March 24, 2017

Morning Dew (Guest Post)

MORNING DEW

Evolution of Morning Dew as a Grateful Dead Song
and Sunday afternoon musings on the song:
by Stev Lenon, 1999

Morning Dew was penned by Bonnie Dobson in 1961 and recorded by her in 1962 on the album Bonnie Dobson At Folk City. It began life as a rather plaintive, strongly emotional plea for peace in an age when nuclear annihilation was all too likely. The softness of the folk music styling and structure of the song underplayed the impact of the lyrics, capable of cutting to the bone. The song was restyled to a more rock-like format by Fred Neil. Neil also re-wrote the line, "Take me for a walk in the morning dew," to read "Walk me out in the morning dew." These two changes take the song from conception to the instruments and voices of the metamorphosing Grateful Dead.

Morning Dew's first recorded performance by The Grateful Dead was 1-14-67 at the Polo Field, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA. [Not actually  played that day; the album version is the earliest recording. – LIA] The band performed Morning Dew for the last time on 6-21-95, Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, NY. The song appeared 241 times in the band's setlists.
Those of us not fortunate enough to have direct access to the band's early venues, were usually first exposed to the song on the original Grateful Dead album issued in 1967. The impact of the song was instant. Like everything else on the first album it suffered from chemical engineering during recording. The tempo is several shades too fast to have the greatest musical impact possible. By late 68 the song began to approach its own tempo in the show with the music demanding to be slowed down and stretched out. The early ‘70s gave us a more stately and powerful Morning Dew which the band could open out more than any other ballad played in this period.
During the first half of the band's existence the song could and did appear anywhere in any set. It was unlikely to appear as a show opener but when the first recognizable notes appeared in Set 1 Song 1, it gave instant notice that the show would be above average. This pattern held through to the departure from touring at the end of ‘74. When the band returned to the road, a more formalized structure in set configuration relegated Morning Dew to the "Garcia Ballad Slot" after Drumz. It shared this spot with other songs of great power, Stella Blue (probably Garcia's favorite and certainly one of mine), Wharf Rat, Black Peter, and in the later years Standing On The Moon and Days Between. Garcia tended to view the ballads as songs designed to wind the show down and reach that perfect place where the only acceptable next note is silence. This is a difficult concept for some to accept and an even more difficult one to achieve from the stage. More than with any other ballad, Garcia took us there with this song.
By ‘73, the song had matured, and save for random tempo changes really experienced no evolution in the band's ability to produce the powerful effect the song deserves. Changes in keyboard players provided much of the day-to-day changes in the song. In the earliest readings, the song is a masterful interplay between Garcia and Lesh. Pigpen’s organ is there but other than provide fill, does little to change the song. That’s OK. Pigpen’s most important contributions were not keyboards.
There was a noticeable change when the Godchaux family came aboard. Keith’s bass chords dancing with Phil's profundo counterpoint while his right hand feeds riffs to Garcia as Jerry plays into the stratosphere and back down to earth much like the bombs he is singing about are pathognomic for the song during Keith's tenure.
Brent's arrival shifted the balance a bit too with his Hammond calling the dance, often between him and Jerry while Phil powered the whole from beneath. Note that Phil was not left out of the mix; he was rather more submerged in the construction and was generally more subdued after the late ‘79 period. Then in the ‘90s the duet is once more as it began, Jerry and Phil, point and counterpoint, orchestration as grand as Bach or Beethoven, a symbiosis of two musicians’ hearts and hands into one musical thought.
Each keyboardist changed the outer structure of the song. And in truth, each keyboardist had less impact upon the performance than is commonly accepted. The song, the lyric, the chord structure and the musical vision of Lesh and Garcia define the performance. The rest of the band fills and supports. Even the jazz-born stylings of Keith Godchaux or Brent’s inspired Hammond B-3 had little effect on the overall song.
The song is, when successfully performed by the Grateful Dead, entirely driven by Phil. The 5th and 6th strings as added gave immense power and presence to Phil's notes and chords. During the shows when Phil had his volume levels down, the song fails to crystallize quite correctly, needing a touch of something to make it taste just right. This is a song that should never be performed by a band with a 4 string or even a 5 string bass player. It should never be attempted by a band with a bass player who is merely an additional rhythm player. Garcia excels playing Morning Dew. Lesh powers and animates Morning Dew. Together, they generate and unleash the power and beauty resident in the song.

Which Morning Dew is best of all 241 readings? John Dwork in Dupree's Diamond News lists 13 versions in a best-of article. Many Deadheads including Mr. Dwork and Dick Latvala, keeper of the vaults, feel 5-8-77 to be the pinnacle reading. This is a very impressive show with a quite good Morning Dew (prepare to witness published heresy) but, falls far short of at least six other readings. 5-8-77 lacks something significant in sound. It is tightly performed, beautifully played and comes after a truly wonderful performance. But for me, the fire is lacking; the image never quite appears.
9-18-87 is far superior for it's sheer power and energy. 9-18-87 is probably the best performance with Brent on keyboards. 5-2-70 has more energy. 5-26-72 has more intense jams. 11-8-79 has tremendous Phil presence, always a marker for a great reading. Newly surfaced soundboards of 10-19-73 offer a superb early reading, probably my favorite of this 73-74 period. Which is my overall favorite?
Of all Morning Dews I have encountered my favorites arise from the high plateau of Lady With A Fan/Terrapin Station. 5-22-77 provides one moment of supreme delight springing from Terrapin Station (without Lady With A Fan) following an elegant Estimated>Eyes> Wharf Rat. This is an absolute feeding frenzy for Lesh and Garcia with the second of perfection occurring as a grace note on an ascending riff by Garcia as Lesh feeds chords of incredible power to the band. Listen to the song. You will know the single note I write about if this is the best reading for you. If not, keep listening.
Even more impressive and my favorite reading is 6-7-77. A full Lady With A Fan>Terrapin Station follows Drumz and Lesh realizes Morning Dew needs to be next. Garcia agrees and the result is Morning Dew as performed by a rock and roll orchestra tuned to the tonality of a Bach organ. This is the Morning Dew to record for musical posterity. This is at 15 minutes, 23 seconds by my watch, one of the longer readings around. Garcia soars on the first jam and reads the vocals well. The second jam is a high-octane sequence of crescendos and ascending riffs with long examples of "fanning". Lesh refuses to end the song and keeps pushing Garcia to new explorations of the musical space while thundering counterpoint and harmony with the impact of a bomb exploding underground and shaking the world around you. That night in Winterland, it must have felt like an Arclight going in on the Ho Chi Minh Trail; a sensation with which I am all too familiar. When the song finally ends, Jerry's voice, stretched, thin and so poignantly real, cracks on the final word. “Guess it doesn’t matter anywaaaaaaay!” It should crack. This is perfection achieved partly by accident, partly by exhaustion, partly by emotion. The show should end right then. But here comes Weir with an instantaneous Around And Around. Ah, well! Jerry tried, Phil tried, I agreed, Bob disagreed. Bob started another song. That's what made them who they were. This is, for me, the ultimate performance of Morning Dew. 
That's how a great Dew affects me: cold chills of flashback down my spine, visions of mushroom clouds, ‘Duck and Cover Drills,’ overwhelming sense of pathos and impending loss. Then the music sweeps over me and it’s today again!
Will I change my mind? Maybe. I have yet to hear all 241 readings. So if there is a better version out there, I want to listen to it.
One thing is for certain however; the meaning of this song is not debatable. I have read threads on various usegroups debating the meaning of the song. Is it about a dying lover/friend? Is it about ecological disaster? What does this song mean?
This was the end of the age of above-ground nuclear testing. Strontium, cobalt and other radioactive isotopes sprayed into the stratosphere from national displays of bigger and bigger bomb detonations. They fell to earth in rain and dew, clung to the grass and were ingested by cattle. Strontium 90 fell from the skies daily and there were warnings not to let children and pregnant females drink milk. Strontium can replace calcium in physiologic uptake. We were all at danger of having a skeleton that would serve as a nightlamp long after we were otherwise dust. The very morning dew was becoming deadly. ‘Can’t walk you out in the morning dew, my honey!’
I am 52 years old as I write this. It is impossible for me to hear the song performed by anyone in any fashion without flashbacks to The Cuban Missile Crisis, as a 14 year old helping to dig a fallout shelter into the hillside through a hole knocked in a neighbor's basement wall. We were all glued to TV sets and radio played continually on either 640 or 1240 kHz stations, waiting for the high pitched scream of the ‘Emergency Broadcast System’ to announce that only Conelrad would now be trying to send us anything over the electromagnetic spectrum. The world was within 11 seconds of nuclear war. Overlay this image with scenes from the movie "On The Beach." ‘You didn’t hear no baby cry today;’ isn’t it a shame you never will again. ‘Thought I heard a young man moan this morning!’ ‘You didn’t hear no young man moan!’ ‘Don’t you worry about all those people.’ ‘Guess it doesn’t matter anyway!’ And it wouldn’t have. That's what Morning Dew means. Total ecological nightmare, social destruction and a dead world caused not by means beyond our control but within our control.
Dark Star became The Grateful Dead’s signature platform for a jam. Throwing Stones was perhaps the most politically active song they performed. Morning Dew was the most powerful plea penned by our generation for nuclear disarmament. Nobody performed it better than The Grateful Dead; no one ever will.

http://web.archive.org/web/20030626230150/http://www.elizabundledee.com/morning.htm

22 comments:

  1. This is the 7th in a series of fourteen Guest Posts I’m adding this month.

    These essays were written in 1999 for a now-dead webpage meant to accompany the Deadheads’ Taping Addendum. The Addendum concludes, “For those readers interested in reading more from our team of crack contributors, check out our lyrical and musical essays on the Grateful Dead’s most illuminating songs.” A variety of Compendium writers contributed essays on various songs, but their webpage was only up for a short time before it was taken down some 13 years ago.
    The essays haven’t been reprinted elsewhere (as far as I know), so they’re little-known today. I thought they should be revived in a more accessible presentation for readers who might be interested in them.
    I’m not including here the essays on song-lyric interpretations, or (with one exception) songs written after 1974, since those are of much less interest to me. The full contents are still linked on the Web Archive for those who want to read more in those areas.
    Obviously some performance histories are a little incomplete or out of date, since fewer shows were available then, but I haven’t updated or revised them [except for a few minor corrections]. The date of writing should be kept in mind.
    I don’t always agree with the authors – these are their opinions, in their style! – but including these essays here doesn’t preclude me writing my own posts about some of these songs in the future.
    More guest contributions on early songs, shows, or Dead history are always welcome, of course.

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  2. I appreciate the author calling attention to 6/7/77, but I'm not sure how he can write an article about Morning Dew that doesn't mention 10/18/74 at all.

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    1. He doesn't mention any '74 versions...in fact he only comments on eight versions altogether. He mentions a "13 best versions" list in Dupree's Diamond News, but doesn't get too far into his own best-of list. This is a brief history of Morning Dew in broad brushstrokes, musing on the song's overall development rather than individual performances.

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    2. I understand, but if you are going to mention any versions, 10/18/74 should be in the discussion. I'm not saying it's the best ever, but because of the movie, with the mirror ball, and it's appearance after that Dark Star...it has to be mentioned.

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  3. My favourite 'Morning Dew' is still the one from the Lyceum, 26 May 1972; I heard this before hearing the version on the band's first album. Hearing it on the complete '72 recordings in its full context just makes it even better; the way it emerges out of 'The Other One' is magical. Another great one is 18 June 1974, on Road Trips 2/3 bonus disc, Lesh's bass is well to the fore, really pushing things along with hefty chords. That huge opening chord is just brilliant; can anyone tell me what key that is? The one on Dick's Picks 7, 10 September 1974, is a beauty as well, and slithers nicely out a splendid 'Dark Star'.

    The Lyceum one has Pigpen's organ on it, fairly low in the mix, but nonetheless giving it a warmer sound than the ones after he had retired; they have a more spikey (for want of a better word) sort of sound.

    Dr Paul

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    1. The opening chord of Morning Dew is a basic D, I believe.

      The E72 album version of Morning Dew is sweetened-up from the 5/26 tapes - sped up, and with a new vocal (Garcia was a little hoarse in the show). I'm not sure I believe Dead engineer Wizard's tale about Garcia "playing with his back to the audience, tears streaming down his face" during that Morning Dew, but it's a nice story.

      '74 seems to be a favorite year for Morning Dews, with 2/24, 6/18, 9/10 and 10/18 all commonly cited as top versions. And they only played it six times that year! Oddly, the Dead generally ignored the song through the rest of the '70s, except for a brief flurry of Dews in late '76/spring '77 - there was only one version each in '78 & '79, before it returned to an occasional airing in the early '80s (about 7-8 times a year). Dew became more frequent in '87-88, before returning to its semi-regular slot about 8-9 times a year in '90-95.

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    2. A bit more on Morning Dew's place in the setlists:
      I believe it was always a standalone song up to 1971. In the '60s, it was often a dramatic show opener with the blasting gong introduction. This happened less frequently over the years as Morning Dew could appear anywhere in the show, but in 1970 it still often opened the electric set with a bang.
      They stopped playing it when Keith joined, and it reappeared in the middle of the Europe '72 tour - opening the second set in Rotterdam, then tagged onto Dark Star in Munich. The Dead liked this transition so much, Dark Star>Morning Dew became a frequent pairing in '72-74 - Morning Dew seems to gain an extra-heavy feeling when it comes out of a dark jam. But it could also come out of the Other One, occasionally a Truckin' jam, or even (in '73) Eyes.

      These are the songs that segued into Morning Dew in '72-74:
      Dark Star - 12 times
      Other One - 4 times
      Eyes - 4 times
      Truckin' jam - 2 times

      Morning Dew was the center of the Playing>UJB palindrome 3 times. It came directly out of Playing once (11/21/73), and (unusually) segued into Playing twice (10/18/72 & 11/1/73).
      But it was also still often played by itself, at 10 shows - it opened a set or show 4 times, and was a show encore twice.

      In its eight appearances in '76-77, Morning Dew could be unpredictable - it could come out of the Other One, out of Not Fade Away, or be an encore - but most frequently came out of Terrapin Station, 4 times.
      After '78 it entered the post-drums ballad slot, most often following Not Fade Away. Other One>Morning Dews were surprisingly rare in the early '80s, I think there are only a couple examples - in the '80s, Morning Dew was more likely to come out of Truckin' or some other rocker, or straight out of space.

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  4. A note on the lyrics:
    Though Bonnie Dobson wrote the song, Garcia's version was based on hearing Fred Neil do it. Per McNally, "Laird Grant had come across the song on a Fred Neil album late in 1966 and brought it to Garcia." (McNally 539) It's likely Garcia would have heard the song other places too, but Fred Neil simplified it, condensing the lyric a bit, and changed the original "Take me for a walk in the morning dew" to "Walk me out in the morning dew."
    Dobson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgl0YfJiz80
    Neil: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syIcmIhG0yc

    Tim Rose did a cover in 1967 around the same time the Dead recorded it, rocking up Fred Neil's lyric and adding a new ending:
    "Now there's no more morning dew
    Lord, what they were saying all these years was true
    'Cause there's no more morning dew."
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb57HpieVB0

    Rose's hit version was the basis for pretty much all later rock covers of the song. The Dead's independent rock arrangement had nothing to do with his, but was ignored by basically everybody except Dead fans. Nonetheless, Garcia, while mostly sticking to Neil's lyric, also made an important change at the end. Neil's ending:
    "Can't walk you out in the morning dew, my baby
    I'll never walk you out in the morning dew again."
    Garcia's ending:
    "Can't walk you out in the morning dew, my honey
    I guess it doesn't matter anyway
    I guess it doesn't matter anyway."

    Some links:
    http://www.whitegum.com/~acsa/songfile/MORNDEW.HTM
    http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/the-story-of-bonnie-dobsons-stolen-song-morning-dew.248266/ (has a couple Dobson interviews)
    http://hooterollin.blogspot.com/2012/01/december-9-11-1966-fillmore-auditorium.html (comments)
    https://archive.org/post/410824/the-end-of-morning-dew

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  5. Note that often (usually? can't really recall....) Jerry fully opened up the ending by finally giving into the wish, and agreeing, "I'll walk you out in the morning dew, my honey; I guess it doesn't matter anyway." To me, this is what makes total sense of both the "it doesn't matter" AND the evolution of the jam, from tenderness, to communion, to wide open arms to infinity (all laced with sorrow).... After all, if all we love is gone, we may as well go on out there and let the ruined world claim us as well.... As ever with this tribe, we'll do it with grace, eyes open, hearts breaking wide.

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    1. Interesting, I hadn't noticed that. Can you point out any versions where Jerry closes with "I'll walk you out" instead of "can't walk you out"?

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    2. For starters, Barton Hall. Also just relistened to the FL one noted above (5/22); it's there too. My recollection from "back in the day" was that it felt special when he did it that way, but now I'm thinking I was just stoned, and maybe he often or always ended that way, and I was just delighted by it every time (after the initial verse, where of course he sticks with the Dobsonian approach of deferring on the whole idea of traipsing about in the dewy grass....). Even the top result in online lyrics seems to suggest it was his norm to throw caution to the wind and just enjoy the (literally) damned dew by the end.... So now I'm kinda thinking that when he "can't" walk her out at the end, it's just him spacing out and slipping into that line's habit. The "it doesn't really matter anyway" line can work either way (ie we might as well go walking, babe, what the hell.....or that they're stuck inside forever, or perhaps nuclear winter has indeed, as dobson has it, made it so there "is no morning dew"). But I feel like the line, and especially the expansiveness and tenderness of the jam, make more sense if they're out there wandering the empty world and soaking up their fate like all their brethren.

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    3. Also, I'll admit that it was only this week as I listened to the new boxed set that I noticed this! Afterwards, actually, as I did some online perusing to try to make my own sense of the the "it doesn't matter" line, and found this and various takes on the Dobson and Neil/Rose versions. So I'm also new to this take on it, but I'm liking it... If it was the standard, it definitely adds yet another layer of Jerry's expansion, deepening of the tune. I was glad to read that Bonnie said she always really liked the Dead's version; that wouldn't be assumed, since he did shift the vibe alot even with the "it doesn't matter" bit, let alone actually going walking.

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    4. Most online lyric sites do have the line as "I'll walk you out," but the usually dependable whitegum.com Dead lyric site has "can't walk you out," per the studio album.

      I've checked over fifty versions of Morning Dew through the '60s and '70s, and I've found that Jerry almost always sang "I'll walk you out" - rarely "can't walk you out," even from the beginning.
      I found only six "can't walk you outs" - 5/23/69, 4/29/71, 5/11/72, 9/11/73, 10/19/73, and 4/15/78.

      Just as a checklist, these are versions where he sings "I'll walk you out":
      1967 - 3/18, 10/22, 11/10
      1968 - 2/14, 8/24, 12/7
      1969 - 2/4, 2/28, 4/27, 11/7, 12/11
      1970 - 3/1, 5/6, 5/15, 12/28
      1971 - 4/4, 4/28, 8/6
      1972 - 5/18, 5/23, 5/26, 9/21, 9/27, 10/18, 12/31
      1973 - 2/28, 6/10, 8/1, 11/21, 12/2, 12/12
      1974 - 2/24, 3/23, 6/18, 9/10, 10/18
      12/31/76
      1977 - 4/27, 5/8, 5/22, 6/7
      11/8/79, 9/2/80, & probably all thereafter.

      There are a few others where he mumbles or garbles the line. Sometimes he skips the key word and just sings "walk you out" ("1/14/67" from '68, 5/2/70, 11/8/70).
      Sometimes he anticipates the last line and sings "guess I'll walk you out" (a few in '69, 12/12/73, 5/8/77, 9/2/80).

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    5. That's some serious and concentrated research, dude! Wow. Interesting that he so often walks her out even in the first verse. Well, I guess we can all make of this what we may.... I, for one, feel like I've got a new handle on it. Thanks.

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    6. BTW, were those six "can't walk you outs" at the end, or were those the only times he demurred even in the first verse?

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    7. Egads! The first verse, too?
      I see I wasn't clear - I was only referring to the last verse, and meant that Jerry sang "I'll walk you out" there from the earliest live versions.

      I thought the first verse was always "can't walk you out" - but an initial random check of at least 20 Dews dispels that notion!
      8/6/71 has "I'll walk you out" in the first verse too.
      On 2/28/69, 9/21+27/72, 11/17/73, 2/24/74, 9/10/74, 9/30/76, and 4/27/77 he has it both ways in the first verse: "I'll walk you out/can't walk you out."
      On 5/23/72 he forgets where he is and accidentally sings the last verse first!

      All this makes me think that perhaps all these walkouts don't really have a meaning, that he often sings it that way simply because it's easier to sing "I'll" than "can't."

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    10. Well that does muddle things; I had thought it was usually "can't walk you out" to start. I guess we can all make of it what we like or let it be what it is......it doesn't really matter, anyway!

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    11. Yes, he did usually start with "can't walk you out" (at least on a dozen other Dews I checked) but throws in "I'll walk you out" enough times - even combining them in the same verse! - that it creates serious lyric instability. You never know what he'll do next!
      On the one hand, the whole sense of the song seems to change if he's saying "guess I'll walk you out" to his partner instead of saying he can't, or if he's flipping back and forth.
      Then again, my feeling is that it doesn't matter whether they stay in or go out, it's all over anyway. It's a choiceless choice.
      And you can also read it the way you have, as philosophical acceptance of the end (which is very Jerry, to say 'let's go out, it doesn't matter' instead of the stern "I can't" of the original song). Kind of like Dylan's "Let Me Die In My Footsteps" - it's Jerry resisting the song, in a way.

      I didn't check the "young man" verse, but by now I suspect that Jerry might also have switched between "can't walk/I'll walk you out" there too.

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  6. I'm certainly no expert but would welcome an informed opinion regarding 10/12/84 version from Augusta Maine. Jerrys vocsls are, to my ears, rather incredible. What say you?

    https://archive.org/details/gd84-10-12.sbd.clugston.5585.sbeok.shnf/gd84-10-12d2t08.shn

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    1. I'm no expert on '80s Dews either, but that's one of the most well-regarded of that decade, along with 9/18/87 where Jerry gets pretty passionate too.
      6/18/83 is also a strong one worth checking out:
      https://archive.org/details/gd83-06-18.senn421.nawrocki.14411.sbeok.shnf

      It's interesting to see the rankings of Morning Dews change over time. These were the top 10 Dews in the 1999 Deadbase XI poll:
      5/8/77
      9/18/87
      3/27/94
      5/2/70
      10/18/74
      5/22/77
      4/28/71
      5/26/72
      6/21/95
      2/24/74

      And these are the current top versions on headyversion.com:
      5/8/77
      9/18/87
      10/18/74
      5/22/77
      10/12/84
      11/17/73
      5/26/72
      6/18/74
      6/18/83
      2/28/69
      2/24/74

      The '90s versions have dropped in esteem, with a couple more '80s versions rising up. Perhaps some currently unsung '80s Dew will become a popular favorite in the years to come...

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