Monday, January 26, 2009

Blues For Allah - Grateful Dead Song Review

Blues for Allah is a really unique and powerful song that is possibly the song that is the furthest departure from "American rock" that the Dead were to make (as far as incorporating world sounds).

Blues for Allah is an eerie middle eastern tune based on a middle eastern scale and set in a non traditional meter. It is also the name of the album on which it originally appears - released in 1975. The lyrics are really great with lines like:

Arabian wind, The needle's eye is thin, The ships of state sail on mirage,
And drown in sand, Out in no-man's land where Allah does command.

When I think of the period of time in which this album was released I picture Garcia with his long dark hair, long dark beard, and apparent fondness for persian heroin. I really like the entire album with the same name but I will say that it is inconsistent. At least the Dead were very ambitious with this album and pushing the envelope of traditional American rock albums by putting several lengthy instrumental songs on it.

The Kezar Stadium show in San Francisco on 3/23/1975 is always the main live version of this song that I can refer to. This show is notable to me because it is very close to the day I was born and is notable also because it was largely an instrumental show without lyrics (at least until the Johnny B. Goode encore). I would recommend hearing this show on but I can see that it is not posted because the show has been commercially released.

Blues for Allah only was played a few times in 1975. I am kind of surprised now that I look at the Egypt shows (recently released and obtained by yours truly) that this song didn't make the setlists in what would seem to be it's most natural setting - an Egyptian desert. Perhaps Blues for Allah might have been a bit too much of a departure musically to work into the rest of the set, or perhaps the song wasn't very accessible to the Dead's audience at the time. I can only guess at the reasons that Blues for Allah didn't have more of a run in the Dead's setlists but one thing that I do know for sure is that I really wish there were more live verisons of it out there - I would love to hear Jerry and co. use this very unique sounding song as a vehicle for experimentation.

Blues for Allah Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 8.5

Disclaimer: This is part of my review of every Grateful Dead song from A-Z. 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).

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