Sunday, January 6, 2013

Help On the Way - Grateful Dead Song Review

During my short time of seeing Grateful Dead concerts, I let anyone and everyone know that this was the song I wanted to see most.... it was not meant to be.

Help on the Way is a true "one of a kind" song that no other rock song sounds like.  That's a pretty impressive feat.

I can't even put my finger on why it is so original - it's not like it relies on any middle eastern scales but it does sounds really good in the context of the Blues for Allah album (on which it is the opening track).

Help on the Way is a modal minor song (as is the following Slipknot!) that uses lengthy complicated patterns that are probably partially inspired by modern (at the time) jazz songs like Freedom Jazz Dance written by Eddie Harris (and played by Jerry in Legion of Mary).

Another Hunter/Garcia Masterpiece

While the song does have some great and original music what makes it amazing are the simple and catchy verses and chorus.  And as great as the chords and vocal melody are, Hunter's lyrics are even better:

Paradise waits
on the crest of a wave, her angels in flame
She has no pain
Like a child, she is pure, she is not to blame

Great imagery. It's difficult to put my finger on a specific theme or story in these lyrics but the words are beautifully mysterious and left up to interpretation.

Great Versions of Help on the Way

I originally became familiar with Help on the Way from Without a Net, and that Help>Slip>Frank medley is great, but the versions that I hear from the mid 70s are the finest in my opinion.

The 8-13-75 version on One From The Vault (with legendary intro by Bill Graham) really stands out as  a great version.  I posted a video of this performance at the bottom of this blog (thanks MyInnerEyeMike for posting that).

Also, the version from October 9th, 1976 really stands out in my memory.  I would link to this show but as the entry for this night tells us, it's been released as Dick's Picks 33 (Oakland Coliseum Stadium - 10/9/76).  I don't want to add any song spoilers but the Help>Slip>Frank progression has some extra songs mixed in to it.  This show is ridiculous - seek it out.

Lackluster Performances in the 1990s

If you read this blog much, you know how much I enjoy the late 1990's era of the Grateful Dead.

Unfortunately, almost every version of Help on the Way that I've heard from 1993 through 1995  are all  disappointingly sloppy .  The band can never seem to get on the same page for the complex passages that lead into and out of Slipknot!.  Vince Welnick definitely knew the part but just had a really tough time getting in step with Jerry.

Help on the Way Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.7

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.

Note: comments are encouraged and appreciated but appear slowly due to a disqus plugin issue.  It takes a while for them to show up in the blog entry but they will, so please contribute by commenting below!


Michael said...

Thanks for sharing this. My favorite version is from 6-9-77, Winterland. I love the count during Slipknot! that brings it back down to start Franklin's. I saw them many times between 85-95. I live in San Francisco so it was easy to catch them in many places around the bay. Also, the version you chose from 75, is always wonderful. I love the Great American Music Hall. It's one of the best places to see a show, anywhere. I saw the Melvins there last week, as a matter of fact.

All the best.

GDmike said...

Thanks for posting this I'm so jealous you saw the dead from 85 onward, can't imaging how great that would've been.