This list should prove interesting. As someone who never saw the band live and only knew them through their records, I'm sure I'll start some fights among the non-mellow sector of the Grateful Dead's legions. I'm also not shy about including their hits, since I can be as much of a pop guy as I can be a head-music kind of dude. I'm also partial to their early work, which I think any sane fan would be. And I'm ignoring the thousands of picks Dick made, since that's a whole 'nother can of LSD-drenched worms.
No, I'm going against the grain a little here and sticking with the official albums and even staying in the studio more than most fans would ever consider. Since 25 tracks can hardly distill the essence of a group with a catalog this big, I invite you to compile your own list of faves in the space generously provided to you by the friendly folks at Yahoo!
I didn't include any Jerry Garcia solo work, since that would again make the list harder to compile (you want me to work?), but I also didn't limit myself to only GD tracks where Jerry was front and center. After all, they were a communal group and what's yours is mine and vice versa.
Note: The list is chronological by release.
25) Cold Rain and Snow (1967): From the first album and far more garage-rock than their future career, "Cold Rain and Snow" captures the sound of a band being rushed in the studio, not knowing what they're doing quite yet and for that it has an energy that creature comforts would eventually mute. Ah, youth!
24) (Walk Me Out In The) Morning Dew (1967): Bonnie Dobson's folk song has been covered by everyone from Tim Rose to Lulu to Jeff Beck, to Nazareth to Einsturzende Neubauten, so it has an indestructible quality that allows everyone to bend it to their will.
23) Viola Lee Blues (1967): Heard and seen in the Richard Lester film, Petulia, "Viola Lee Blues" is featured on "expanded editions" of the first album, with the ten-minute "official" version getting to the point quicker than the 23-minute live version, which is only for people with plenty of leisure time. The three-minute edit is, as its time implies, too short.
22) That's It For The Other One (1968): Divided into four sections with titles like "Cryptical Envelopment" and "Quadlibet for Tenderfeet," this near eight-minute track wanders like a stream in the deep woods. Anthem of the Sun, the group's second album, is the first to feature second drummer Mickey Hart and to sound like what you'd think a band named Grateful Dead might sound like.
21) St. Stephen (1969): While the band would have more commercially successful albums, Aoxomoxoa represents the height of their creative powers, since they were fumbling in the dark, learning the studio equipment as they went along. Like many of their early records, the album would be seriously remixed, making the original mix unavailable for many years. At this point, they were on par with Moby Grape, the original Steve Miller Band and plenty of other fine, fine groups who never achieved their cult-appeal. Life is random, man!
20) Rosemary (1969): Admittedly, I'm fond of short, simple tracks that have something eerie about them. This two-minute acoustic tune features a freaky vocal effect that sounds like it's coming from another planet. Modern day alt.country bands should really take a hint from these guys and experiment.
19) Mountains of the Moon (1969): Another soothing acoustic tune that makes me think more of woods than space, but then I've never been to the moon. A band that can play quiet works harder than a band that plays loud. That said, I even dig "What's Become of the Baby" for its disturbing quiet.
18) China Cat Sunflower (1969): I don't need this song to work its way into "I Know You Rider" to be effective. I'm likely in the minority here, but I like this just fine on its own. The organ makes me dizzy.
17) Dark Star (1969): That this live band waited all of two years before releasing their first live album, and just three studio releases (something KISS would do as well!), tells you they knew where their inspiration hit. It also helped the record company save a few bucks. So, by now you know I'm referring to the version of "Dark Star" from Live/Dead and not the 2:44 single that leaves out twenty minutes of improvisation. Fans enjoy arguing over which is the longest version of the song. I dig arguing!
16) Uncle John's Band (1970): Here's where the band hit their commercial stride. Workingman's Dead is where the band made an album that sounded like they knew they were making an album. Crosby, Stills and Nash alerted them to the possibilities of harmony and, sure enough, "Uncle John's Band" sounds like it could be a CSN track, for those not paying close attention.
15) High Time (1970): Those that criticize the Dead for being too mellow surely wouldn't criticize Motorhead for being too loud. Sure, this is the laidback end of the spectrum, but the grind of the city isn't the only valid expression. Getting back to the land is just fine, as long as you have high-speed internet and cable TV!
14) Casey Jones (1970): Namedropping cocaine ensured a certain outlaw presence for the tune. FM radio listeners reveled at hearing it until it became part of the natural language. It was the eighth and final song on Workingman's Dead, which in the CD age would mean you were halfway through the album. Proof that length isn't as important as girth.
13) Box of Rain (1970): 1970 was a phenomenal year for the Dead. Workingman's Dead proved they could work quickly and with focus and American Beauty followed up only months later. Just as Beatles fans argue over Rubber Soul vs. Revolver and Bob Dylan fans discuss Highway 61 Revisited vs. Blonde On Blonde, so Deadheads flip-flop over these two 1970 albums. "Box of Rain" lets Phil Lesh sing.
12) Friend of the Devil (1970): Considering how strong the songs were for the 1970 releases, it's a bit disconcerting that the band never regained their studio footing. Live albums became commonplace and studio albums felt like a chore. Crazy, considering how comfortable and confident they sound right here. But if it happened to Tim Hardin, it could happen to anyone.
11) Sugar Magnolia (1970): A long-time favorite and surefire crowd pleaser, "Sugar Mags" adds some key pedal steel guitar from Mr. Garcia. Had the group never become the world's largest cult band, they might have settled into a nice life at country fairs.
10) Ripple (1970): I know, I know, I'm choosing all the obvious here. But you don't make a Best of the Beatles list and leave off "Norwegian Wood." There's a reason these songs are as famous as they are. They capture succinctly in just a few chords what other songs with the same chords don't. That said, maybe I should've taken "Attics Of My Life."
9) Brokedown Palace (1970): I foresee a crunch ahead. If my math is right and I'm at #9 here and only at the band's fifth studio album, this list will look like those documentaries where two hours are spent on the first five years and the next thirty are wrapped up in ten minutes. But it's far better to spend more time in the band's true era than to make tenuous arguments regarding the later period where everyone has a different view of the actual worth.
8) Truckin' (1970): The band finally decides to pick up the pace for the album's closer, where most musicians put some slow song to send you off contemplating life and its eternal meaning. This would be the lead-off cut in the CD age with the big, bad major labels dictating policy. Who am I kidding? The Dead would never make it to a major label these days. Nor would they want to be on one. What would be the point?
7) Mama Tried (1971): The Dead were never afraid of covering other people's songs. Their live albums are jammed with them. This Merle Haggard tune from the band's second official live album -- known politely as "Skull and Roses" and not so politely as something else -- doesn't rock as hard as Merle's original, but it does retain a country flavor that is not an insult to the Bakersfield sound. I like it quite it a bit, so should you!
6) Katie Mae (Recorded 1970, Released 1973): Pigpen sings this Lightnin' Hopkins blues. He died at age 27, as the band's fourth live album, History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1, where this song appears, was being assembled.
5) Dark Hollow (Recorded 1970, Released 1973): Live acoustic tracks with Garcia and Weir harmonizing are an adventure. No one will mistake them for Crosby, Stills and Nash in the live setting. This old country tune sounds like they're chasing each other. The flat notes somehow work and the duo's coffeehouse routine suggests they could have had a career on the folk circuit, where the money's lousier.
4) Ship of Fools (1974): Jumping up to 1974, it was obvious the band had no intention of being a group defined by the album. Sure, they'd make them from time to time, but like, say, Bob Dylan, they weren't going to be held to the recorded versions. So, at this point, the band went on hiatus to work on their movie and to build up anticipation for their next live go-round. Which would be their life from here on out!
3) Terrapin Station (1977): Certain artists summon their best moments when taking the room to get it done properly. Bob Dylan, The Doors, Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, all inspire confidence when heading towards the ten-minute mark. Throw the Dead into that category. Side one of Terrapin Station feels like a warm-up for side two, where "Terrapin Station," the song and medley, gets the business done. The slicker production actually benefits the group here, as the tune sounds fantastic on headphones. Someone should devote an entire magazine to these guys!
2) Alabama Getaway (1980): Please remember this list is chronological by release date. I don't mind being raked over very hot coals for my own bone-headed moves, but I'll be damned if I'm going to take insults from folks who don't read the bylaws! Fact is, Go To Heaven was a less than cherished Dead album, but this radio-friendly tune kept them in the public eye just enough to remind their fans to go see them once in awhile, or more likely, to go see them all the time.
1) Touch of Grey (1987): It's truly hilarious that it took them twenty years to have their first top 40 hit, with "Touch of Grey" hitting #9 on the pop charts and #1 on rock radio. It's like the band operated in reverse. As far as pop hits go, this was as pleasant as any other veteran rock band of the time. Hardcore fans may dismiss it, but it reminded kids from good homes that they could live in a VW camper and sell grilled cheese sandwiches for a summer before taking that job in the big bad city working for the man every night and day.