Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Foolish Heart - Grateful Dead Song Review

Foolish Heart is in my top 5 Grateful Dead songs and I think it's the possibly the most underrated song in The Grateful Dead catalog.

Before Reading Further, You Must Listen to this Version:

This song was definitely hit and miss, and most versions are not great.  There's one version in particular from 9-18-1990 that you can hear here that is possibly my favorite live Grateful Dead recording ever.  The jam section in the middle of the song features such tight collective improvisation and the band is so "on" that it is truly a magical moment where "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

More about this version: Both Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick are playing together with the Dead at this point, and the Grateful Dead is less than a month into their new lineup (after the death of Brent Mydland in March July of 1990 - thanks Ouish).  There is a sense of hope and rebirth in this version of Foolish HeartBut more than anything, Jerry is flawless on this version of the song and the entire band is firing on all cylinders.

Strangely, the "Jam" out of this version of the song is included on the So Many Roads Box Set.  And while the Jam is great... I can't imagine why the song itself is not included as well. 

My original exposure to this version was taping it off of the radio from David Gans's Grateful Dead Hour broadcast. What's amazing is how many years and hundreds of times I played the cassette and then still managed to convert it to CD in the digital age and it sounds louder and more crisp than all of my other .mp3s. This is pretty amazing considering I originally taped it off of the radio (not a recipe for high fidelity). I attribute this to a little GD magic but I'm sure that I converted it to digital with some weird settings that cranked up the audio (I converted it via a stereo system hooked up to a CD burner).

The Last Great Jam Masterpiece

I already called Days Between the "final masterpiece" and it came along several years after Foolish Heart, but I can definitely give Foolish Heart the title of the the final jam masterpiece - because of the built in jam section after Jerry sings "a selfish heart is trouble, but a foolish heart is worse!" The Dead would stretch out on songs all the time but only certain songs had a special section for a jamming build up (The Music Never Stopped, Cassidy, and Playing in the Band to name a few).  I can't think of a song that came along after Foolish Heart with this kind of built in improvisational section.  

As I alluded above, the jam in Foolish Heart was definitely hit and miss.  Most times the band was not really in sync and the very tight punches that end the jam ("duh duh, duh DUH!") required supreme coordination and was frequently butchered.  Still, this is the chance you take when you "step out" on a song and have your lead guitarist staring down at his instrument trying to explore new territory while everyone else has to guess when the climax is coming and react accordingly.  As you can hear in the version I posted at the beginning of this article, the rewards are worth the risk.

Words by Robert Hunter

I can see why this song was pegged for a radio single.  The lyrics are really succinct and "traditional." It is a very tidy little ditty that follows the same kind of ironic theme throughout and there's not a single syllable wasted.  The song functions as a warning that we all probably wish we could've heeded at one time in our life.  I think I've read Jerry quoted as saying something to the effect that he didn't really feel this was advice he truly would give from the heart because he'd rather someone recklessly pursue whims of romance and take chances.

Foolish Heart Video: Foolish Heart was released on the final studio album Built To Last which came out in 1989.  There was an "official" Grateful Dead video for Foolish Heart. I've posted it at the bottom of this article.  The Foolish Heart video is pretty cool for a novelty but you'll probably enjoy watching one of the many live versions more (many are available on youtube).

Foolish Heart Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.8

Disclaimer: This is part of my blog that reviews all things Grateful Dead for fun. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fire on The Mountain - Grateful Dead Song Review

Fire on the Mountain is one of those "entry level" Grateful Dead tunes that everyone loves.  Of course, as it usually comes on the heels of Scarlet Begonias (as part of the eponymous "Scarlet Fire" abbreviation on tapes back in the day), the band is usually primed and hitting on all cylinders while feeding on the high energy of an enthusiastic crowd by the time Fire on the Mountain hits its stride.

Why do I call it an "entry level" song? Probably because it is so instantly like-able. It's such an infectious chant, and the entire song is built on the same 2 major chords.  It's about as simple as a song can get harmonically, so it's so accessible to the listener no matter what their musical taste or background is.

The song came from a Mickey Hart album originally and the music is credited to Mickey (words by Robert Hunter).  I have always imagined that the song's lyrics were a message from Hunter to Garcia about his life which was consumed by the Grateful Dead machine and a message to Garcia to "slow down." I have absolutely nothing to back up this theory but some lines would make sense if this were the case:

You say it's a livin, we all gotta eat
But you're here alone, there's no one to compete.
If mercy's in busness, I wish it for you
More than just ashes when your dreams come true.


The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you had. why you wanna give more? 
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can't fake.

Fire Without Scarlet?

One thing I've never liked the idea of is a Fire on the Mountain that is played without Scarlet Begonias prior. that's like skipping dinner to eat dessert, it just doesn't feel right.

Legendary Versions 

I wish I kept better track of the great versions of songs like Fire on the Mountain that I hear.  I think most Fire on the Mountains are probably very good but some are great.  The song is very long though and I think it has the potential to drag a little bit.  Also, the soloing is all Garcia, so if he is really "feeling it," it might push the song from great to legendary.

I admit that when I listen to live show recordings (typically on jogs, occasionally long drives) I usually listen pretty carefully to Scarlet Begonias and the jam into Fire on the Mountain, but then I usually fast forward the rest of Fire on the Mountain. As much as I love it, I've heard hundreds of versions and it's a really long and repetitive song.

I do know 2 versions in particular that I've heard many times that are really great. You are probably familar with them as well:

  • Cornell 5/8/1977 (after "Take a Step Back")  you can hear this show here on  This show is familiar to almost all Deadheads it is often touted as the "best show ever" and if you are skipping  to the 2nd set be sure to start the tape at the legendary "take a step back" speech.

  • Hamilton, Ontario 3/22/90.  The video for this entire 2nd set is below  (thanks to youtube uploader jamman6565 for this upload). This version is from a highly regarded show in Canada that has been brought to my attention so many times that I think it's safe to say it has "legendary" status. This version is the tail end of the Brent era and is very high energy and very special.  This version is also included on the So Many Roads box set.

Fire on the Mountain Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.4

Disclaimer: This is part of my blog that reviews all things Grateful Dead for fun. Music is a beautiful thing because it is so personal and subjective, so keep in mind that this is one man's opinion.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Jerry Wept: A Compilation of Performances from the 1990s

This is what I'm watching this morning... is so great, thanks to Wheatskins for this compilation.