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.


Ouish said...

Hey Mike, sorry but Brent died July 26, 1990. In March the Dead played one of their strongest tours ever. Love your blog! (~);-} Peace

GDmike said...

thanks for the heads up, I corrected the article.