Sunday, January 13, 2013

He's Gone - Grateful Dead Song Review

Like I told you, what I said
Steal your face right off your head

Many of us probably heard this one on Europe '72 first.  It's such a slow but very catchy song.   He's Gone just dishes up one legendary line after another (...nothing left to do but smile smile smile!).  This song was ever-present in Grateful Dead shows from it's inception in April 1972 right up until their final month in 1995.

I associate He's Gone with Truckin' and Estimated Prophet, it was a common choice to wind down after those 2 songs in the second set.  What is a little surprising is how often they segued into Drumz after He's Gone.  It seemed the Grateful Dead would typically rather use a higher tempo song to launch the Drums/Space portion of the show.

Hunter/Garcia Do it Again

Who else but Robert Hunter could be behind such literary (and weird) references as

Cat on a tin roof 
Dogs in a Pile... 

Hunter and Garcia made every syllable count in He's Gone.  It's actually a very short song with few words when you compare it to others.

I've read that He's Gone is about Mickey Hart's father who had mismanaged the band and absconded with a lot of embezzled money.  The lyrics could probably apply to that (as well as many other situations).

Personally, I've always somewhat imagined He's Gone as a song about a person leaving "the straight world" to lead the Grateful Dead life. I'm sure it's a reflection of the time of my life that I became acquainted with the song.

The Album that Never Was

Was He's Gone part of the canon of music from the early 1970's that comprise the "missing album" that I've heard Robert Hunter lament about from time to time?  It must, along with tracks like Jack Straw, Brown Eyed Women, and Tennessee Jed.

What I'm referring to is a soundbite that I've heard at least a couple times where Robert Hunter points out that there was such a prolific output during the early 1970s, he feels that there could've easily been another classic Grateful Dead studio album that never happened because the band was too busy with touring and other projects.  He's Gone and the other songs I mention all are classics that came out in this period and never made it onto a studio album.

Versions I Love

It's hard to top Europe '72's version of He's Gone. This is the quintessential version to me.

A later version that I recently heard and loved is from Boston Garden 1993 (from a great run of nights that I recently wrote about).

One thing I enjoy about hearing later versions of He's Gone is the extended vocal improvisation the band would perform at the end while repeating Oooooh, nothing's gonna bring him back.  There were always some Bobby falsetto histrionics and the occasional Phil "vocal bass lead" during this part which I always enjoy (but probably would appeal only to Deadheads to whom the band could do no wrong).

He's Gone Song Rating on a Scale of 1-10: 9.2

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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