DEAD50: Top 50 Favorite Grateful Dead Tracks

I was a teenage Deadhead. Well, sort of. I never followed them around in a VW bus or got deep into trading tapes and assessing which versions of “Terrapin Station” were the best. But I studied their repertoire (listening voraciously to some of it) and went to see them over a dozen times, plus another roughly half-dozen shows by spin-off projects (particularly the Jerry Garcia Band).

In a sense, I was an odd fit for a Dead fan. To me they were supreme songwriters.  Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter are on par with most elite teams in rock history, and we should all be lucky to come up with half as many great songs as second banana Bob Weir has. And as a rock band, when they were on they were so authoritative, between their vocal harmonies and the rich instrumental layers. Two guitars, keyboard, bass and two drummers can sound pretty bloated in some folks’ hands, but they really knew how to pull it all together.

The improvisation? That was important to me, but not for the obvious reasons. Even before I got into jazz, I found their longer jams to be a bit “noodly” for my tastes (if I was at a Dead show and they started playing “Dark Star” I would just sit down and wait it out) and have only more recently come to appreciate them. And yet the broader sense of risk-taking and elasticity was central to my burgeoning consciousness. I leaned early on to resist predictable and repetitive setlists or interpretations of songs. Knowing that I could push in a different direction (even if doing “the usual” was the statistically likely outcome) liberated and relaxed me, while I learned to crave the possibility of transcendence over the guarantee of pretty good.

And indeed, the Dead shows I saw ranged from transcendent to downright crap-fests that left me thinking “I spent THIRTY DOLLARS on a ticket to this?” And yet it never kept me from going back. Indeed, when I was 17 I remember going to see the Dead the night after I’d been to another big concert by Tom Petty. It was my third Tom Petty show and I got pretty much exactly what I’d gotten the other two times, a really solid show. The Dead show the next night was pretty ho-hum by comparison, but I realized that I was still excited and eager for the next one because I knew that it COULD have been amazing.

So in honor of their 50th anniversary (and those who’ve asked me repeatedly why I’ve never done a Dead Top 10 list) and their latest swan song, here are 50 tracks divided into 5 top 10 lists. Due to the sheer amount, there won’t be any real commentary, and I made sure not to include the same exact track twice even when it fit multiple categories. Most/all of these tracks should be easily available (one reason I chose some of them). This eliminates some of my own most mind-blowing moments from live shows (Brent’s solo on the encore version of “Johnny B Goode” in Hartford or the full-band throw-down on “Bertha” in Philly, both when I was 13 in 1987, had a profound effect on me musically) as that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms and I chose not to get into anything surrounding bootlegs or anything else beyond what a dabbler would be able to access. Enjoy!

Top 10 Favorite Grateful Dead Studio Tracks

1 ) “Scarlet Begonias” from From the Mars Hotel
2 ) “Uncle John’s Band” from Workingman’s Dead
3 ) “Throwing Stones” from In the Dark
4 ) “Box of Rain” from American Beauty
5 ) “St. Stephen” from Aoxomoxoa
6 ) “Estimated Prophet” from Terrapin Station
7 ) “Cumberland Blues” from Workingman’s Dead
8 ) “Alabama Getaway” from Go to Heaven
9 ) “Weather Report Suite” from Wake of the Flood
10 ) “That’s It for the Other One” from Anthem of the Sun

Top 10 Favorite Grateful Dead Live Tracks from Commercially Released Albums

1 )“Bertha” from Grateful Dead (aka Skull & Roses)
2 ) “To Lay Me Down” from Reckoning
3 ) “Eyes of the World” (featuring Branford Marsalis) from Without A Net
4 ) “Sugar Magnolia” from Europe ‘72
5 ) “Dark Star” from Live Dead
6 ) “Franklin’s Tower” from Dead Set
7 ) “Tennessee Jed” from Europe ‘72
8 ) “Black Peter” from Bear’s Choice
9 ) “Sugaree” from Steal Your Face
10 ) “All Along the Watchtower” from Dylan and the Dead

Top 10 Favorite Grateful Dead Guitar Performances:

(note: this category revolves around but is not limited to Jerry’s guitar solos)

1 ) “China Cat Sunflower” from Europe ‘72
2 ) “Eyes of the World” from Wake of the Flood
3 ) “Viola Lee Blues” from The Grateful Dead
4 ) “Touch of Grey” from In the Dark
5 ) “Fire on the Mountain” from Shakedown Street
6 ) “Dire Wolf” from Workingman’s Dead (Jerry on pedal steel guitar)
7 ) “Slipknot” from Blues for Allah
8 ) “Till the Morning Comes” from American Beauty
9 ) “Mama Tried” from Grateful Dead (aka Skull & Roses)
10 ) “Victim or the Crime” from Built to Last

Top 10 Favorite Grateful Dead Cover Songs/Adaptations

(note: this category doesn’t address specific recorded versions, but all are available as such)

1 ) Iko Iko
2 ) I Know You Rider
3 ) Turn On Your Lovelight
4 ) Dear Mr. Fantasy
5 ) Good Lovin’
6 ) Cold Rain and Snow
7 ) Sampson & Delilah
8 ) Death Don’t Have No Mercy
9 ) Wake Up Little Susie
10 ) Morning Dew

Top 10 Favorite Grateful Dead-related Miscellaneous Tracks

1 ) “Midnight Moonlight” from Old and In the Way by Old and In the Way
(bluegrass band with Jerry on banjo and harmony vocals)
2 ) “Black Muddy River” by the Persuasions
(my all-time favorite cover of a Dead song)
3 ) “Greatest Story Ever Told” by Bob Weir (from Ace)
4 ) “The Harder They Come” by Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders (from At the Keystone, Vol. 1)
5 ) “Where Love Goes (Sito)” by Mickey Hart (from Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box)
(featuring Airto, Giovanni Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain and the Mint Juleps)
6 ) “Ripple” by Jane’s Addiction
7 ) “Silvio” by Bob Dylan (from Down in the Groove)
(co-written by Robert Hunter and featuring Jerry, Bobby and Brent on harmony vocals)
8 ) “The Wheel” by Jerry Garcia (from Garcia)
9 ) “Jack Straw” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range
10 ) “Liberty” from So Many Roads
(technically this is the Grateful Dead, but this track was only released posthumously)


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