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.

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