The Grateful Dead propelled themselves to their legendary status and level of success with many feats of creative and musical strength, but none more so than the extent that these boys could really sing when given the chance to. Some people obviously loved Jerry Garcia‘s voice the most, but Bob Weir had a wildly unique voice in the band as well. Everyone knows Pigpen could wail in the best way possible, and even Phil Lesh got his vocal contributions in early. Don’t even get us started on all the vocal contributions we’d need to list from their keyboard spot after Pigpen’s early passing (Keith fans? Bruce fans? Brent heads?!).
I’ve been down deep into a YouTube wormhole this weekend and stumbled upon some amazing isolated vocal tracks that are must-hear for any warm-blooded, heart-still-beating Deadhead. Especially for folks that like to singalong…
Hearing these isolated tracks just adds that much more depth and emotion to the original songs. And in a few spots you can just hear the depth of the studio they’re in and you can really hear how it was mixed in with the final track, and wow, it just gave me chills in a few spots easily. I hope more of these surface. Check out the list below…
“Sugar Magnolia” American Beauty
In order of their appearance in the song catalog, first up we’ve got two tracks off one of the albums that Deadheads frequently cite as their go-to for the “best” of Grateful Dead’s studio outputs and one that is strong in the vocals department: American Beauty. “Sugar Magnolia” makes it appearance as the third track after the Lesh sang “Box of Rain” and Jerry Garcia lead “Friend of the Devil”. Such a typical way for the Dead to trade duties live shows up in that 1-2-3 tracklist choice of the album, which is still something that made the Dead more unique than most. Giving each artist in the band a chance to shine was their hallmark.
Bob Weir is really in great form on this track.
Sweet blossom come on under the willow
We can have high times if you’ll abide
We can discover the wonders of nature
Rolling in the rushes down by the riverside
Definitely put on your headphones while you’re listening to these.
“Truckin'” American Beauty
Closing off American Beauty comes one of the band’s most popular songs, the classic “Truckin'” that spawned that famous “What a long strange trip it’s been…” line that is so often cited as the actual ethos that seemed to follow the band wherever they went. Sadly this isn’t a perfect isolated vocals track but it’s close enough and worthy of inclusion here. It’s minimal accompaniment so I’d say it’s still worthy of a headphone session. Plus it’s pretty rad hearing the organ track in here at times, I’d say.
"Truckin' got my chips cashed in
Keep truckin' like the doodah man
Together, more or less in line
Just keep truckin' on"
Read on for the rest of the list…
Franklin’s Tower” Blues for Allah
Appearing on the Blues for Allah LP and released as part of the usual “Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower” combo that was the usual flow of the track whenever it appeared in a setlist, this one is an absolute gem to hear Jerry’s voice on.
In another time’s forgotten space
Your eyes looked through your mother’s face
Wildflower seed on the sand and stone
May the four winds blow you safely home
He sounds so hauntingly isolated on this one. Try not to get chills during the “Roll away, the dew…” line, you can really hear his voice yearning to get that emotion out. It’s beautiful.
Touch of Grey” In the Dark
By the time In the Dark came around, we all know the story of what “Touch of Grey” did to propel the band to a new level of success, going from arenas to mega stadiums and ultimately finding themselves as the mainstream representation of all things hippie for generations to come. This is wild to hear in this format, you can actually hear Jerry getting a bit winded towards the end after the full sing through. Wow.
I see you’ve got your fists out, say your piece and get out.
Guess I get the gist of it but it’s alright
Sorry that you feel that way.
The only thing there is to say
Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey
I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive.