate to kick off with "The Golden Road," not just because it was the first song on side one of the first Grateful Dead album, and because it was the namesake for Blair and Regan's seminal fanzine, but I believe it was also the name for a very early Grateful Dead fanclub or fanzine, circa about the time of the release of the first album.

However, I have to protest the assertion that "since they only played {The Golden Road} three times, each in 1967." What do we actually know? Deadlists is pretty much a repository of surviving tapes. There are a few untaped setlists, but they tend to be from the 1969-70 period. We have very few tapes from 1967, and indeed neither Deadlists nor Dead.net even list all the 1967 shows, so we have a very tiny percentage of what was actually played in 1967.

Now, it's a plausible assertion that the Dead played "Golden Road" less than, say, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," but we don't actually have any idea how often they played it. I remember when "My Brother Esau" was a new song, and it got played constantly, only to drop away over time. "Golden Road" may have been played many times in late '66/early '67, but we only have surviving evidence of three instances. The speed and precision with which the Dead play it on the album suggest that they were pretty comfortable with the song. Now, I'm happy that we have three, rather than zero, known instances--I'll take what I can get (I'm still hoping for a long-lost 1965 version of "Do You Believe In Magic"). But the truth is there are a lot more mysteries about the early Dead sets that may never be unraveled.

marye's picture
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Joined: May 26 2007
I didn't see the Dead or get on the bus till 1981

And yet, I have from the get-go owned a beat-up monaural version of the LP that begins with "Golden Road." Which has always had me from the first joyous yelp.

That album got me through being stuck in Southern California suburbia during the Summer of Love.

One Man's picture
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Joined: May 17 2011
The Road, Golden or Otherwise

Having first turned my attention to the GD in 1977, I thought of The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion) as a charming reminder of a time long gone, even though at that time the song was only 10 years old. How quickly things were changing back then! I get a feeling about events that happened "before my time" that I call nonstalgia. It's a yearning for a connection to things that occurred before I was aware of them. The Golden Road fits that definition perfectly, along with countless other relics, Dead-related and not.

Since the song never appeared in later years, I wrote it off and didn't think much about it during my time "on the bus". Now, I love to hear new renditions and of course that original studio recording where our heroes thought just one more catchy tune on that first album might result in a hit. I'm glad it didn't. The nonstalgia of it is too perfect. It embodies a perfectly naive take on what success in the music biz could look like. No one at the time knew what would hit. Just one cosmic slow-down or speed-up could have changed everything. Instead, we got the GD that we still know and love through the archival releases that keep on coming. Hey, how about a compilation of unheard performances from 1967? Just sayin'. That sort of thing is LONG overdue.

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Joined: Jan 18 2010
Paved with good intentions

Be careful what you wish for.

Everyone showed up and the band split town.
And so for thirty years we chased them, around and around.
Hey, Hey!

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