HOW DOES THE SONG GO?

By Nate Lapointe

Welcome to “How Does the Song Go?” A column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before. Today we are continuing our look at all the elements contained within “Slipknot!” and how they changed throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Last week we gave terms to each of the smaller elements contained within the passage. We also made a list of how they were arranged on the original studio recording from 1975. We also listened to the One From the Vault version and noticed that there was just one simple change from the record; the Ami theme PLUS comes as an offbeat and that offbeat becomes a new “one.”

The Dead’s final ‘70s performance of “Help>Slip>Frank” came on October 11, 1977. It would be 401 shows before they busted it out again on March 25, 1983, in Arizona. I listened to a few versions from this ‘80s era and settled on the one from April 1, 1984, in Marin County. If you were wondering, there’s no official release of the suite from this era so I had to dig on a bootleg. Here’s the list:

Slipknot! pre-jam
Fmi theme 4 times
pickup

C dim run Brent mistake
Gmi theme 1 time
pickup
D dim run
E dim run
Descending minor arpeggios
Ami 1 bar
Ami theme 4 times
jam
buildup

Pre-jam analysis…Brent starts the C diminished run before the G theme, a mistake, not considered an arrangement change. The first main arrangement alteration comes when they add the E diminished run from the post-jam segment here in the pre-jam segment before the descending minor arpeggios, a change that sticks into the ‘90s. Secondly, they’ve removed the A minor theme PLUS from the pre-jam portion. Here’s the post-jam list:

Slipknot! post-jam
Ami theme 4 times
Ami theme plus beat 1
hiccup
Ddim run
Edim run
Descending minor arpeggios
coda into “Franklin’s”

Post-jam analysis…in the original version, they did a D diminished run and returned to A minor theme PLUS, but in this version they remove that bonus riff and opt for the E diminished run setting up the arpeggios. A slightly shorter and more simple approach. I’d give a left toe to be a fly on the wall in the rehearsal studio when they decided to bring this suite back into rotation. How did they decide on such changes? Were they implemented due to memory lapse? Were there musical reasons for them? How did those conversations play out?

As a teenager, I loved coming home from my dad’s record store and opening up Without A Net and seeing that “Help>Slip>Frank” was included. I considered it the benchmark example for what I call the ‘90s version which really starts in October of 1989 when they busted it out again after 284 shows at the “Formerly the Warlocks” shows. However, as you’ll see in a moment, there’s actually a mistake in the post-jam portion. Anecdotally, I only heard them perform the suite live one time and it was during this era, specifically on December 13, 1990, in Denver, CO. But I digress. Here’s the list from the Without A Net version that was harvested from March 30, 1990 at Nassau Coliseum.

Without A Net – 3/30/90

Slipknot! pre-jam
Fmi theme 4 times
pickup
C dim run
Gmi theme 1 time
pickup
D dim run
E dim run
Descending minor arpeggios
Ami
jam
buildup

Pre-jam analysis…the arrangement is identical to the ‘80s version except there’s no A minor theme following the minor arpeggios, they proceed directly to the jam.

Slipknot! post-jam
Ami theme 2 times
Ami theme plus beat 1
hiccup
D dim run
E dim run
Descending minor arpeggios
coda into Franklin’s

Post-jam analysis…same as the ‘80s version except for the Ami theme is done only twice instead of four times. Other versions from the era generally contain four of them which leads me to believe this was merely a mistake by Jerry.

The All the Years series of videos are wonderfully presented on YouTube. One of my favorites is June 14, 1991, from RFK. When jumping on a gig with musicians I haven’t performed this suite with in the past, I often suggest this arrangement. It’s just so clean.

6/14/91

Slipknot! pre-jam
Fmi theme 4 times
pickup
C dim run
Gmi theme 1 time
pickup
D dim run
E dim run
Descending minor arpeggios
Ami 2 bars
Ami theme 4 times
jam
buildup

Pre-jam analysis…same as the previous year except they added an extra bar of A minor and reinserted the A minor theme before venturing off into the jam, harkening back to our 1980s version.

Slipknot! post
Ami theme 4 times
Ami theme plus beat 1
hiccup
D dim run
E dim run
Descending minor arpeggios
coda into Franklin’s

Post-jam analysis…same as 1990 but Jerry gives us the full four times on the Ami theme.

There are slight variations from version to version. If I had to guess, most of them are due to memory lapses or muscle memory. I encourage you to go find other versions and make arrangement lists like the ones we made here today. Great listening exercise!

Nate LaPointe is a member of Cubensis, SoCal’s premier Grateful Dead music experience. In addition, Nate has worked with many artists including Bobby Womack, Vince Welnick, and Selena Gomez. Nate currently resides in Redondo Beach, CA where he performs, teaches, and records music.