This Saturday, KPFA will be running its annual Grateful Dead fundraising marathon, as it’s been doing every year since roughly around the time of, oh, “In the Dark.” The program is perennially hosted by David Gans, and this year’s show marks his 27th behind the marathon mic. From a Chronicle piece on the event a couple of years back:
Gans will sit in the studio from 9 a.m. … until 1 a.m. … playing live Grateful Dead songs and interviews. There’s no advance plan. Like a Dead show itself, the show will evolve spontaneously in tune with the listeners’ collective mood.
Since 1990 Gans has also hosted “Dead to the World” on Wednesday night on KPFA. (Listen to archives of that show here.) And his “The Grateful Dead Hour” is also heard on well over 100 stations around the country. So as a little appetizer before this year’s marathon, we asked David to pick through his vast cerebral archive of Dead music in order to propose five must-listens. Here they are …
David Gans’ 5 Grateful Dead Songs You Should Know
- “Dark Star” (Live Dead) – The most important and unique aspect of the Grateful Dead’s music is their collective improvisation. This song has two verses and a two-line “chorus,” but what happened in between the words could take you from a whisper to a scream, through gardens and galaxies. They played it differently every time.
- “Shakedown Street” (Dick’s Picks vol 5) – The band’s “disco” song, introduced in 1978. A look into the Dead culture, set to a powerful dance groove.
- “Truckin‘” (American Beauty) – the Dead’s own story, sung to a swingin’ shuffle beat. They thought it was “a long, strange trip” in 1970, and that was only five years in!
- “Playing in the Band” (Grateful Dead Movie Soundtrack) – A ten-beat musical phrase borrowed from Alla Rakha, developed by Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir into a rocking philosophical musing on the act of making music. Started out small, but over time the jam in the middle of the song grew into one of the band’s most magnificent vehicles for exploration.
- “Turn On Your Love Light” (Live Dead) – In the beginning, the Grateful Dead were fronted by Ron ‘Pigpen” McKernan, a hard-drinking bluesman who prowled the stage and whipped audiences into a randy frenzy with his lascivious stories. Pigpen died in 1973. The Dead changed their style and carried on, but he was missed!
So there it is. Got your own faves? Let us know.
And so you know, KPFA is also holding an online auction of Dead memorabilia on Facebook — you just enter your bid in the comments field.