grateful_dead_kpfa
Click on the image to listen to KPFA’s Grateful Dead marathon starting 9 a.m. Saturday

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  • MandoJamo

    how “China Cat => I know you Rider” did not make the list is beyond me. This song with the “country western” psychedelic first half => the greatest tightest GD transition jam => rocking folk that took it up a lot of notches . . . . China->Rider belongs on that list . . . it singlehandedly made me a dead head for life . . .

    • Timmy

      Def. put China Cat/I Know You Rider on there instead of Shakedown Street!

  • webpuddin

    Dark Star, Sugar Magnolia, Truckin’, Uncle John’s Band, Terrapin Station. Although my personal favorite is Jack Straw. The only argument I’d have against China Cat -> I Know You Rider is that IKYR is not a “Dead” song, but a traditional one. But that being said, they do it soooooo well and virtually MAKE it their own! So I know what you mean with China Cat -> Rider. Hard to beat it. Glad we don’t have to listen to just one!!! ;-)

  • CKitson

    Scarlet Begonias….Eyes of the World…Dark Star…Terrapin…oh I can’t pick that last one, because that would be the END of my list. Just five? Say it ain’t so.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.hunt Robert E Hunt Jr

    Ripple. One of the sweetest songs ever written and played.

  • Sugaree_1982

    Dire wolf…Maybe it was the Roses…Sugaree :)

  • The Lord of Eltingville

    What? No “Day Job?!?”

  • skeeter

    bertha, brown eyed woman, greatest story ever told… theres way to many…leave truckin out

  • BreakingDeadMen

    Dark Star, sure, and I do think that version is quintessential. I would choose Jack Straw, which I think illustrates everything the Dead did well. The dynamics between the ballad sections and the overdrive, the beautiful and fantastic lyric about murderous hobos. So many versions, and the one on Europe ’72 is good if you don’t want to spelunk the archives. I think Uncle John’s Band from Workingman’s is the quintessential studio recording from that era. Lovely song, they hit the harmonies, the tempo, just come as close to nailing it as they ever did. Morning Dew is, to me, the most powerful number they did. I like the one from 6/18/74 Louisville, but there’s lots of fantastic ones; Giants Stadium ’89 was probably the best one I saw live. I would also include Let it Grow, I saw them for the first time in Cincinnatti on 6/24/85 when they did a great version of it. I’m sure there’s better ones, but it’s my sentimental choice of a song I always welcomed in concert.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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