November 25, 2010

The Very Short Tale of Golden Road

When the Grateful Dead went home from the LA studios in February ’67, they probably thought they were finished recording – after all, they’d recorded more than enough songs for an album. But Warner Bros wanted a single, and asked for another song: as Garcia reported, “After we recorded the album they said, ‘We still haven’t got anything here that’d be a strong single,’ so we said, ‘Ah, a strong single, sure!’ So we went home and wrote a song.”
They decided to write a song about the Haight hippie scene. The title came to them from Sue Swanson – she was their first fan, having watched over them ever since the first Warlocks rehearsals at Dana Morgan’s store in ’65. (She’d been Weir’s friend, and immediately became so enthusiastic about them, she insisted on going to every Warlocks rehearsal and even playing the 45s they learned songs from. “My job was to change the 45s. ‘Play that part again!’ It was a crummy little phonograph that would sit on the counter. I’ll never forget the sound of them practicing in there, and all the cymbals and everything in the whole room would be…making all this noise.”)
She’d been their constant companion since then. With the Dead’s first album now finally being released, Sue decided it was time to organize a fan club, and called it The Golden Road to Unlimited Devotion. She, Connie Bonner, and Bob Matthews put out the Dead’s first fan newsletter that April, the Olompali Sunday Times. (The first two issues can be seen here: - they’re short, and well worth the read.)

The Dead recorded the song at Coast Recorders in San Francisco later in February, rather than going back to LA. They were able to take more time with this song, recording lots of takes, so it’s more layered with overdubs than the other songs on the album. - the alternate single mix, with more studio effects than the cleaner album mix.

Lyrically, it’s something of an attempt to capture the Haight scene in a bottle, inviting everyone to “come and join the party every day.” (Ironically, the second fan-club newsletter from May describes the Haight being swamped with tourists, staring at the hippies!)
Garcia said, “The Golden Road was our effort at nailing down some of that feeling, I guess. That was sort of our group writing experience before Hunter was with us. We kept it simple. But what can you say? ‘We took a bunch of acid and had a lot of fun?’”

The band credited Golden Road on the album to McGannahan Skjellyfetti – a mythical character, based on a name in Kenneth Patchen’s book Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer. (My guess is Pigpen was the Patchen fan, since he was into beat poetry.)
As it turned out, Skjellyfetti would have a brief writing career, getting credits for Golden Road, Cold Rain & Snow, New Minglewood Blues, and “Feedback” on Live/Dead, before fading away. (On more recent CD issues, he’s disappeared altogether under the stern frowns of music publishers.)

We only have two live Golden Roads.
3/18/67 - (the other, better Archive file is currently not streaming)
‘5/5/67’ - (segues into New Potato Caboose)
It’s unusual among the Dead’s live songs – they do it exactly like the studio version (even the guitar solo’s unchanged) - and clocking in at two minutes, it must be the shortest live song they ever did. (Which may be one reason they moved on and left it behind – in ’67, the Dead didn’t stand still for long. Ironically, this summer-of-love song was already history by the summer of love.)
Those who wonder why the Dead dropped it so quickly should also remember that all the Dead’s early pre-Hunter songs followed that pattern. Garcia was never too happy with his lyrics (“I felt my lyric writing was woefully inadequate”), and the band was eager to abandon their early compositions. (They were primarily a covers band at the time, and wrote very few of their own songs in any case.) Almost none of their 1966 songs made it into ’67 except for Cream Puff War (that we know of…for all we know, they may well have played Alice D Millionaire or Tastebud live in ’67). And by the time Hunter started writing lyrics for them, pretty much all their older original songs were dropped.

Though they likely played Golden Road quite often in early ’67, it probably didn't last in their sets past the summer/fall.
Some inaccurate setlist sites report more specific performances of Golden Road., for instance, shows the mysterious 6/15/67 Straight Theater show with the setlist borrowed from ‘5/5/67’. has at least finally omitted their hoax listing of 12/18/65 Big Beat Club (which also used the same setlist).
For the 4/12/67 Mime Troupe benefit at the Fillmore, Golden Road is the only song listed, and is said to have opened the set. The Dead may well have played it.
6/8/67 Cafe au Go Go has a very nice-looking setlist which includes Cream Puff, Cryptical, New Potato, Born Cross-Eyed, and Alligator>Caution. Clearly a fake! (The available setlist for 6/6/67, though probably also fake and suspiciously Pigpen-heavy, does at least show what a full mid-’67 set would have looked like, and is also partly confirmed by Phil Lesh’s description of a Café au Go Go set in his book: “Pig’s blues and R&B, arrangements of traditional songs, a Dylan song,” and Alligator…though ironically, he may have just looked up this setlist!)

Back in the real world, there is also a video of Golden Road from a '60s British TV show called Whicker's World. This was “a weekly UK news journal show that ventured to San Francisco to report on the hippie generation. The Grateful Dead were featured getting stoned in their Haight Ashbury pad, as well as performing The Golden Road.” (The filming took place in March ’67, and is actually mentioned with some excitement in the first fan-club newsletter.)
I can’t find a good link to this clip, so I’ll offer this description from deadlists: “The video portion is intense to watch. Strobe lights are flashing and the camera zooms in and out very fast on the band members… There is a lot of footage of people dancing (and the guy doing the oil-based light show).”
The British narrator announces the clip: “An assault on the senses, an LSD trip without drugs. Flashing strobe lights, spermatazoic color.”
Sad to say, the Golden Road is not live, but dubbed from the album.

The band did at least mention Golden Road onstage again, a few years later. On 6/7/70, the fourth night of a Fillmore West run, the Dead were taking a little break onstage after Sitting on Top of the World.
Garcia explained, “We’re waiting around until a good idea comes up.” Of course, the audience offered a few ideas of their own. (Earlier in the show, the band had jokingly aborted Louie Louie as Weir exclaimed, “Hey man, none of us knows that song!”)
Now Weir spoke up again: “Hey, there’s a guy over there, and he’s always over there, and he always yells out ‘Golden Road.’ And I want to know who he is, man, because you take the cake. I mean, actually, quite truthfully, we’ve forgotten that song, we’ve forgotten how to play it.”


  1. McGannahan Skjellyfetti was also credited more recently on the Grayfolded album from John Oswald. This album of course was the Dark Star double disc super mix.

  2. I have a good copy of the complete Whickers World on video (which I converted to dvd), I'm gonna try to put it out there. On the same video, I also have the unedited complete press conference from their first bust in '67, as well as some other very nice old stuff that I found in a video sale and was labelled "Grateful Dead Scrapbook". Great find of which I have no idea how it was put together.

  3. There is a need for a good compilation of the Dead's early videos - there are lots of bits & pieces that are rather scattered, some not easy to find.

  4. Is the 7" single mix of "Golden Road" available on CD?

  5. Was it on any of the LP compilations or is just a total rarity (like the 7" take of Music Never Stopped with extra Donna bridge & 7" of Dancin in the Streets with extra horn section)?

  6. You know, I think I'm mistaken about it not being available. Wasn't thinking!

    The youtube page I linked to is from Skeletons from the Closet - it has a more phased, cluttered sound, especially noticeable in the solo.
    If I had a copy of Skeletons I could say for sure, but it's quite possible that the most recent CD reissue uses the 2001-remastered album mix, and the original issue has the single mix.

    This page confirms that different mixes of Golden Road were used on the single and album:
    But it's vague about which mix was put on Skeletons.

    Someone else will have to check!

  7. Somebody posted the "performance" part of the Whicker's World video on YouTube a few months ago:

  8. fyi - the "whicker's world" segments about sf in 1967 w/ gd and others.

    I-) ihor '' wickers world '' - san francisco - summer 1967 - (pt1of4). (gd sequence is edited out) Grateful Dead - Whicker's World 1967.wmv '' wickers world '' - san francisco - summer 1967 - (pt2of4). '' wickers world '' - san francisco - summer 1967 - (pt3of4). '' wickers world '' - san francisco - summer 1967 - (pt4of4).

  9. Bob Matthews remembers the Golden Road recording session, after the rest of the album was done, "at the old Coast Recorders at 960 Bush Street. One or two nights, I remember being into the sixties on the number of takes. One of the unique little overdub things: if you listen to the intro and a couple of choruses on the outs, there's some funny little percussion stuff, which is Kreutzmann beating on Garcia's guitar with his drumsticks while Jerry was fingering the chords."
    (from This Is All A Dream We Dreamed, p.69)

    It's hard to believe that they were doing 60 takes of Golden Road, but this indicates the greater level of care they put into recording this single in San Francisco than they put into the whole rest of the album in Los Angeles. I don't know if Hassinger was the engineer on this session.

  10. Garcia & others commented on the Golden Road recording session in a couple of radio interviews in early '67.

    With Larry Miller, March '67 -
    Garcia: This was recorded after we recorded the body of the album, and the actual song is a new song; we were thinking specifically of a single, so we just played around, and came up with some nice changes and cooperated on the entire thing, and came up with the Golden Road, which is a good song; I mean it's like really fun to sing and fun to play and everything like that, and it seems like a good single - whatever that is - we thought it could be a single.
    Weir: We worked it up some in the recording session, which we didn't do on most of the album.
    Garcia: This is the only one that has any kind of recording stunts on it, so there are two flattop guitars and three electric guitars and so forth; we got twice as many voices as normal.

    With Tom Donahue, April '67 -
    Garcia: We were the ones that mixed [the album], the mono mix and the stereo...
    DJ: Where? ...
    Lesh: RCA, with the exception of the single which was cut at Coast. And the single, I think sounds more like us than the album does. It sounds dirtier.
    Garcia: And fuller.
    Lesh: And more stuff going on...
    Garcia: Well we did a lot more stuff on the single too, like we put a lot more, you know, we overlaid a lot of stuff.
    Lesh: It’s a recording rather than a transcription.
    Garcia: Right, right, and somehow it comes out sounding more like the way we sound live, just because of the enormous amount of confusion involved. And maybe, you know, it’s like we’re used to playing in a big –
    DJ: And there were more people jammed in the studio at Coast that night.
    Garcia: Oh that’s true –
    DJ: ‘Cause I came in and there were a lot of people.

  11. Listened to the Golden Road "versions". I'm thinking it's not a different mix, just mastered separately from the album - probably by a different engineer maybe at a different plant. All were common at the time. Since the band worked on it separately and specifically as a single, it's unlikely they would have spent studio time remixing it for the LP, as opposed to just adding it when WB wanted both another track and the "opening hit".

    1. Good point. Listening again (I don't have the original vinyl, just what's available digitally), I couldn't point out any specific mixing differences, just a more phased and murky sound on the single version; so it's likely the single & album are just different masterings of the same mix.
      The single version does sound notably different, though, distinctly "watery." The album remaster has a much clearer sound.

      Listening closely made me appreciate Garcia's comments about how many overdubs they did. I still can't tell what instruments are making all the sounds, there are so many little touches in there - it's a very dense recording, especially for 4-track.

      By the way, as Garcia mentions above, the Dead did supervise two mixes of the album - mono and stereo, as was typical in the '60s.
      It's the only Dead album to be released in mono, and the mono mix has never been issued on CD, although it was put out in a limited vinyl release a few years ago.

    2. I used vinyl for the comparison as digital would be a further remastering anyway.
      I also A/B'd the album. I think Garcia must have meant they supervised while a fold-down was made to mono (std in 67 in the US) because the ratios/sliders are the same. With a mix like this, multiple tracks would have been bounced down to work to 4-track while recording was ongoing, making it unlikely (esp. for an unestablished act, nationally) they would have peeled it all apart and started over for a mono mix as that would likely have meant more recording time and dollars (as we see with the Beatles pure-mono mixes and others from the time period).

    3. Remastering can be funny that way because EQ and even varispeed was added in that period. Dead ALT mixes tend to be obvious (c.f. the next two albums). I have 70s copies of E72 and the Sugar Mag 7" (taken from E72) and they sound at first like different mixes because the single was so muddy. But the 7" outro has the telltale Donna duet and is from the Paris show (albeit heavily edited).

    4. It's interesting to hear that the mono mix may just be a fold-down rather than a separate mix from the 4-track, but that certainly would have saved time. I haven't read any details about the mono mix.
      Jefferson Airplane, just a couple months earlier, had a separate mono mix of Surrealistic Pillow with much less reverb than the stereo mix - I suppose that was the producer's decision. They were also a more established band, and spent more time recording that album.
      As for the Dead, I know Born Cross-Eyed had a separate mix on the single than the Anthem album, but at that point the Dead were spending a lot more time in the studio. And some of the later singles that Warners released were significantly edited (Truckin' was also a different mix, I believe), but not per the Dead's wishes.

    5. To my ears it's a fold down, which still gives it a different sonic feel and different mastering. I just wanted to add this info because I think this site is a great resource.

      Reverb across a master is another item added by some engineers while mastering at the plant. In some cases from that era, it may or may not be added the same way or at all for a later pressing. (As opposed to, say, the 7" Truckin' where reverb was added to Bob's vocals at the mixing stage to make it warmer for radio). By the time of Anthem/Aoxo they had several ALT versions of tracks (Doin that rag - both of which were released, the St Stephen with the telephone, etc.). Airplane had two chart-topping singles in 67 and RCA/Victor probably thought they were about to become a hit machine (and not release something as weird as Baxter's!).

      I think all of the WB singles but one are edits or different mixes after Golden Road:
      Dark Star - studio mix
      Born Crosseyed - 7" mix
      Uncle John’s Band /New Speedway - edits
      Truckin - remix
      Ripple - edit
      One More Saturday Night (from Ace but labeled GD on single) - edit
      Bertha (sat night b side) - longer than orig Skull Fuck version
      Sugar Mag - solo/jam removed
      Mr Charlie b-side - album version

    6. BTW - there are three mixes of Born Cross Eyed
      7" mix - Apr68
      Orig album mix - Jul68
      Remix album version - 72 (remixed by Lesh fall 71 but probably not entering pressing and distribution stream until 72)

    7. While Garcia drastically reimagined Aoxomoxoa in his 1971 remix, Phil went in a similar direction and made Anthem somewhat cleaner and less trippy in his remix. Some comments on it here:
      Phil added a big closing chord to Born Cross-Eyed, which they should've done on the original album (they did put a different crashing feedback ending on the single).

  12. I heard them play golden road at a kings beach bowl at Lake Tahoe in summer of 1967....

  13. The studio version played over the montage at 1:04:30 in The Grateful Dead Movie is a remix, I think of the single version. The stereo separation is narrowed and the EQ is a lot less harsh. Sounds a lot better I think. More like the Jefferson Airplane songs of the time. The original mix is hollow in the middle. I wish they would release this remix, because in the movie there are sound effects played over it, so it can't be extracted. I always wonder why people make such a big deal about remixes when they are released officially, but nobody even notices when remixes show up in movies. Makes me think most people don't really care about the mix and can't tell the difference, and just jump on the bandwagon when someone tells them it's a big deal. For example, Twist and Shout is remixed in the Beatles Anthology Series. I took audio of that one out an put it on my iPod.

    ("Remix" might not be technically accurate, if they didn't use the original multitrack stems. Maybe they just changed the EQ, added some effects, and narrowed the stereo separation. The end result is about the same as an actual remix though.)

    1. (Re-reading my comment, it sounds like one of those grumpy self-superior comments that are ruining the internet. Apologies. I do have an axe to grind the way the public and the music press talk about remixes and remasters, but maybe this wasn't the place.

      btw, the studio version of Ripple that appears in the montage just before this in the Movie is also a different mix. Maybe a different version--I haven't done a careful A/B comparison, but the vocal sounded different on first listen. The kick drum is definitely louder and maybe tighter, which is the first thing that tipped me of that something was different.)

    2. An interesting find. Most people probably wouldn't notice mix differences in background film music excerpts! While the live-show multitracks were tinkered with for specific movie mixes, my guess is the studio songs weren't remixed from the original tapes, and the differences are more the result of how the film sound was mastered. But I haven't checked this myself.

  14. In the 90's Vince Welnick advocated reviving the song, but Garcia refused. After both of them were gone, they played it at the Fare Thee Well show I saw and it was one of the (few) highlights of the show.