Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mike's Grateful Dead Song Reviews - Songs that Start with "A"

Hello this is my extremely opinionated take on the following Grateful Dead songs  that start with A (I'm using Deadbase's version of writing the songs because that's the best list of A-Z Dead songs I have at my disposal.  Note that many of their song titles are shortened):

Ain't no Lie
Alabama Getaway
Alice D. Millionaire
All Around this World
All Over Now
Around and Around
Attics of My Life

Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion (and be sure to read my blog manifesto to understand a little more about where I'm coming from).

Ain't no Lie

This song is great, a mellow acoustic traditional American song. I think this song is often referred to as "Oh Babe, it Ain't No Lie" and you can just imagine some folk singer singing it in the early 20th century somewhere back east. Elizabeth Cotten wrote this song and she is a venerable great American songwriter who definitely had a great contribution to the canon of American folk music.

This song is always nice to listen to but is kind of indistinguishable (to me) from "(Been) All Around this World." I like the version of this that Jerry played at the Oregon State Prison on May 5th, 1982. I found someone has samples from this show available here: Jerry at Oregon State Prison Audio. Jerry was really on for this entire show - so you should check it out, but the fingerpicking in this particular song is really beautiful.

Alabama Getaway

This is a great rock song  from the album Go to Heaven.  This song falls into the category of music I call "for Deadheads only."  This category of music describes songs that are beloved to Deadheads but utterly unknown to the public at large.  I do believe this song actually was released as a single or at the very least the Dead played it on Saturday Night Live (if memory serves).  

This song sounds like a 70's rock song that a Southern boogie woogie rock band would play.  The word "honky tonk" comes to mind.  The lyrics are about a character named Alabama who is a reckless casanova and gets into trouble a lot.  The lyrics remind me of Tennessee Jed for some reason.  

I would have loved to have seen this song live, but it wasn't meant to be.  I can see in my Deadbase X that the band did revive the song in 1995 for the first time since Brent's passing. 

Alice D. Millionaire  (I don't have this song)

Can someone send me this song?  I don't have it.  In one of the many books on the Dead that I've read, I seem to remember that it was written as a play on a headline/caption in the paper (SF Chronicle?) that read "L.S.D. Millionaire."  I don't remember who the subject of that caption/article was but perhaps it could have been Owsley? 

Anyway, I seem to remember that one of the "post Jerry" Dead projects played this song.  Probably Phil Lesh and Friends - he seemed to be really dedicated to bringing back songs that the Dead had long retired.

Around this World

Sing it with me "Upon the Blue Ridge Mountains, there I'll take my stand..." This is another nice mellow old-timey American folk song  (that is kind of indistinguishable from "Ain't no Lie" in my opinion).  

This song is probably known often as "I've Been All Around this World."  Again there is a great version at the Jerry/John Kahn Oregon State Prison show from May 5th, 1982.  Man I can just imagine that scene unfolding - does anyone have pictures of this show?  I would love to see Jerry and John playing in front of a bunch of inmates.  

This song was also on the acoustic album Reckoning as well.  It is a great fingerpicking song that Jerry sings with a lot of character.

All Over Now

This is a cool Rolling Stones rocker that is commonly known as "(I Used to Love Her but it's) All Over Now"  I like this song.  I like that the Dead would choose a rare Rolling Stones song and no doubt it got a good crowd reaction when it was played.

For some reason I always think of the Oregon when I hear this song.  I seem too remember some friends seeing this song up in Oregon at Autzen and talking about it.  I was really jealous.  I also think I've heard a bootleg from Portland playing this song, hence the association with the Pacific Northwest.

I think this was a first set song and I'd say an awesome one at that.


Alligator is a classic.   Alligator definitely has a structure and lyrics and theme and chorus, but when I think of Alligator I think of free form acid rock jamming.  I have heard my Deadhead friends refer to the combination of Alligator and Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks) from Anthem of the Sun as "Alligator Caution"  (much like "Scarlet Fire" or "Eyes Estimated").

This song is great, there is a kazoo sounding instrument that plays a sarcastic theme and then Pigpen sings about "ridin' down the river in an old canoe" and a run in with an mean ol' alligator.  Then the band goes off in a group improvisation and then I guess at some point on Anthem of the Sun the song changes to Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks).  I still think of that as part of Alligator if memory serves and also I believe the Dead were trying to make many track listings on Anthem for the purpose of maximizing royalties.  That practice created the interesting result of a bunch of phrases being seemingly arbitrarily assigned to musical passages. For instance there is a song that is entitled The Faster We Go the Rounder We Get and another called Quadiblet for Tender Feet.  These latter seems to have Phil's personality stamped all over it.

Suffice to say though that Alligator is a treat.  The song part is catchy and the jam is always aggressive and old school. I think I heard that Phil brought this song back, he's good like that.  I hope they did it justice.


Ahhhh, Althea.  Now I finally get to review a true Grateful Dead classic song.  This is an incredible song that appeared on Go To Heaven and even more notably on the live CD Without a Net.  I saw 'even more notably' because by the time Without a Net was recorded the song had really evolved into a ripping and soulful first set Jerry tune.  A friend of mine once told me he was die hard into hip hop and metal until he heard Althea from Without a Net and that was the watershed moment that began his life as a Deadhead.

The intro is one of the more memorable Dead licks - an electric finger plucked outlining of the main chords that recurs throughout the song.  Jerry's vocals about his interaction with Althea have a great swagger and humor to them.  It really brings out Jerry and Robert Hunter's sense of humor with memorable lines like:

Althea told me "Now, Cool down Boy 
Settle back, easy Jim"

or how about this one:

I told Althea I was a roving sign,
I wasn't born to be a bachelor
Althea told me, "okay that's fine"
Now I'm tryin' to catch her

Then this song also inevitably had a ripping solo and build up in it too (after "you know this space is getting hot").  An absolute classic first set song and really you couldn't ask for more than for Jerry to play this one in the first set (well, I guess you could hope for a Bird Song too, but that seems almost greedy).

Althea is a song that I  will never, ever fast forward through. When it starts, it is going to play until it is finished.

Around and Around

This song is a mellow rocking groove that I am almost certain was not originally a Dead song. There was a lot of excitement around the playing of this song in my memories of being a Deadhead so it had a kind of revered status in the echelon of Dead songs.  I think this  is possibly because it was played regularly during the mid 70's publicly acknowledged"golden years" of the Dead (not by me, read the manifesto) and then more sporadically later.  I remember when we got to Vegas 1995 on Saturday night (we could only make the last show) everyone was raving about the Dead playing The Race is On and Around and Around that no one even told me we missed Morning Dew.

I personally find it to be a rather predictable shuffling blues song that affords little in the way of surprises.  

Attics of My Life

The second bona fide Grateful Dead classic song in the "A" section.  

What can I say about Attics? One of the most beautiful songs ever written.  Incredibly original.  Very soulful lyrics.  It was the song that when I first got that American Beauty cassette in high school, I think I probably fast forwarded right through it after hearing it once.

Now, it ranks as one of the all time favorite songs.  I don't know how to describe this song, it really defies categorization in a genre.  It seems to be a love song, and it is a slow ballad.  I feel that it has an almost Irish quality to it, but I can't really say why.  The song is sung in 3 part harmony and I think the Crosby Stills and Nash guys had to help the Dead accomplish this disciplined vocal style.  It is just pure soul and it has very abstract, psychedelic lyrics written of course by Robert Hunter.

The lyrics are so great that it is tempting to post them all, but will focus on the "goosebumps" part which I guess you could refer to as the bridge or "B" section (the song has an AABA structure):

In the book of love's own dream, where all the print is blood
Where all the pages are my days, and all the lights grow old
When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me

Then of course after the verses there are additional vocalizations where the band continues to harmonize (ie. "to meeee  to meeee-eee") that I find to be really emotional.  A great version of this song is the acoustic "Phil Lesh and Friends" show from Berkeley in 1994.  
Note that this Phil Lesh and Friends actually was the Dead (as opposed to his post Jerry band of late).

Also note that people who got to witness this song (and this entire show) are critical of it on the message board below the media player.  How can these people take themselves seriously?  Oh wait, that's basically why I started this blog is to air my (sometimes negative) opinions on the world of the Grateful Dead.  Music (and reality I guess) is a beautiful thing because it is so subjective.  To each his own.  

Next up, I review Grateful Dead songs that start with "B"

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