Monday, 1 June 2015

Grateful Dead: The Best Unreleased Recordings 1966-1993




Given the sheer amount of archive Dead sets out there (120*** and counting!!!) and an albums re-release series that prided itself on teasing out all sorts of juicy outtakes, you could be forgiven for thinking that this book's issue on unreleased recordings would be a bit thin o  the ground. But not a bit of it - if anything this list is even longer than usual, jam packed with abandoned originals that were tried out on stage a couple of times then quickly abandoned, cover songs that never lasted the distance and Pigpen's attempts to get it together long enough to make a solo album. What's odd is that we're here, some twenty years after the Dead played their last (with Jerry in the band anyway) and having made a living off their old concerts - and yet still the band haven't seen fit to release such juicy titbits as these. One can only dream of another 'rarities' set somewhere along the line, on similar lines to the two dedicated to the pre-fame recordings. Unless we've messed up somewhere (there are an awful lot of these sets after all) none of these songs will ever have been released officially on anything, but Deadheads are an enterprising lot, who tend to both know and own things even the band haven't kept an eye on, and most of you reading this will greet these songs as old friends along with the rest of the book. For those who are new to all this then may we humbly point you in the direction of our youtube page? No sadly we haven't posted any of these greats but we have gathered together a handy playlist full of most of the recordings here (and many of the TV appearances listed in a future article). So come visit us at https://www.youtube.com/user/AlansArchives and have a look for our 'Grateful Dead playlist' (we have ones for all of our thirty bands). Now, Youtube links are changing all the time (which is why we haven't posted any here) and it's quite possible that other recordings are out there which are equally fascinating, including some salivating ones I've read about down the years (such as a mysterious song titled 'Roaches In My Frying Pan' - I'm dying to hear that one!) - however as with all these articles I'm not going by hearsay here but by my ears as I can guarantee that everything in this lists exists having heard it (whatever happens to it in the future). If you think of something else by all means write in to our website with it though! As ever this list is in chronological rather than thematic order and features live, studio and demos all jumbled in together...

1) "The Cardboard Cowboy" (unreleased original song 1966)
First up is the fascinating spaghetti Western original 'Cardboard Cowboy' which features Weir on lead with Lesh supporting and dates back in the band's set lists to before their contract with Warner Brothers. As one of the few originals in the set at the time it's a surprise that it didn't make the 'Birth Of The Dead' or 'Rarities 1966' set and while not that great a song  (it sounds like a cigarette advertisement) it does feature some great band interplay and a cracking Garcia guitar run. So little is known about the song there's even a question mark over who wrote it - most fans assume Garcia (it doesn't sound like a Pigpen song and he was the only other member regularly writing) but those choppy chords, bass-runs and mystical lyrics concerning broken dreams means this sounds like an early Lesh song to me. With lyrics comprising a 'flower and crystal seat' 'a paranoid re-entry blanket' and a 'looping antrobus' it's clear that Robert Hunter hasn't arrived on the scene yet!

2) "Big Boy Pete" (Don Harris cover, played live 1966)
This novelty cover is more like the Dead sound of 1966 we've got used to: emphasis on the Hammond organ and some military drumming from Billy, plus a rare shared lead vocal from Jerry and Pig. A (relative) hit for The Olympics in 1960, it seems an odd choice to revive stylistically (this is very much a 1950s middle aged man's rock song) but lyrically there are several themes the Dead will return to later. For instance the line 'the music stopped (there wasn't a sound)', a reference to a 'joint' that was 'jumping' that might well have taken on a new meaning for the drug-taking Dead and the idea of a 'big' authority figure who needs taking down a peg or three.

3) "The Seven" (unreleased original song, played live 1968)
Although 'The Eleven' was the only one to make it onto a record, it was actually just one of three jams in unusual time signatures that the band used as a warm-up esxercise. Like the others it was mainly the idea of Mickey Hart, who loved having musicians play in different rhythms and somehow create a 'third' out of the mess (from what I can tell Bob Weir is in waltz time, Garcia is in 4/4 and the drummers are somewhere out in compound time). While there's less room for jamming (and no words) than the more famous cousin, there's a nice swing about this track and Jerry is having a great time exploring every area this strange new rhythm allows him to play. The Dead only ever played this song four times and only twice under that name (the others were by spin-off band 'Mickey and the Hartbeats).

4)  "The Barbed Wire Whipping Party" (unreleased original 'song', studio 1969)
'There's more freedom than you can choke down in 10,000 years. The other day I went to Mars and talked to God and he told me to tell you to hang tight and not to worry - that the solution to everything is DEATH!' Of all the Dead's studio outtakes this one is the most notorious - and the least likely from this list to ever see release! Don't believe the stories of excess during the making of 'Aoxomoxoa'? Then you've never heard this song, which was recorded with the whole band using a nitrous oxide tank and chanting 'give me meat' over and over while Robert Hunter goes quietly mad over the top. The 'song' kind of shares the same reputation as The Beatles' 'What's The New Mary Jane?' used to: to everyone whose only heard of it rather heard it the song is ground-breaking and sensational and needs to be heard now; to everyone whose heard it it's evidence that even creative people can lose all sense of proportion when using drugs. It's probably not an overstatement to say that this song makes even 'What Has Become Of The Baby?' seem normal, although on the plus side it's nice to hear Hunter fully integrated as part of the band though and least there's a modicum of a tune!

5) "St Stephen" (Alternate Mix, 1969)
Not for the first or last time the Dead really struggled to reduce the frenetic live rendition of 'St Stephen' into a tamer studio take. The band had many tries and most of them - including this one, a shocking absentee from the 'Aoxomoxoa' CD - sounded too 'nice'. Along the way the Dead abandoned all sorts of wild and wacky ideas, including a cello note that intones over the opening 'da-da-doo-dum-dum' riff, a telephone that rings and gets picked up just before the 'Ladyfinger' verse and - one idea they should have kept - bagpipes over the 'William Tell' part ultimately cut from the record anyway (with Weir's rhythm guitar fitting the 'drone' quite nicely!) Rather than reaching a natural ending the track also crossfades as per the 'Live/Dead' arrangement into...

6) "The Eleven" (Studio Version, 1969)
A version of 'The Eleven' jam from 'Live/Dead' that's much closer to the version fans all know and love. There are a few subtle differences however: the tempo is slightly slower, this is more of a Garcia groove than a band groove and the song takes longer to bubble down from the 'angry' groove of the first half into the more 'mellow' second half. Weir also adds a few 'Not Fade Away' style guitar riffs in there. I wouldn't claim either version as a substitute for what made 'Aoxomoxoa' (although this is still definitely preferable to 'What's Become Of The Baby?') but both are extremely fascinating and deserve to be more widely heard.

7) "Friend Of The Devil" (Garcia and John Nelson demo, 1969)
Here's a sweet little demo that not many fans seem to know - mainly because strictly speaking it's not really a 'Grateful Dead' recording at all. In early 1970 the Dead were big supporters of  the band New Riders Of The Purple Sage and for a while both Jerry and Mickey were part of the band. The group's country-rock leanings made for a nice change to the Dead's more hardened approach and Jerry was excited enough by the new medium to come up with a new song about the usual country-style outlaw, complete with pedal steel and laidback 'Eagles' style harmonies. Both he and Purple Sager Dave Nelson worked up the song as an acoustic demo, but somewhere along the line the rest of the Dead heard it and insisted on having it for themselves, turning the song into more of an up-tempo charmer. To date the country demo has never been heard and in truth isn't as impressive by any means, but it's a nice reading of a great song and changes the whole 'feel' of the lyrics tremendously, seeming like more of a lament for past misdemenours than a cheeky yet weary nod to the narrator's pursuers.

8) "Ripple" (Garcia demo, 1969)
Similarly, while 'Ripple' was always a Dead song it started off life as a much gentler country-rock song with Garcia singing alone to his guitar for the first verse before the band slowly come in with rather wobbly harmonies. This version sounds even more like one of the 'old men' songs Garcia and Hunter were writing at the time ('Black Peter' 'High Time' et al) and practically comes with its own rocking chair but is none the worse for that. In fact the ending is far better than the version that made the record, with the band adding some homespun 'da da dums' instead of getting in that rather soppy and disinterested choir (perhaps the only mistake on the whole of the 'American Beauty' LP?)

9) "Empty Pages" (unreleased Pigpen song c.1971)
Performed a mere twice, this is poor ol' Pigpen realising he isn't long for this world. 'Empty Pages before my eyes - do not deny or criticise' snarls Pig as he reflects on a live of living wrong and sighs 'where can I go? My paths are broken'. The song sounds just like a standard Pigpen ballad (not quite up to 'The Stranger' for instance) until a sudden twist of the knife when the song 'dips' into the minor key for the middle eight, sounding as if the narrator is sinking lower and lower under the weight of the world. Only Garcia and a glorious guitar solo gets him back up again, at least until a screaming climax that features Garcia (or someone at least) pulling his lead in and out of his instrument to create a rumble of static and noise in warm-hearted sympathy. While there aren't quite enough recordings around for a full album, it would be wonderful to see the archive series release all of the known Pigpen outtakes in one place so that fans can better understand this most wonderful character, full of just contradictions that he could sing a misogynist blues song about women and drinking one minute and then cry out his guilt the next.

10) "Baby Please Don't Go" (unreleased Pigpen demo c.1972)
Pig's other unreleased songs from slightly later (or so we think - nobody's quite sure...) are more what you'd expect: howling blues workouts with some great frenzied harmonica playing and Pig growling between great gulps of air. This song in particular sounds like it's been around for at least a generation, full of the usual blues stylings about a man ignorant as to why his mis-treated partner might want to leave ('where you gone? You got your shackles on' 'You make me walk the log, treat me like a dog, baby please don't go'). Whilst clearly a demo, Pig already sounds great and it would have been fascinating to see what the rest of the band might have added to this song.

11) "Bring Me My Shotgun" (unreleased Pigpen demo c.1972)
Similarly a rather sleepy Pig warns us in this Lightnin' Hopkins cover to watch out because he's in a mean mood. Pig goes to the trouble of overdubbing some wailing harmonica over the top and getting someone (Jerry?) to play some authentic blues guitar. This song in particular sounds like a Taj Mahal outtake and fans of the blues will love it, although it would have sounded rather out of place on a Dead LP.

12) "Two Women" (unreleased Pigpen demo c.1972)
Similarly 'Two Women' is a bluesy Pigpen original with the same slow tempo and a near identical two-note guitar 12 bar blues riff. Pigpen sighs about the problems of having two women on the go  - one loves him, but he really love another, so surely it's the kind thing to do to keep seeing both of them? Only Pig could make himself out genuinely to be the loser in all this, worrying over keeping them both happy and 'freezing in the heat of the new day sun'. Pig, always the king of dynamics, brings the song down to a whisper for the line 'I say 'hi Mam how's you?' which is really effective, although the song needs gee-ing up a bit to make it to record.

13) "That Freight Train In The Sky" (unreleased Pigpen demo c.1972)
The last of our five-song Pigpen mini album finds the blues singer getting so carried away he sounds as if he swallows his harmonica at the start of the tape before finding a heavy rock riff. Ruminating about death (most likely Pig already knew he was dying by this stage) Pig wonders about what comes next, imagining travelling not to hell in a bucket as the band will later but to heaven in a freight train. Sighing that he already knows what death is like after it took his 'mama', Pig ends up by looking forward to the event that will take him 'home' to her again. While like many blues songs this one goes on too long, it's hard not to shed a tear at the sheer emotion of it all and Pig is in electric form, mimicking a train whistle with his harmonica.

14) "Row Jimmy" (Alternate Take 1973)
Moving on, it's 1973 and the Dead are busy in sessions for what will become 'Wake Of The Flood'. As finished on the record 'Row Jimmy' is a real beauty, a weary song of wisdom that gently lifts us all up in its grace and beauty, pushing us towards our own destinations despite all the obstacles that slow us down. This rough early version sounds more like the live versions, with the band sounding as if they're about to be shipwrecked rather than striking out to shore, with an emphasis on the reggae-ish lilt in the keyboard riff and with Jerry singing alone for now. Whilst clearly a guide take, more to establish that the band remember the song than a serious attempt at a master take, it's not without merit and in some way is even more moving for the sheer human-ness of it all, the mistakes seeming entirely suitable in this song somehow.

15) "Help On The Way > Slipknot > Franklin's Tower" (Early Versions without lyrics, 1975)
The 'Blues For Allah' album was largely built from improvised jams, the Dead throwing ideas around until some of them stuck. A quarter-hour version of the album's opening trilogy exists which is clearly in half-finished state: 'Franklin's Tower' has lyrics, but 'Help On The Way' has not. Though slightly slower than the finished product and with the two drummers struggling to find a rhythm, this is a nice version that has lots of extra space for everyone to play in, with Phil's bass sounding especially good. Though 'Help' and 'Slipknot' ramble a little, the segue into 'Tower' is thrilling stuff and the song itself is a lovely little performance, with Garcia offering a charming if slightly demented vocal. Certainly this outtake is a lot more entertaining than the more general and even more rambling 'jams' added to the CD re-issue.

16) "Fire On The Mountain" ('rap' version, unreleased mid-1970s)
'Fire', one of the Dead's last great masterpieces, evolved very slowly even for a Dead song. Mickey came up with the distinctive rhythm while recording his 'Diga Rhythm Band' where it was an instrumental titled 'Happiness Is Drumming'. Robert Hunter liked the song enough to add some evocative words about a long distance runner being urged to move on and when released on 'Shakedown Street' in 1979 will feature a sensitive vocal from Garcia. In between the two, however, Mickey turned in an almost 'rap' version of the song which he barked rather than sang and which sounds more like some demented coach than Garcia's struggling narrator. The result is fascinating, with even more room for Garcia's gorgeous guitar bursts and percussion, while the whole is rather hypnotic with the same riff looped over and over from beginning to end. This version also includes several verses cut from the final version, which are noticeably more graphic than Garcia's more hopeful take on the same subject: including one about a blind man's guide dog putting out a fire without his knowledge, a body lying on a dissecting table 'cut up in sections, squirmingly alive', another has the narrator 'drowning in hot oil' yet still feeling cold and then comparing it to the feelings of love and one where the narrator is 'out of the frying pan into the fire, over the rat-trap and under the wire'. The result is fascinatingly different and in its own way every bit as good. Mickey should have done more songs this way ('Dark Star crashes, it's light that it splashes, out out out! Further into space you know your place, stop giving me that same old face, diamonds falling? Cash for Gold is calling, sell sell sell buy buy buy...')

17) "The Raven" (one of the weirder Drums/Space Jams, live 1982)
We haven't really mentioned 'Space' much in out book because, well, describing randomly improvised drum patterns and various squeaking synthesiser effects becomes wearing after a while. Every so often though the Dead connoisseur will uncover one of the 'fabled' 'Space' improvisations that were united by a common 'theme' decided upon before the band hit the stage. 'The Raven', heard during an otherwise rather dull show performed at Baltimore Civic Centre on April 19th 1982 features a whole bonkers sideshow where one of the drummers hits a percussion sound that sounds just like a raven cawing, Weir starts dementedly calling his head off and suddenly the whole band are sounding like a flock of birds. Somewhere along the lines Phil tries to start reading out Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem but with so much noise going on he doesn't get any further than 'It was a dark and stormy night...wasn't it?' (Poe lived in Baltimore, though, so it's possible the jam was pre-planned - remember too that a raven is the symbol of Grateful Dead Records so the poem must have cropped up sometime). One of those Dead recordings that fans will lap it up, just for the sheer uniqueness of it, although it's also the sort of recording non-fans will scratch their heads over and make them finally declare that we're all mad. We know better though don't we? Err...I think!

18) "Maybe You Know" (unreleased Brent Mydland song, performed live from 1983)
One of those early Mydland songs about love not being all it was cracked up to be, this track would surely have cropped up on whatever album the Dead worked on next after 'Go To Heaven' - except of course that the band never made one in the first half of the 80s as intended and this song got rather left behind. The track was only ever played six times despite being better and certainly more suitable than anything Mydland had written to date: the song has a great funky riff and has plenty of space for Garcia to bring out his usual fierce guitar work and Brent's lyrics are more multi-dimensional than usual with a chorus promise that 'baby I'll be there' despite all the usual sad and sorry tales about romance dying out.

19) "Only A Fool" (unreleased Brent Mydland song, performed live in 1984)
This one is another Mydland song that got even less of a showing, being performed just the once in a Connecticut show on April 23rd 1984. Brent clearly hasn't finished this one yet and the song features a lengthy rambling introduction as he navigates the song's complex riff with the drummers accompanying him. However the riff is a good one and the lyrics are pretty strong too despite covering old ground: 'You're gonna wish the ground was six feet over you"!' declares Brent as he realises he's been fooled by his lover once again. With time this could have become another classic and is a lot stronger than Brent's songs on both 'Go To Heaven' and 'In The Dark' (if not quite up to 'Built To Last').

20) "Don't Need Love" (unreleased Brent Mydland song, performed live from 1984)
Here for a third time is Brent with another unreleased song, this one almost a set regular at sixteen performances across the mid-1980s. Despite containing some nice Garcia guitar once again this song is back to the drippy ballads from 'Go To Heaven' and features too ploddish a tempo and unmemorable a riff for the Dead. Still, Brent sings his heart out on all the versions I've heard and the track is clearly heartfelt as he tries to convince himself a relationship is over and he's better off without her - however he's still not fooling the listener who knows how hurt he really is underneath it all.

21) "Down In The Bottom" (Willie Dixon cover, performed live from 1985)
A nicely bluesy medley of Willie Dixon tunes heard in concert just the once in 1985 of which Pigpen would have been proud. Sounding not unlike 'Minglewood Blues' crossed with 'Little Red Rooster', Weir gives the song a pounding and is clearly based around the more common Howlin' Wolf cover than the original. While Bob sticks to his swampy rhythm part, Jerry lets fly with a typical solo that's highly memorable - this song should have hung around in the set for longer.

22) "I Ain't Superstitious" (Willie Dixon cover, performed live from 1985)
Little bit by little bit the song gets faster and louder thanks to some serious jamming before Weir hits the start of another Willie Dixon tune (again covered by Howlin' Wolf). This tune is slightly less fitting for the Dead sound and everyone playing at full gusto is a little tiring, but the two songs fit together really well and the band do platy their hearts out.

23) "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" (Beatles cover, performed live from 1985)
I'm less sure about this oddball cover, played half a dozen times down the years and clearly meant as a 'joke'. A throwaway recorded by Paul McCartney for The  Beatles' 'White Album' in John's style (in retaliation for Lennon recording 'Revolution #9' without him, allegedly) it celebrates either sex, eating, sleeping or using the toilet depending on how you interpret the song (although typically most Beatles fans have dirty minds). At one time it used to be legendary as just about the only Beatles song no one has ever covered - now that distinction seems to rest with 'Rev #9' alone. Phil takes the vocals on all the versions of the song I've heard, ignoring his fading vocal chords by growling out a seriously scary version of the song, usually with his trademark cry of 'higher, kids, higher!' perhaps thankfully none of the archive releases have put this one out yet.

24) "Revolutionary Hamstring Blues" (Lesh original, performed live in 1986)
This one, though, is much more interesting and deserved a better outing by the band than a mere single recording at Portland on March 27th 1986. Written by Phil and regular partner Robert Petersen ('my favourite ever Peterson lyric!' he later declared) his fading voice meant he sang back-up to Brent's husky tones on the song on a track well suited to his gruffer voice. The typically complex words are very poetic yet vague, apparently tracing the fake world of celebrity and the changing tastes of then-modern times, although like the pair's other songs ('New Potato Caboose' 'Unbroken Chain' 'Pride Of Cucamunga') your guess is as good as mine (sample lyric: The fore runner radiates wild, help up far now, gun ships pass so far, pass me a vote silly!' The melody could also be better, sounding like one of those irritatingly chirpy children's songs that ruin otherwise excellent films, although with a bit of re-arranging and bashing into shape this would have made a fine addition to the following year's 'In The Dark' album.

25) "Stir It Up" (Bob Marley cover, performed live from 1988)
Garcia in particular was a big fan of reggae and many of the Garcia Band performances have a bit of a Bob Marley-ish lilt. However this is the only Marley song the Dead ever played on stage and they performed it quite often too, with several performances from 1988 until the end of the road in 1995 (so it's rather odd that none of the versions are out officially yet). Brent, Jerry and a falsetto singing Bob take the lead on a rather stilted arrangement of the song, which even two drummers emphasising the 'off-beat' can't turn into a masterpiece. However the band are trying hard and the song does have its moments even if the vocals aren't one of them.

26) "Louie Louie" (Kingsmen cover, performed live from 1988)
The Dead's surprisingly late cover of the garage classic by The Kingsmen fails in one very obvious way: you can hear all the words. Originally Richard Berry's song was seen as dangerous and wild, inciting goodness only knows what thanks to his drawled delivery, but Brent turns the song into a more straightforward tale of a doomed love that could never be, while the others sing the title occasionally behind him. The song's urgent riff sounds it belongs on a Dead stage, though, and it's sad that this cover isn't better known.

27) "Tomorrow Never Knows" (Beatles cover, performed lived from 1992)
Vince Welnick brought a lot of new ideas to the band in their last few years, inclouding the idea that they were in the perfect place to revisit classic songs from the 1960s and 70s that fed into the 'Dead mythology'. A Beatles nut, Vince encouraged the band to revive many of the band's spacier moments including this brave cover of the 'revolver' classic, with the band substituting tape loops and mid=sixties effects for some serious jamming. Of all the versions I've heard, this one is closest to Lennon's original idea of having several chanting Tibetan monks wishing his soul along it's weary way to death and the theme is entirely in keeping with the melancholic mortal themes of the band's last few years. Though received with great adulation at the time and a highlight of many a show in the last few years, sadly the medley of this song and the next one didn't hang around long enough to make it onto an official release until the band had to call it a day in 1995. The drummers especially relish the thumping drumbeats while Vince and Bob sing in harmony (well, that's as loose a definition as 'harmony' as we've had in this book to be honest but that's the idea).

28) "Baba O'Riley" (Who cover, performed live from 1992)
Ditto Vince's shrieked cover of The Who's classic, with his synth and Bruce Hornsby's piano between them doing the work of what was, in 1971, the world's first digital synthesiser. The 'Don't cry, don't raise your eye' middle eight is particularly moving, although the band do rather less leaping about stage selling the song than The Who ever did.

29) "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" (Beatles cover, performed live from 1993)
This Beatles cover always sounded more 'Dead' than 'dead' , if you know what I mean, with Vince's lovely synth accompaniment updating the classic Beatles riff into the 1990s on an extended intro and Jerry adding a nicely world-weary take on the song that made him sound as if he was coming out the other side of the psychedelic experience after one trip too many. This one surely would have made at least the next official live album, but sadly it was not to be and there never was another record to put this classic cover out on. That still doesn't explain why it hasn't appeared on a 'Dick's Picks' or something similar yet though.

30) "I Fought The Law" (Sonny Curtis cover, performed live from 1993)
Nowadays better know from the take-no-prisoners Dead Kennedy's cover, this Dead version of a sleepy Sonny Curtis song is much more like the original. Jerry takes the lead on this one but doesn't actually seem to have learnt many of the words, with the most memorable part of the song coming from the chorus shouted by the rest of the band. Still, it's an entertaining cover that shows the Dead were still throwing in the odd surprise right up until the end.

31) "Broken Arrow" (The Band cover, performed live from 1995)
Finally Phil chose this soft-rock song by The Band to cover, a song of a narrator promising to bring peace to the life of another. Gentler than most Dead covers, with lots of shimmering Welnick piano runs, it's a song that seems to take us back not quite full circle but to the Dead era phase two, when the world was full of American beauty and slower love songs were the mood of the day. Lesh struggled with the vocal but this version is still way better than the original, with the Dead capturing a nice vibe on the song's slow insistent beat that's very 'them'.

That's a collection enough to keep fans happy for at least another rarities set or even a whole archive series (one covering the studio years and outtakes might be nice in the future, hint hint?) What other band could keep us guessing or doing some head-messing so consistently across three decades? Anyway, that's enough Dead-heading for now. See you next week for a discussion of the many Grateful Dead TV appearances there are out there!  

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