Grateful Dead

Greatest Stories Ever Told - "Not Fade Away"

By David Dodd

Here’s the plan—each week, I will blog about a different song, focusing, usually, on the lyrics, but also on some other aspects of the song, including its overall impact—a truly subjective thing. Therefore, the best part, I would hope, would not be anything in particular that I might have to say, but rather, the conversation that may happen via the comments over the course of time—and since all the posts will stay up, you can feel free to weigh in any time on any of the songs! With Grateful Dead lyrics, there’s always a new and different take on what they bring up for each listener, it seems. (I’ll consider requests for particular songs—just private message me!)

“Not Fade Away”

Once in a while, I like to spend a blog post considering a worthy cover tune. And what is more appropriate for Valentine’s Day week than “Not Fade Away”?

The Bo Diddley beat. The clapping. The sing-along, and then the clapping and singing of the crowd as the band faded from the stage…knowing that we would bring them back eventually.

The endless riffing by Jerry as he tore it up on guitar time after time—that’s the astonishing thing, when I listen to concert recordings—to hear the fresh take each time during his solos. How did he manage that?

“Love is real.” That’s quite a claim, when you think about it. Bordering on arrogant, really. But I guess if anyone had the right to that kind of hubris, it would have been Buddy Holly, who likely wrote the song alone, despite the co-credit to studio owner/engineer/producer Norman Petty. (Petty was himself a recording artist, who scored a major hit with the Duke Ellington tune “Mood Indigo” in 1956.) Holly himself is named as Charles Hardin, his first and middle names—Charles Hardin Holley (yes, with an “e”) being his given name. There’s another occasion for bringing up this song—Holly’s plane crash on February 3, 1959—55 years ago this month.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets recorded the song in May, 1957—I would have loved to have heard them play live. I bet they rocked it. The song was picked up by many bands over the years. The Rolling Stones recorded it in 1964, and they charted with it, as their first US single. It’s been covered by everyone from James Taylor to Florence and the Machine. There’s a Wikipedia page for the song, enumerating the many cover versions both recorded and live, and on that page, the Dead only merit a short footnote.

I have to think, though, that the Dead’s overwhelming number of performances and recordings make them the song’s owners in many ways—although I admit to being prejudiced.

“Not Fade Away” ranks as one of the top ten most-played songs by the band. There are hints that it may rank higher than the 7th place position it occupies in most lists—including a reference by Alex Allan to a 1966 version, with different words, that predates the first performance noted in DeadBase and elsewhere, which is given as June 19, 1968, at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco. At any rate, there were very likely many versions played before and between the earliest noted performances in DeadBase.

NFA was a performance staple right to the end. The song provided a platform of celebratory rhythm and changes that served as a launch pad for intense, joyous jamming. The final performance of NFA took place on July 5, 1995, at Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

The band included NFA on its Skull and Roses live album, and it appeared on many subsequent live releases.

I love this song. The big opening chords, the swagger of the lyrics, the deep philosophy, really, of the song’s message all combine to add up to something much bigger than the two simple verses would convey. That is the nature of rock lyrics, quite often: look at them on the page, and they seem simplistic or banal. Sing ‘em from the stage as rock and roll, and they come to life.

(By the way, I’m pretty sure there’s a “how” missing from the first line of the lyrics as cited in the link at the top of this post. “I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be.”)

There’s even some story in this song, wouldn’t you say? The singer is trying to convince the object of his affection of the truth of his love. And yet, it’s so down-home. “My love is bigger than a Cadillac.” Someday, and it probably won’t be too long from now, no one will get that line, because it is so topical and of the time in which it was written, when Cadillacs were really big flashy cars. Even now, they’re looking fairly mid-sized. “My love is bigger than a…Hummer…”? Hmmmm.

But when he tries to demonstrate his affection, he gets pushed away. “I try to show you but you drive me back.” The singer really tries hard to make his case, insisting that her love for him has to be real. And then there’s that kicker line: “You’re gonna know just how I feel.”

Love is real.

Not fade away.

Happy Valentine’s Day! (And hey, the song is the same age as me. Cool.)


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Thats_Otis's picture
Joined: May 12 2011
Love is real...

Years ago, my brother had "Love is Real" inscribed on his new wife's wedding band, and she had "Not Fade Away" inscribed on his. They each did it on their own, not knowing what the other had planned. Nearly 20 years later, they are still clapping along, with a beautiful family to boot!

Joined: Jun 26 2013
Love that Chant!

That Chant is Awesome

Joined: Jun 15 2007

The Chant

There may be something going on in there we need to take a look at. I've never trusted Gregorian chants either. Your ramblin' is much appreciated. Those rhythms may do more than we know, trusting souls as we are.

Strider 88's picture
Joined: Jun 20 2007

"Not Fade Away...Not, Not Fade Away; Not Fade Away...Not, Not Fade Away". Weir, Mckernan call and response. Those were the days, Not fade away. 43 years ago February 19, 1971 restart of original five band members for 50 shows. Was there.19 years ago my last live China Cat Sunflower, I Know You Rider. Not, Not Fade Away.

Joined: Feb 4 2008
Ally Pally 74

I got on the bus at the Ally Pally in 1974. I don't think they were going to do Not Fade Away but after about 5 minutes of the crowd stomping and clapping the beat Billy started up on the drums and away we went. That bits missing from Dicks Pick 7. My Dave's Pick 9 finally arrived today - the pics remind me that Lesh nicked Garcias beard for a little while there.......

Joined: Aug 26 2007

To be honest, I'm partial to early 70's versions that go into GDTRFB, but I gotta agree - 9/3/77 is insanely great!

Joined: Aug 26 2007
Love is real . . .

Such a great cover. . . I love reading all the comments everyone has shared. When I was in college (77-78), we made a banner, "Chico Dead Heads Not Fade Away!" that we hung up at shows for awhile. I still have it in my garage. Was very psyched to see a picture of it appear in The Dead's "Get Weirder" promo video a few years back:

Another memory. . . when I wound up in a hospital in Puerto Rico in '78, I got several telegrams from family and friends. My favorite get well message was from my college roommates: "You know our love is real, not fade away!"

One Man's picture
Joined: May 17 2011

When I first heard this (on Skull & Roses) I thought it was an odd cover choice for a couple of reasons. For one, it had been successfully covered by the Stones already, and two, it just did not fit (in my mind) the pattern of other covers the Dead were doing. But NFA widened my appreciation because it was unexpected and because they made the song completely their own without referencing the Stones version and barely referencing Buddy Holly. They were not afraid to go there, and most bands were. Then they took it in directions no one could have predicted, perhaps peaking with Englishtown '77, and always playing it in-the-moment. I don't tire of it. I want to hear what Garcia is going to do with the one-chord jam.

Joined: May 9 2012
regarding "the chant boon or bane".

I too remember when "the chant" became cliche, passe. Was it the chant, or the repetition of the chant; been there done that? I think we can all agree, to those uninitiated (first show or chant) it was unlike any other show out there. A communication from us to them; and a good one at that. I think if the boys didn't like the chant they would have moved NFA around in the set? Alas, the formula had jelled (gelled?). I didn't see 350 shows in a row. A few friends did, a few got three-to-five,a few turned in friends in the 3 for 1 "rat your friends out". I got popped a month before my 18th birthday with 30+ goonies. Judge told me if I had been busted 30 days later I would have a mandatory 3-5... There was a dark side to the whole thing from my perspective. I'm rambling, sorry..nine mile skid on a ten mile ride..........

Joined: Jun 26 2013
Love That Vibe

If there's such a thing as Pure Hell
then this Song is All About the Entire Opposite of That


A Preacher once asked our Church:
"Where Else Can You Go and Find Unconditional Love?"

Not Here I Thought ...
(there are lots of conditions unfortunately at that church)
...but I always find it at a Dead Show!!

and "Not Fade Away" Invokes Pure Love with a Raw Power from High the Heavens into the Depths of Every Soul that Holds on Tight and Won't Let Go.

Even in the midst of the Chaos ;
Love Holds it Together

"All Together Now...Love-Love-Love...Love is All You Need"


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