15.  He’s Gone (Europe ’72, 1972)

The story I always heard about this tune was that it was written after the band’s manager ran away with all their money.  “He’s gooooone, nothin’s gonna bring him back.”

It does seem a tad too upbeat to be about death, and the sing-songy chorus almost makes it sound like someone’s teasing them.

Further listening: This kind of long-jam, mid-tempo blues with full harmony on the chorus is one of the band’s staples.  Another great example is Ramble On Rose.

Covers: From their all-Dead covers album, The Persuasions…

14.  The Music Never Stopped (Blues for Allah, 1975)

The studio version of this song is more like a blueprint, because live it would expand beyond its borders and truly fill the arena.  It’s a “dance” song that sees music as something mystical—“the band is all packed and gone, was it ever here at all?”


13.  St. Stephen (Live Dead, 1970) 

The studio version of this song, off Aoxomoxoa, is pure shit.  Don’t listen to it.  But Live Dead is an amazing album, and does the song right.

St. Stephen is the rare example of a song that Phil Lesh collaborated on and shares writing credit with Jerry and Robert.

Further listening: Morning Dew was more commonly played, but could have the same kind of depth and weight as St. Stephen.

Covers: Bob Weir with Wilco….

12.  Throwing Stones (A Touch of Grey, 1987)

Bob Weir’s magnum opus, a 7+ minute song about global politics and a terrific rocker off the band’s most accessible album.  Live, they’d combine it with their cover of Buddy Holly’s, “Not Fade Away,” and it would go on for twenty glorious minutes.

Further listening: The title track from the same album, A Touch of Grey.

Covers: No good ones, but the (edited) version has a neat video…

11.  Alligator (Anthem of the Sun, 1968)

It has its fans, but let’s be honest: The studio version of this song isn’t very good.  Even at 12 minutes, it can’t capture the anarchy of an extended Pig Pen McKernan jam.  The man was the male equivalent of Janis Joplin, a powerful blues vocalist who died way before his time.  In fact, if he hadn’t been overcome by alcoholism, the Grateful Dead would probably have become a much different group.

Further listening: Pig Pen’s take on Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is just as powerful.  It’s a toss-up which is the better song, but I included Alligator because it’s also so damn funny.  Also, New Speedway Boogie, which is sung by Jerry on the studio version (from Workingman’s Dead), but feels like a Pig Pen song.

Hit next for the top 10!

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