HOW DOES THE SONG GO?

By Nate Lapointe

The End of 1973

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. I’m very happy to be back with you after the summer hiatus. Speaking of starting anew, my first column this S & R season is about how the Grateful Dead ended the year 1973. It’s important. 

I wasn’t there, it was exactly four years before my birth, but my childhood had late 1973 pumping through its proverbial veins. November 17, 1973 had no meaning to me until my father made me a recording of a Dead show (of whose date I can’t recall, likely an 80s or early 90s show) that on cassette number one had its majority on side A and only its set closer on side B. But its FILLER had the “Dew” sandwich from 11/17/73 Pauley Pavilion. 

What is filler? Picture a 90 minute blank tape that has 45 minutes on each side. Let’s say with audience noise edited out, the boys did a 52 minute set. That meant side A got filled up and side B was left with a lonely “Deal.” You’ve now got all this extra space on side B that needs filled up. Get it? Add something cool.

What is a Dew sandwich? There’s no turkey, no provolone, no fresh baked bread. But there IS a “Playin’” into “Uncle John’s” into “Morning Dew” into “Uncle John’s Reprise” into “Playin’ Reprise.” Best lunch you ever had.

Pause your reading for a moment; actually forty-seven of them. You owe yourself a listen. As you do so, focus on Bill K’s left hand and his ability to convey the subdivision and pocket to the rest of the band. That snare is having four conversations at once, each with Jerry, Bob, Phil, and Keith. As a musician, there’s nothing better than to be fed this kind of rhythmic information during a jam. In fact, I was on stage at the O.C. Music Fest last year and the sound engineer accidentally put Ed Fletcher’s snare drum into my in-ear monitors. Something I’m not used to having there would normally be adjusted and removed instantly, but because the rest of the mix was so clean and clear, I opted to keep it in my mix. I felt inspired and was able to float on that groove all night.

Listen to how Weir is often one step ahead of Garcia with melodic and emotional content during those jams. I think Jerry liked it that way. I think he wanted that inspiration so he could float. 

On their own, each of the five songs hold their weight in water. But when you homogenize them as a suite, the result is a segue us nerds only dream of. Before owning a DeadBase, I assumed this was a show closer. Nope. The guys and gal gave those UCLA folks a “Stella Blue,” “El Paso,” “Eyes of the World,” “Sugar Magnolia,” and “Casey Jones” for dessert. 

Dew sandwiches aside, you can’t help notice the abundance of songs like “Here Comes Sunshine,” “Row Jimmy,” “Stella Blue,” “Weather Report Suite,” and “Eyes of the World” in setlists from late 1973. These harmonically dense and improvisational heavy songs had been recently released on Wake of the Flood. In addition, Jerry had a new custom guitar in Wolf. Taking the aforementioned arguments plus the trajectory of the band to come, I could argue that late 1973 was as important and fruitful a period as 1970, late 1971-early 1972, or 1977. Jazz had permeated their sound. Key changes, voice-leading, major seventh chords, extended form-based improvisations, and an emphasis on guitar tones gave this era a unique sound.

I think back to the release of Dick’s Pick Volume 1, 12/19/73. Having an actual non-overdubbed, raw live concert mastered and on compact disc was exquisite! That “Here Comes Sunshine” is the “Here Comes Sunshine” by which all other “Here Comes Sunshines” are measured. That track hitting this 16-year-old’s ears was life-altering. No kidding. I literally went from grudge rock adolescent to jazz-facing college-bound music student after realizing what was possible from a guitar. Thank you, Jerry. And thank you Dad for showing me that late 1973 was great.

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.