“How Does the Song Go?”, a column dedicated to taking you deeper into the realms of the Grateful Dead’s music than ever before.
By Nate LaPointe
Today’s episode is called “Weir Sings Like (a) Pig.” Clearly, I am referring to Bob Weir and Ron Pigpen McKernan.
Let’s move on to our second analysis, “Turn on Your Lovelight,” possibly Pig’s most well-known and iconic song in his tenure with the band. His ability to improvise and make things up on the spot led to some really long and fun vocal jams. His last version of “Lovelight” was on May 24th, 1972 in London. There is no audio available for this song on this date, so we will listen to the previous version,’ which is from May 7, 1972, in England, earlier on the Europe ‘72 tour. Go listen to the intro and first verse.
Fast forward nine and a half years and 581 shows later, “Lovelight” shows back up with Weir on lead vocals at the Melk Weg in Amsterdam on October 16th, 1981, Bob Weir’s 34th birthday. These 2 shows on the 15th and 16th of October are famously known as the OOPS concerts in which the band played two unscheduled shows on borrowed instruments in an attempt to travel light between shows in Germany and France. Garcia and Weir had played an acoustic show at the Melk Weg the prior weekend and convinced the rest of the band to come back for full shows during their brief break in the European tour. Let’s listen to the intro and first verse of “Lovelight” from 10/16/81 in Amsterdam.
In contrast to the “Good Lovin’” comparison we did earlier, the Weir version of “Lovelight” in the ‘80s is actually FASTER than the Pig version from ’72. Their tempo would fluctuate a bit over the next fourteen years, but generally settled in around this tempo we hear on this ’81 version.
Another difference you’ve likely heard over the years is the lyric, “Without a warning you broke my heart,” that Pig sings vs. “you STOLE my heart,” that Weir sings. Lets listen to a later version of that first line so that we can here Weir’s vocal a bit better, this one from August 6, 1989 at Cal Expo in Sacramento.
And later in that first verse, Pig sings, “Said your love for me was dying,” while Weir sings, “Told me your love was slowly dying.”
Now let’s head back to ’72 and hear how the band hits beat two once we get to the chorus, “Turn On Your Lovelight, let it shine on me!” and how in ’81, and all subsequent Weir versions, there is no hit on beat 2 in this section. Go listen to that section from ’81. And now from ’89…
We talked about it earlier, but Pig had a unique ability to riff on vocals. By ’72, his health was failing and he really wasn’t in top form, but if we go back and listen to some of his vocal jam from the Live/Dead version, we get some classic Pig. Check it out…
Weir obviously was greatly influenced by Pig as evidenced in our ’89 Cal Expo version. Go to the second half of that version and check out Weir’s vocal jams. More of this next week!