Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chinatown Shuffle - Grateful Dead Song Review

"Take it... you can have it..."

Ahh, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan. The original frontman of the Grateful Dead and a character who seems almost mythical from what I've learned in studying the history of The Dead. First of all, he died at 27 and looked like he was 50. I'm 33 and I feel like a kid (and look way younger than Pigpen ever did) and believe me - I've been no angel in this life. 27 is so young for somebody to die, it is very sad but apparently he was a heavy drinker and his liver failed.

Unless I'm reading this entry from Wikipedia incorrectly it gives Pigpen writing credits for Chinatown Shuffle. That's cool, I never would have guessed- it sounds like an old traditional song. Certainly Wikipedia can be fallible though. If indeed it was written by Pigpen, I wonder if Chinatown Shuffle was inspired by Chinatown in San Francisco? It is pretty hard to tell by the lyrics which are pretty vague.

The song itself is pretty unfamiliar to me; I actually had to go to to really remember how it went and luckily found a good version from the 1972 tour to Europe.

This is a bluesy New Orleans shuffle with an intro phrase that reminds me of U.S. Blues (or Wave that Flag). The song is upbeat and a lot more enjoyable to me than some of the slower bluesy songs that Pigpen sang (like Hurts Me Too or King Bee). Jerry plays a nice solo and this song is a fun and engaging tune.

Chinatown Shuffle doesn't really stand out as a signature Grateful Dead tune whatsoever. As I watch them play it in Europe on it almost seems as if they are being ambassadors for "American Music" and are playing a "sample blues shuffle." It seems like any other rock band from Americal could have produced a comparable version of Chinatown Shuffle. There isn't anything wrong with having fun upbeat traditional rockers in the set though, and Chinatown Shuffle does earn extra points for being an original GD tune.

Chinatown Shuffle Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 5.2

: 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).


Unknown said...

Chinatown Shuffle ....

If you need it, got to have it...

We all know of the heroin addiction of Jerry...

This song could be named "Diamorphine Shuffle"

Before you start falling, be ready to fall...

GDmike said...

Eric.... ha ha good point. So many songs remind me of this same thing... "Mission in the Rain" "Senor (tales of Yankee power). Sorry for the late reply, I was 'locked out' of the blog for close to 3 years due to some gmail/google issues (due to my user error!