Friday, March 6, 2009

Casey Jones - Grateful Dead Song Review

Now here is a song I knew about even before I knew who the Grateful Dead was. This song is so catchy and controversial I remember being very young and hearing my silly cousin jokingly sing it almost as if it was a parody song or something that would belong on Dr. Demento's radio show of bizarre music (next to the latest 'Weird' Al Yankovic tune).

Casey Jones is kind of weird lyrically because the song is about a folk legend of a train engineer who crashed. There are other older traditional songs about this incident. The reason I think it's kind of a weird song lyrically because none of the verses really mention anything about cocaine and it is kind of hard to get a story line out of the lyrics (other than the train wreck). There is a "lady in red" at one point and the song is somewhat disjointed in it's lyrics - but still they're very memorable nonetheless.

One thing is for sure though, the music rocks and the melody is catchy. The rhythm is a medium tempo plodding shuffle that actually sounds like a train to me. The first solo Jerry takes on the studio recording (and he usually played it true to this original in concert) is a really simple interpretation of the chorus melody. Jerry played very lyrically and often interpreted verse and chorus melodies in his solos, but this one is particularly scaled back.

This song was released on the fantastic studio album Workingman's Dead. This is an album I was able to connect with a lot more than American Beauty when I was listening to the "classics" at a relatively young age trying to understand what the Dead was all about.

The song really should be heard on a live bootleg to get the proper effect of the "train speeding up" at the end. This build up jam is Grateful Dead at their best - the whole band collectively playing faster and with more attack as the song comes to a climax. Is there any live Grateful Dead "official release" that includes this song? I can't think of any (I'm sure there's a Dick's Picks and probably a Road Trips release with it on there - but I can't think of any major label release).

I'm sure this song was played hundreds of times in the 70's but was very rare by the time I was seeing shows in the 1990's. I bet it was an incredible experience to catch a live version of Casey Jones. It wasn't meant to be for me.

Casey Jones Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.2

: 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).


Rob said...

It's on the GDR release that came after Blues For Allah called Steal Your Face, the last of their albums on GDR. It was a collection of live songs taken from a 1974 run at Winterland (the same one used for the movie I think?). Shame that it's a horrible album due to the awful sound and the boring song selection...

Anonymous said...

Great blog! I actually just posted something on the real life Casey Jones. Nice to hear what you have to say about it :)

Ian said...

there's a smokin one on disc 4 of "ladies and gentlemen... the grateful dead" (fillmore east '71 [2000])

GDmike said...

Ian, I've seen that album around - I am going to seek it out and check it out. I see that it has some of my favorites on there (Cumberland, Morning Dew, We Bid You Goodnight, GDTRFB, ...too many to list). Sorry for the late reply, I was 'locked out' of the blog for close to 3 years for some gmail/google issues (due to my 'user error' of course!)

GDmike said...

El, I am checking out your blog right now, this is great stuff... I will enjoy reading it over the course of the next few days.

GDmike said...

Rob, right you are! I forget about Steal your Face (was this the one they wanted to call "skullf---"?) because as you state... kind of a forgettable album.