After the Warlocks formed in mid-1965, it didn’t take them long to start writing original songs. “The general consensus was that we’d never evolve very far if we just kept covering other people’s stuff,” Phil recalled, and they soon got to work. Several songs were ready for their November ’65 studio demo, and a steady stream of new songs followed in 1966 as the Dead expanded their repertoire. Most of these were quickly abandoned over the course of the year: “all of them were embarrassingly amateurish, so they didn’t last long in the repertoire,” Phil said. After Robert Hunter joined the group as resident songwriter in 1967, their early songwriting period was dismissed and largely forgotten. But, in these first couple years, the Dead wrote some twenty songs that made it to tape, an interesting and diverse batch of mostly pop-radio-friendly tunes that hint at a possible alternate band history: the Dead without Hunter.
Weir remembered in a recent interview, “There was a lot of stuff we all co-wrote... About half of the tunes in the earlier years were stuff we all worked up together. We would work on them wherever we were rehearsing... Back then we’d pretty much rehearse daily. A lot of that was just jamming. And from that came a lot of music that we turned into songs. Then we’d apply lyrics to them [as] best we could. Until Hunter came along. Hunter changed that dynamic because he was just better at it than we were.”
This list will cover the songs the Dead wrote up to the point Garcia started writing songs with Hunter. The songs are listed in the approximate order they were written (as near as I can determine). The dates given are for the recorded performance history of each song, but due to all the missing shows in this period, it’s safe to assume that many of these songs were played well before or after the known dates.
The credit given is generally just for the lyric writer – the music arrangements for these songs can probably in most cases be credited to the whole band. In these early days the band often wrote the lyrics as a group, with everyone pitching in. Many songs really were "all worked up together" as a collective, without one writer dominating the others. Songs are attributed to the Grateful Dead when no individual writer is known.
MINDBENDER (CONFUSION’S PRINCE) (Garcia/Lesh)
July 1965 – June 1966
This may have been the first song the Warlocks wrote, and was the first to be mentioned in print: an issue of Sing Out! Magazine reported that when David Grisman visited the Warlocks sometime in the summer of ’65, “he especially liked a song written by their lead guitarist, Jerry Garcia, titled ‘Bending Your Mind.’”
Contrary to that report, Weir recalled, “Phil wrote most of the lyrics – we all contributed a little bit.”
Garcia & Lesh share vocals in the November ’65 studio demo, and they must have liked this spooky song since it lasted a while in their repertoire; there are a couple live versions on tape (from 2/6 and 5/19) and it was filmed at the Fillmore in June ‘66. Garcia would allude to this song later in Cryptical Envelopment, with the condemned man whose “mind remained unbended.”
https://archive.org/details/gd65-11-03.sbd.vernon.9044.sbeok.shnf (also released on “Birth of the Dead”)
CAN’T COME DOWN (Garcia)
Nov 1965 – Jan 1966
Weir remembered early Dead songs as being a communal process: “I started to get into writing with the other guys. I was writing in tandem with Jerry and Phil particularly. And Pigpen would chip in as well. ‘I Can’t Come Down’ was one of them. Stuff I don’t think ever made it on record. They were our first attempts at songwriting.”
For this song, Weir recalled, “We wrote all the music and Jerry wrote the lyrics. Jerry excused himself for a moment and went off. He came back with a couple of verses and we put together a chorus.” Garcia sang the lead in this chugging rocker, bolstered by Pigpen’s harmonica and a group chorus.
The lyrics are not Garcia’s finest hour, as he rattles off one silly rhyme after another. He later told McNally, “I’m really a jive lyricist. My lyrics come from right now – put pencil on paper, and what comes out, if it fits, it fits. I didn’t think about them, I just made the first, obvious choices and never rewrote. It took me a long time to sing them out, because they embarrassed me.” (p.97)
This may be one reason the song was so short-lived; it appears in the November ’65 demos and was last reported on 1/7/66.
https://archive.org/details/gd65-11-03.sbd.vernon.9044.sbeok.shnf (also released on “Birth of the Dead”)
THE ONLY TIME IS NOW (Dave Parker)
Nov 1965 – Feb 1966
Talking to Gans, David Nelson recalled that “the lyrics for ‘The Only Time Is Now’ were written by David Parker. Parker wrote another lyric, but Nelson couldn't remember which song.”
The writing style is clearly very different from Garcia’s – Garcia’s songs almost always leaned heavily on lame rhymes in every line, while this song is actually poetic and unrhymed. They should have asked Parker to help on more songs!
This minor-key folk-rock song is done in three-part harmony, with Lesh taking the lead. This is another song that apparently didn’t last very long; it was part of the November ’65 demos and its last appearance on tape was 2/6/66.
https://archive.org/details/gd65-11-03.sbd.vernon.9044.sbeok.shnf (also released on “Birth of the Dead”)
The first Warlocks songs were communal efforts, and Parker wasn’t the only friend to contribute. In a 1976 interview, Garcia remembered that Willy Legate chipped in too: “He even wrote some lyrics to some of our early songs before we started recording, but we’ve subsequently stopped doing the tunes.” Whether these were songs we have, or lost songs that were never taped, is unknown.
CAUTION (DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS) (Pigpen)
Nov 1965 – May 1972
So far the Warlocks’ songs followed the popular song styles of the day – they could have been fitting labelmates with the Beau Brummels on Autumn Records – but for Pigpen’s song they went for something more earthy and primal. Weir recalled in the 1993 Golden Road, “How the ‘Caution’ jam developed is we were driving around listening to the radio, like we used to do a lot, and the song ‘Mystic Eyes’ by Them was on, and we were all saying, 'Check this out! We can do this!' So we got to the club where we were playing and we warmed up on it. We lifted the riff from ‘Mystic Eyes’ and extrapolated it into ‘Caution’, and I think Pigpen just made up the words.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goR8Lf3YH2w (Them live)
Lesh remembers it differently, that they were musically inspired by the sound of a train rolling down the tracks – “we can play this!” Which may be true as well, since it would explain the title (one of several early Dead song titles unrelated to the lyrics).
The song is pretty much complete in the November ’65 demo (despite a rapid fadeout), so they may have been playing it for a while already. ‘Mystic Eyes’ was released in the US on the first “Them” album in July ’65, then put out as a single in October ’65. Although Caution was a straight lift from Them’s arrangement, the Dead knew they were onto something good, and it would find its way onto Anthem of the Sun. Aside from a few breaks Caution would stay in the sets as long as Pigpen could sing it (and would still be teased for years thereafter). No other song written before fall ’67 would be played as long.
https://archive.org/details/gd65-11-03.sbd.vernon.9044.sbeok.shnf (also released on “Birth of the Dead”)
The Dead’s setlists in 1965 are mostly a blank since the studio demo is the only surviving recording from that year. (If these were considered their best new songs, others might already have been rejected and left behind.) The picture improves in winter ’66, when a number of home demos and live shows were taped, showing the Dead busily building up their repertoire. Only a small fraction of the songs the Dead played in 1966 would be originals, but they still composed about a dozen new songs that year. Only one of those would eventually make it onto an album, and others were barely or never played live, as the band quickly discarded their efforts.
For the broader 1966 repertoire, see: http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2010/01/deads-1966-songs.html
CARDBOARD COWBOY (Lesh)
aka THE MONSTER, aka NO LEFT TURN UNSTONED
Jan – Sep 1966
Lesh sings his first “difficult” composition for the Dead. Phil remembered this in ’94 as “a truly awful song I wrote… It’s so godawful I can’t even listen to it to find out what it was like.” He later said (on the Searching for the Sound CD), “I wrote the words and the music... This is known as 'Cardboard Cowboy' but it actually was called 'The Monster,' and I'm not sure why we called it that except maybe it was just so big and ugly and hard to play.” Lesh took this song as a warning example, and hardly ever wrote lyrics again.
‘Cardboard Cowboy’ seems to be a name given by collectors; Weir introduced it onstage as ‘No Left Turn Unstoned.’ It’s not as bad as Lesh remembers – the lyrics are a not very successful attempt at poetic cosmic psychedelia and Weir’s harmonies can be dodgy, but the band makes the song flow despite its difficulties. While being a little reminiscent of Mindbender, it’s also a clear forerunner for New Potato Caboose (and other Lesh songs) in how challenging it was for the band to play.
Nonetheless, the Dead persevered with it: the song first turns up in a January ’66 home demo, fully fleshed-out, and in June they would record it at the Scorpio studio sessions. Though it was left unreleased, they kept playing it live for a while (as on a couple July ’66 tapes, where they've changed the intro). A September ’66 news article quoted the song and stated the Dead still had plans to record it, but by the time they made their first album they’d evidently changed their minds.
https://archive.org/details/gd66-06-xx.sbd.vernon.9513.sbeok.shnf (track 28, mislabeled as ‘Tastebud’ – left off “Birth of the Dead”)
WANDERING MAN (Lesh)
Jan 1966 (demo)
Lesh leads a gentle tune not quite like anything else the Dead ever did. This untitled song was completely forgotten until a lost rehearsal tape of it turned up. There’s no indication it was ever played live. Despite its simple feel and folky sound (only delicate guitar/bass accompaniment, and nice backing harmonies from Garcia & Weir), it’s recognizably Lesh's composition, not exactly a straightforward verse-chorus song.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO ASK (Grateful Dead)
Jan – July 1966
One of the Dead’s strongest early pop songs, sung by Weir. Continuing their trend for nonsensical song titles, the Dead called the song “Otis” at the time, since ‘You Don’t Have To Ask’ would just be too obvious.
Garcia recalled in the 1993 Golden Road, “I think we started it in San Francisco, but we worked it up in LA. It was kind of an R&B thing that had changes that worked a little bit like ‘Get Off My Cloud’ or ‘Louie Louie,’ maybe a little more complicated. It was a straight-ahead 4/4, it wasn’t a shuffle; which was unusual for us in those days, ‘cause we played mostly shuffles. It was a pretty good tune, but we threw it out at some point…because we went on to other stuff.”
Rock Scully called it a “wonderful song that I think Pig and Jerry mainly put together.”
The song was played frequently in live shows through early ’66 (with tapes spanning from 1/28 to 7/30). When one Los Angeles reporter visited the Dead in March ’66, Rock Scully told him they were about to release a single: “‘I Know You Rider,’ and the flip is ‘Otis On The Shake Down Cruise.’” This never materialized; Scully later said the Dead recorded a studio demo along with ‘Silver Threads & Golden Needles’ (which is on the “Rare Cuts” CD), but that appears to be lost unless the tape is still hidden in the Vault. In June the Dead would record it at the Scorpio studio sessions, but after that the song was unreleased and abandoned.
https://archive.org/details/gd66-06-xx.sbd.vernon.9513.sbeok.shnf (track 23 - also released on “Birth of the Dead”)
Feb 1966 – Feb 1967
A straight, solid blues from Pigpen, so soaked in genuine blues tropes it sounds like a cover song. For all the blues covers that Pigpen sang, this seems to be the only original blues song he wrote with the Dead. Even Pigpen played the meaningless-title game: tape collectors knew this song as ‘Come Back Baby,’ but for whatever reason the Dead actually called it “Tastebud.” I don’t think the Dead have ever talked about this song, but it shows up on a handful of live tapes (from Feb to July ‘66), and they made repeated attempts to record it, first at the Scorpio sessions in June ’66, then for their first album in ’67. (Pigpen plays piano on both studio versions, giving the song an authentic Chess Records feel.) He sang a much longer version live, and revised the lyrics completely in the ’67 recording, tightening up the song, but it wasn’t released and disappeared thereafter.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qam-mB5SZXI (1966 – also an instrumental take, released on “Birth of the Dead”)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeDtiuis7PI (1967 – released as album bonus track)
UNKNOWN PIGPEN SONG (Pigpen)
March 1966 (demo)
Only one rehearsal of this mystery song exists. Surprisingly for Pigpen, it’s not a blues but an uptempo pop song (very similar in feel to You Don’t Have To Ask, which might be why the Dead dropped it). It seems unfinished, and might never have made it to the stage.
YOU SEE A BROKEN HEART (Pigpen)
This is another very short-lived Pigpen effort, this one a Coasters-style call & answer R&B song. (The "just a little bit softer now" section is borrowed from the Isley Brothers' 'Shout!') It exists only in one home demo and one live version (from 3/12/66). The tape record is unbalanced, but it’s surprising this catchy tune vanished so quickly – maybe the band felt it was too lightweight.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouIVbbsiGhk (demo - released on “Rare Cuts & Oddities”)
Pigpen wasn’t the only blues fan in the Dead – Weir had picked up a jugband tune from old 78s that he made his own:
NEW NEW MINGLEWOOD BLUES (Weir/Noah Lewis)
May 1966 – April 1971 (+ revised version 1976-1995)
“What?” you might ask, “Weir didn’t write this!” Though it started as a traditional song, Weir adapted the song considerably for the Dead. An October ’66 article in Crawdaddy mentioned “an unbelievable grooving piece about "Born in Jackson" (supposedly written by rhythm player Bob Weir).” Weir’s authorship of this 1920s jugband song may not seem apparent, but he brought it up in a recent interview: “My very first one was sort of a rewrite of an old jug band standard. I made it blues. I called it ‘Nickelwood Blues.’” [sic]
The song already had a tangled history – first recorded as ‘Minglewood Blues’ by Cannon’s Jug Stompers in 1928, with totally different verses, it was revised by the Noah Lewis Jug Band in 1930 as ‘New Minglewood Blues,’ with two alternate traditional verses that were adapted by the Dead (“I was born in a desert… When you come to Memphis…”). Weir added a newly written third verse (“If you can’t believe me…”), gave it a harder blues-rock arrangement, and titled it ‘New New Minglewood Blues’ for the album.
The first taped Dead version is on 5/19/66, and it was played through the year. Curiously, the song seems to have been dropped after the album release and doesn’t show up on any Dead live tapes from ’67-68, before it was revived in ’69.
Weir would add more verses when he brought the song back in 1976, and in ‘78 the Dead recorded this version as ‘All New Minglewood Blues’ with the new set of verses (mostly about the “little girls” who’re after him), this time credited to “traditional, arr. Bob Weir.” So, despite the blues derivation, Weir did put some original work into this song – while the version on the first album is 2/3rds Noah Lewis, the Minglewood of later years is mostly Weir’s invention.
STANDING ON THE CORNER (Garcia)
May – July 1966
Following Pigpen’s and Weir’s efforts, this is Garcia’s attempt at an original blues song, but it’s not very traditional. It’s usually credited to the Grateful Dead, but Garcia sings the song and the lyrics suggest his writing to me. The lyrics are amusingly negative; the proto-punk garage-rock feel of ‘66 is perhaps captured better in Cream Puff War. But the comical bleakness does foreshadow his later songs with Hunter a little bit: “seems like nothing ever changes, and nothing’s gonna turn out right.”
This song didn’t seem to last long: there’s a home demo in the spring, and a few performances from 5/19 to 7/30.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkD1lroqz8g (demo – released on “Rare Cuts & Oddities”)
CREAM PUFF WAR (Garcia)
May 1966 – April 1967
When the Dead played this song on TV, Garcia told Ralph Gleason, “I wrote this particular song! The only time I've ever written completely all the way, it's my song.” He gave more details in a KMPX interview: “The title came after the song. I already developed the idea - this is the only song that I claim totally - this is mine from beginning to end! I actually wrote it. We were down in LA, I was writing, I had the changes worked out and the bridge and the first verse... The whole thing was just meandering along. Pigpen said let's call it...Cream Puff War. (WEIR - No, I said it.) Or you did, somebody did. At any rate, the title doesn't really mean anything particularly…it was a name that happened to be around, and then later on I happened to work it into the lyric as the last line.”
The Dead liked this one, and it was played more often than any of their other original 1966 songs – possibly because it was their first new song since You Don’t Have To Ask that allowed for a big jam at the end. It was also an unusually aggressive song for them, with Caution-like guitar flurries. (It’s similar to Love’s ‘7 and 7 Is,’ but that song wasn’t recorded until June ’66.)
It debuted on a home demo in the spring, and live performances range from 5/19/66 to 4/8/67. The Dead recorded it for their first album in 1967, and also released it as the single B-side.
But Cream Puff War quickly disappeared after the album’s release. Garcia was not fond of this song in later years, telling Blair Jackson, “I felt my lyric writing was woefully inadequate.” When Steve Marcus asked him about the song, Garcia said, “It’s totally embarrassing. I’d just as soon everybody forgot about it.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wb2Gek6LeI8 (demo – released on “Rare Cuts & Oddities” – the chorus is different)
KEEP ROLLING BY (Grateful Dead)
This song is only known from a couple July ’66 shows, and judging from some slip-ups in the playing it was new. The actual title (if it had one) is unknown, but was probably not ‘Keep Rolling By.’ I’d guess that Pigpen played a big part in writing this one – he shares vocals with the others and takes a long rap at the end, so he must have had some hand in the composition. The chord pattern is quite similar to the Dead’s cover of the Stones’ ‘Empty Heart’ (which Pigpen sang with Garcia), and it also sounds a little like a distant descendant of the unknown Pigpen song back in March. This song has a few more twists in it, but despite the unusual vocal layers and odd lyrics, it still just seems like a vague groove, perhaps one reason it didn’t last.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e8XvWkQ_JE (live, released on “Birth of the Dead”)
It’s surprising to see that Pigpen was one of the Dead’s most prolific songwriters in 1966! Crawdaddy’s October ’66 piece on the Dead also named a standout live song called “The Creeper” which may have been Pigpen’s (the title sure sounds like his), but there are no surviving tapes.
Though mostly known as the blues singer within the Dead, Pigpen also had a knack for writing songs in different styles as well. While Pigpen seems to have a hand in many songs that year, Garcia and Lesh were the primary writers in just a couple songs each, and Weir didn’t have much to say yet in ’66. By and large the Dead’s songs that year were group-composed, though, making it impossible to cut out percentages and say who wrote what. The next song a few months later, for instance, Pigpen sang but we don’t know how the writing process went:
ALICE D. MILLIONAIRE (Grateful Dead)
Oct 1966 – Feb 1967
This sounds like it could have been a single. Pigpen was the lead singer, though his involvement in the writing is unknown. This may be because it was easiest for him to handle the fast word-heavy lyrics, or could be a nod to his growing fame as the Dead’s “frontman”…or maybe he contributed to the lyrics too.
Ralph Gleason’s review of the 10/31/66 show notes that the Dead played “The LSD Millionaire.” They took the name from an October 5 Chronicle story about Owsley Stanley, the “Bay Area’s LSD Millionaire,” though the song has little apparent connection to Owsley. The name was softened by the time they recorded it for the first album in 1967. (As with several other early Dead songs, the title has nothing to do with the song, which was known by collectors as ‘No Time To Cry.’) But even though it’s quite a catchy pop tune, the song was rejected and disappeared immediately thereafter. Only one live performance is on tape, from 12/1/66.
DOWN SO LONG (Grateful Dead)
Nov 1966 – Feb 1967
A jaunty lament, Down So Long remains unreleased and quite obscure. Garcia sings this song, so he’s been thought to be the most likely songwriter. The title phrase may have been inspired by Richard Farina’s 1966 novel “Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me,’ but Farina himself found the phrase in Furry Lewis’ blues song ‘I Will Turn Your Money Green,” which had been covered on his 1963 “Dick Farina & Eric von Schmidt” album (as ‘Stick With Me Baby’). The Dead could have heard Furry’s original as well, or Tom Rush’s recent cover on his 1966 “Take a Little Walk With Me” album (which in turn he got from Eric von Schmidt).
In any case, the Dead’s song is original and not derived from previous blues songs. It’s noticeable that the lyrics in these last two ’66 songs are a great improvement from earlier Dead songs; in fact I strongly suspect that someone outside the band wrote this song (maybe Willy Legate?), since the writing and rhyme scheme seem outside the band’s usual abilities.
The only live performances on tape are a couple from the Matrix in late ’66; the Dead also started recording it for the album a couple months later (complete with the cute ending tag), but left it unfinished.
Cream Puff War turned out to be the only one of these songs that made it onto the Dead’s first album. (Alice D. Millionaire and Down So Long were among the songs recorded but rejected.) But one of Garcia’s most well-known and important lyric lines ended up hidden in one of the album’s cover songs.
Morning Dew was a familiar song among folkies, but per McNally, the Dead picked it up after “Laird Grant had come across the song on a Fred Neil album late in 1966 and brought it to Garcia.” (Tim Rose also adapted the song from Neil’s cover around the same time in a hit single, independently from the Dead, but they took their own path.)
Neil’s version ended:
“Can’t walk you out in the morning dew, my baby
I’ll never walk you out in the morning dew again.”
But Garcia changed the ending:
“I’ll walk you out in the morning dew, my honey
I guess it doesn’t matter anyway.”
And with that, the song was transformed.
THE GOLDEN ROAD (TO UNLIMITED DEVOTION) (Grateful Dead)
Feb – Sep 1967
Once the initial recording sessions wrapped up, Warner Brothers wasn’t impressed that the Dead’s first album only had one original song. Garcia said in the 1969 radio documentary, “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. ‘Wow, this’ll be a good single.’”
He told KMPX in ‘67: “This was recorded after we recorded the body of the album, and [it’s] 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 it seems like a good single, whatever that is – we thought it could be a single.”
It was a great pop single, but Golden Road did not tear up the charts. The Dead played it occasionally through the year, and only two live versions exist on tape, from 3/18 and 9/29. By the fall, they’d moved on.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-8vLzsgKdQ (mono mix)
This song was one of the group compositions credited to the mythical “McGannahan Skjellyfetti” on the album (Pigpen’s idea), along with the traditional songs Cold Rain & Snow and the reworked New Minglewood Blues. Garcia claimed in ‘67 that “we haven’t copywritten any of the words in these [traditional songs] – the things that are traditional, we’ve left them traditional…we give credit to the people who were doing it.” The Dead’s actual copyright blurring seems to have escaped Garcia’s attention (several songs on the album had bogus credits), but Mr. Skjellyfetti has disappeared from more recent reissues.
Up to this point, all the band’s compositions were recognizably pop or R&B songs – the kinds of tunes that might get played on the radio, or at least get toes tapping on the dance floor. But 1967 saw a big shift as the Dead became interested in more complex compositions, and their songwriting slowed down to a crawl as their music became more ornate and ambitious. The first new song after the album was a perfect example:
NEW POTATO CABOOSE (Lesh/Bobby Petersen)
March 1967 – June 1969
Garcia told Ralph Gleason in March ’67, “We have this song called ‘New Potato Caboose’ and it’s not on the record or anything, it’ll probably be on the next album, it’s a very long thing and…it doesn’t have a verse-chorus form. We took it from a friend of ours who’s a poet named Bobby Petersen who wrote us this thing. And we just set it…”
Lesh described it in his book as “a little thing I had pecked out on the studio harpsichord when we were at RCA for our first album - which later, with some lyrics from my mad beatnik college buddy, Bobby Petersen, became ‘New Potato Caboose’... It didn't spring into being all at once, but rather amalgamated itself over time, with small but crucial contributions from the whole band. Pig added a celesta part to the intro, Jerry a melodic phrase for the verse, and Mickey a glockenspiel riff and a very important gong roll. Bob sang lead on the song, since I wasn't ready to try singing leads yet.” (p.125) (Though a frequent singer in the Warlocks days, Phil had given up singing leads since Cardboard Cowboy.)
Weir remembered it in the 1992 Golden Road: “That was a collaborative effort; I worked on it with Phil and Garcia. The lyric was done by Bobby Petersen - he just handed us a lyric. I needed a song to sing. 'Weir, take this lyric. We're going to make a song, and you're going to sing it.' We hammered on it for a couple of days and came up with it.”
This was the first time the Dead had set an actual poem to music, so the lyric was quite different and more opaque than anything they’d sung before. And as with his previous tunes, Lesh worked out a tricky and complicated song structure, almost defying a melody. ('New Potato Caboose' also wins the award as the Dead's most eccentric absurdist song title yet.)
It was not an easy song for the Dead to play: Garcia said, “It doesn’t have a recurring pattern, it just changes continually… There’s a lot of surprises in it, a lot of fast, difficult kind of transitions…that musically are real awkward. They’re not the kind of thing that flows at all but we’re trying to make this happen…just to see if we can do it… It’s a little stilted because we aren’t really able to get with it, ‘cause it’s all so utterly odd. But it has its points, and I think that’s like one direction that we’ll be able to move successfully in.” (GD Reader p.31)
Weir commented, “It’s precise, it’s heavily arranged… Back then we could barely play it.”
No live versions exist before 8/4/67, so the song’s earliest phase is still veiled; but the Dead stuck with it for a couple years, playing it often in shows up to 6/8/69. It says a lot about the Dead’s change in direction that such a difficult piece would have a longer lifespan than almost all of their earlier, more accessible songs.
In May 1967, Robert Hunter sent the Dead a batch of lyrics, and they immediately started setting one to music – Alligator.
Hunter wrote, “In 1967, I mailed to my old chum and fellow folkie Garcia three lyrics from New Mexico, extracted from songs I wrote and played at parties with some success, expecting no reply. I got the first and only letter I ever received from him…asking me to come out and join the band.”
Lesh wrote in his book, “[Hunter] was currently living in Taos, and out of the blue he mailed Jerry a lyric at 710, which was promptly forgotten until Jer found it in his guitar case… Pigpen immediately added some lyrics to what Hunter had sent, and he and I came up with some music for them the same day. The whole band goofed up some chorus lyrics to add to the mix…and we had our first Hunter song. It was tremendous fun working with his lyrics, and I realized right away that here was the poetic sensibility we’d been lacking (our own lyrics, except for Pig’s, were decidedly lame). Immediately I hit on Jerry to get right back to Bob and ask for more lyrics.” (p.101)
[It’s striking that Phil thought Pigpen was the best lyric writer in the Dead. In Hunter’s memory, the other two songs he sent were China Cat Sunflower and St. Stephen, but that begs the question of why the Dead waited another year to make a song out of St. Stephen.]
Hunter had sent a song with two verses and choruses; the band added the verse “Hung up waiting for a windy day / Burn down the Fillmore, gas the Avalon,” and Pigpen wrote the long final verse describing the alligator, “Sailing down the river in an old canoe...”
This wasn’t entirely his imagination – the band actually was canoeing down the river when they worked on this song. In late May 1967, the Dead stayed on a friend’s ranch on the Russian River; as Weir recalled, they “worked up a few songs, among them the first few strains of ‘The Other One’ and ‘Alligator.’” Lesh also remembered them working on these two songs during their May ’67 river rehearsals, although the Other One would take months longer to emerge on tape. “Most of the time we just jammed, searching for ideas we could incorporate into tunes.”
Meanwhile, Alligator became an immediate fixture in the Dead’s shows – they even played it at the Monterey festival just a few weeks after writing it, proud of their latest composition.
Hunter promptly accepted the Dead’s songwriting invitation and headed back to California. The first song he wrote for them after arriving in September 1967 was Dark Star. After that, the Dead gave up any thought of writing songs without him for the next several years.
But in the meantime, they’d composed a final trio of songs without Hunter. (These probably originated earlier in the year, but no recordings exist until the fall.) Weir in particular was on a creative streak this year, writing his first true songs.
CRYPTICAL ENVELOPMENT (Garcia)/
THE OTHER ONE (Weir)
Oct 1967 – Sep 1985 (Cryptical)
Oct 1967 – July 1995 (Other One)
These song titles have always been a source of confusion, since the Dead never properly named them: when they released Anthem of the Sun they gave this suite a whole series of random nonsensical titles. It seems they always referred to Weir’s song just as “the Other One” (as Phil recalled, “at the time, we couldn’t think of a name for it, so we called it ‘the other one’”), but Garcia’s section most likely never had a name. These are the titles that have come to be generally accepted, though.
Garcia’s song has an unclear origin – later asked what inspired the song, he shrugged, “I don’t know really.” Talking to Michael Lydon in ’69, Garcia said, “That’s one of my melodies…that’s like one of those things that just emerged, you know, I was just sitting around playing the guitar and all of a sudden bam, there it is, and it says something to you...”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Dead discuss how they got the idea to wrap Garcia’s song around the Other One – along with Alligator>Caution, it was their first venture into the idea of song suites that would soon structure their sets. But the Cryptical bookend withered after a few years (despite a couple later revivals) as Garcia grew unhappy with it. By 1971, as Phil said, "Jerry decided he didn't want to sing the first part anymore." Garcia grumbled to Golden Road in 1988, “It's just not a very successful song. I find it uncomfortable.”
As usual, it looks like Garcia didn’t spend much time or thought on the lyrics, to his later regret. His part of the song may have been tossed-off, but Weir’s song gestated for quite a few months. Weir thought of the Other One as “the song with the ‘tiger paws’ rhythm that Billy and me came up with.” Kreutzmann recalled that “while we were on that river trip [in May], Weir and I came up with an idea that would eventually form the basis of ‘The Other One.’” Per McNally, “One day back in April, Weir had heard a Yardbirds song on the radio on his way to rehearsal… Over the summer, he and Kreutzmann had worked at it.” (p.229)
The Yardbirds song was ‘Little Games,’ released as a single in March ’67, so Weir could easily have heard it on the radio that spring. Weir later said the Dead were “profoundly influenced” by the Yardbirds, and the Other One rhythm is a straight lift from this song:
Weir told Alan Paul, “This was my first stab at writing a complete song by myself. The three over four rhythm came first, influenced by Northern Indian classical music. We rehearsed it as an instrumental for about six months, during which it got its name, because we were working on three big tunes and, as it was unnamed, everyone just called it ‘the other one.’”
Weir also told David Gans that the Other One “was one of the first tunes I ever wrote. Actually, we came up with the map, basically, for the song in a rehearsal somewhere, just kickin’ stuff around. And then I took it and started shaping it up…I was not done with it.” It took him months to come up with the final verses – in contrast to Garcia, Weir was a relatively painstaking lyric writer, discarding and reshaping verses when they didn’t feel right.
For details on the lyric changes, see this page: On the first taped version in October ’67, the lyrics mostly concern Weir’s missing head and the heat taking him to jail – only one line from this would make it to the final version. By November, the Cowboy Neal verse was set. For the next couple months, the first verse still went “when I woke up this morning, my head was not in sight” – until a stop in Portland in February ’68, when Weir had an inspiration and wrote the “Spanish lady” verse. With time and diligence, he’d turned some breezy nonsense lyrics into a memorable narrative packed with psychedelic metaphors.
BORN CROSS-EYED (Weir)
Nov 1967 – March 1968
In the meantime, Weir also came up with this bizarre blast of off-kilter rhythms and disorienting vocals. The lyrics are hard to understand from the recording, but the song turns out to be a clever and creepy twist on the old Christian hymn, “In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore.”
It was first recorded in the studio in November ’67, but on tape, the song’s performance history spans only a couple months, from 1/17 to 3/30/68. It’s unknown whether the Dead were still playing it when the Anthem album was released later that summer. (The following year they’d stumble through a half-remembered version in a 1/23/69 rehearsal.)
https://archive.org/details/gd1967-11-14.116370.sbd.motb-0174.flac24 (early mix w/o lead vocal)
There are three released mixes of the song:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJiOUwqmwIk (mono single B-side)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJTQip6ute0 (1968 album)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2NVY-rRe48 (1971 remix)
(I prefer the original album mix, which is both clearer and trippier than Lesh’s muffled-sounding revision. But the three are most easily distinguished by different endings: the original album fades on the last “by and by,” the remix adds a last crashing chord at the end, and the single cuts in some live feedback.)
This short-lived song would be the last one Weir wrote for a couple years. Weir said in the 1969 radio documentary, “My song-writing career has been slowed up because I can't think of any decent words to sing. That's kind of gotten to me after the last album. You come to that particular point where you've written a song, and you hear it on the album and the words are so "nada." They don't really say anything, they're just…a handle with which to carry a tune. And they could be ever so much more.”
Weir also told Crawdaddy in 1972, “I had retired for the longest time with ‘Born Cross-Eyed,’ which didn’t come out like I had imagined it. I had it all together in my head, but at that time, I just was not able to convey to a band what it was I wanted to hear. So it was useless for me to write a song. Garcia had been working with bands for a long time, and I was relatively new to it. Garcia knew how to tell a band what he wanted to hear and all that. If you’re writing a song, you have to be able to express yourself to the people you’re working with or you’re never going to get what you want. It’s frustrating.”
Weir stopped writing after this, and wouldn’t attempt another song until 1970 (and then with Hunter’s help). Lesh worked out a couple songs with Hunter in the Anthem days (Clementine and the Eleven), but other than a couple group arrangements he would also fall silent for a couple years. After Hunter’s arrival, the songwriting balance in the Dead decisively shifted toward his compositions with Garcia. The next few albums would be dominated by Hunter/Garcia originals, and band arrangements were mostly confined to instrumentals.
In his foreword to David Dodd’s “Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics” (p.xxi-xxiii), Hunter mused about how the Dead might have progressed without him:
“Had I not joined…the band would have developed differently. It might have been less odd and more popular, for one thing. It would likely have remained more blues-based.” And the folk tradition that Hunter shared with Garcia would not have become so dominant: “the others were a little worried about the folk direction, but agreeable; the band was, after all, desperate for material.”
Hunter felt the bandmembers were perfectly capable of writing more of their own songs, with practice. “I was surprised at the number of early lyrics by Garcia and Pigpen, songs that got an airing or two but apparently rang no bells for them. Both writers show distinct lyric promise. Their skills would have developed in proportion to the effort they exerted in songwriting…[but] words tend to be a chore when your first love is performing.” If Bobby Petersen had written more songs for Phil, “Phil would probably have come more forward in the solo vocal output, though this was something Phil didn’t seem particularly keen to do, not liking the sound of his own voice.” And “Weir himself was capable of writing a nice breezy lyric…but had no confidence in his abilities and didn’t develop the talent.”
Without Hunter, the Dead may have continued writing songs as a group rather than splitting off into individual efforts. “In my absence the Grateful Dead would have tended toward a balance between the Garcia, McKernan, Weir, and Lesh vocal and writing base, drawing moderately from [friends] outside the group for lyric material… Folk-style repertoire would still have been evident, as with ‘Viola Lee Blues,’ but it would more likely have been covers than originals. But as it actually happened…for several years, the Garcia-Hunter song machine dominated the proceedings.”
When I had SiriusXM® satellite radio here at the abode (up to November 2016), "The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" was the sole Grateful Dead record played on Little Steven's Underground Garage channel. (It probably still is.)ReplyDelete
Although possibly outside the scope of the essay, it may be worth mentioning that "Born Cross-Eyed" helped bring about "Spanish Jam," which (unlike the song) surfaced now and then in the Dead's shows for some time.ReplyDelete
Born Cross-Eyed and Spanish Jam do seem linked at birth, almost always played together in the winter '68 tour. It's even possible that the Spanish Jam came first in live shows, making the trumpet break in the studio Born Cross-Eyed kind of a brief quote. (One odd bit of trivia: in the mono and 1971 mixes, the trumpet can be heard playing all through the break, but in the 1968 album mix, it fades out early.)
But there's another way to hear that trumpet break too: it could be a nod not to Spain, but to New Orleans jazz. Born Cross-Eyed is kind of a take-off on the hymn "In the Sweet Bye and Bye," which happens to be one of the standards played in New Orleans jazz funeral processions (including trumpets, of course). Here's one example in that style from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band:
As it happens, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band had opened for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore West at the end of August '68. In fact, their opening set from 9/1/68 was taped:
(Both Lesh and Weir were Dixieland jazz admirers and have played with the PHJB in recent years.)
But that could just be coincidence. So what inspired Lesh to take up the trumpet in Born Cross-Eyed? Could be a little Miles Davis homage, or a flash of New Orleans...
I never knew about the Caution connection to Mystic Eyes, but sure - there it is. I always thought Caution bore a similar riff to the old Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse theme - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFdVtGdgRnMReplyDelete
More than a little similarity there!Delete
I should emphasize that the date ranges given for each song are the minimums - many of them could have been played much longer and we'd never know. Other songs we've never heard (like 'The Creeper') might well have come and gone unrecorded.ReplyDelete
For instance, in the one year from August 1966 - July 1967, the Dead played about 170 shows. Only seven (and some fragments) survive on tape. So we can only guess about what was played in all those lost months.
"McGannahan Skjellyfetti" was the pseudonym used by the band as the author's name for the group compositions ("The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)" and "Cream Puff War"). "McGannahan Skjellyfetti" was based on a character, "Skujellifeddy McGranehan", the protagonist's 'literary agent', in Kenneth Patchen's "Memoirs Of A Shy Pornographer", published in 1945: "May I call you Skujellifeddy? Mr. McGranehan's sort of awkward.".
The striking thing for me is that it was Pigpen's idea (he was the Kenneth Patchen reader). As one of the band's main songwriters in 1966, he had a much bigger role in the Dead than he would have just a couple years later.
All very quiet around here. I hope you're keeping well, LIA.ReplyDelete
It is quiet around here...too quiet!Delete
But something rustling in the bushes may soon emerge....
"The Dead’s setlists in 1965 are mostly a blank since the studio demo is the only surviving recording from that year."ReplyDelete
Heard from a very reliable source that there's a concert tape from Muir Beach Lodge (December 11,1965) and from a Matrix midweek show on January 4, 1966. Hopefully both of those would surface someday.