1. “Ripple” (1970)
When it comes to Grateful Dead songs, “Ripple” consistently ranks among every music expert’s favorites. “Ripple was featured on the Grateful Dead’s 1970 album American Beauty and was released alongside Truckin’,” writes Music Grotto. “The song was the result of a prolific afternoon of composition by Grateful Dead member Robert Hunter, during which he reportedly drank half a bottle of fortified wine.”
What is a hippie? If you can’t outright define it, this song gives off the same energy. “If you love the hippie vibes the Grateful Dead has to offer, we highly recommend giving ‘Ripple’ a listen. ‘Ripple’ is arguably the most hippie song the Grateful Dead ever wrote. Often referred to as the ultimate peace and love anthem, this song is lyrically and musically awesome,” adds Rocks Off Mag.
Looking for inspiration? The Grateful Dead has you covered. “Musically, the song is a straight-up country tune, while lyrically it draws part of its inspiration from the 23rd Psalm,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock. The lyric features trippy wordplay and hippie imagery: ‘Reach out your hand if your cup be empty / If your cup is full may it be again / Let it be known there is a fountain / That was not made by the hands of men.‘”
2. “Friend Of The Devil” (1970)
Have you ever felt like a misfit trying to find a new planet? The second song on our list of best Grateful Dead songs explains just that. “The narrator of Friend Of The Devil is on the run – from the law, from relationships – and unable to trust a soul. It’s set to a nimble acoustic backing which emphasizes the captivating interplay between the band members,” points out This Is Dig.
The “American Beauty” album is iconic and this song is one of its finest. “Friend of the Devil is a classic Grateful Dead story song about an outlaw on the run and once again comes from 1970’s American Beauty album,” adds Blues Rock Review. “The song was a collaborative effort with lyrics by Robert Hunter altered by John Dawson from ‘New Riders of the Purple Sage.’ The second half of the original line, ‘I set out running but I take my time / It looks like water but it tastes like wine‘ was changed to ‘a friend of the devil is a friend of mine,’ which became the title line of the song.”
Attempting to describe the energy behind this song is like trying to describe what it’s like to be high. The lyrics take you somewhere but you never quite understand where you are and you realize that you don’t really need to understand. “The song’s lyrics are filled with vivid imagery and colorful characters, as the band weaves a tale of love, betrayal, and the search for freedom. With its catchy melody and infectious chorus, Friend of the Devil has become a beloved classic of the Grateful Dead’s repertoire, inspiring countless fans to join in the band’s celebration of the outlaw spirit and the joys of life on the road,” writes Singers Room.
3. “Uncle Johns Band” (1970)
Have you ever really listened to this song? “Uncle John’s Band is the Grateful Dead at the height of their song craft, featuring a strong melody over sparse acoustic backing,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock. “Its harmony singing owes an obvious debt to Crosby Stills and Nash, with a lyric that is drawn from the tumultuous social changes of that time, but still hints at ’60s optimism. Its unique blend of song structure and lyrical perspective earn it a spot in the Top 10 Grateful Dead Songs.”
This song was recorded more than 50 years ago and still remains a highly streamed classic. “The Grateful Dead first began playing Uncle John’s Band in 1969; it was recorded for their 1970 album Workingman’s Dead. The song, inspired by bluegrass and folk music, featured largely acoustic instruments; it was praised for its layered vocal harmonies. Its musical and lyrical accessibility made it popular with fans, and it remains one of the band’s best-known songs,” says Music Grotto.
When Dead fans think of their badge of honor, this is the song that comes to mind. “Another song that is almost a call to arms for the Dead, Uncle John’s Band is an outsider’s anthem – an idealistic ballad depicting a singer gathering a motley crew of outcasts and misfits together,” adds This is Dig. “Written just as the hippie dream was fading, Robert Hunter later said of the lyric: ‘It was my feeling about what the Dead was and could be. It was very much a song for us and about us, in the most hopeful sense.’ As the first song on Workingman’s Dead it heralded a new direction for the band, but beneath the Americana exterior came a more unusual influence, emphasizing Garcia’s musical curiosity, as he later explained: ‘At that time, I was listening to records of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir and also this Greek-Macedonian music, and on one of those records, there was this little turn of melody that was so lovely that I thought, Gee, if I could get this into a song it would be so great. So I stole it!'”
4. “Touch of Grey” (1987)
A good song can freeze a moment in time and etch it into your soul. “The 1987 single ‘Touch of Grey’ is undoubtedly one of the band’s best numbers and is widely known for the iconic refrain ‘I will get by / I will survive’ which is just an insight into the dark lyrics which belie the sounds and sonic landscape that the band create,” shares Far Out Magazine. “The joy of those lyrics is the juxtaposition they enjoy being balanced by the upbeat pop sound. With music composed by Jerry Garcia, the single remains one of the band’s few moments swimming in the mainstream—not their favourite place to be.”
“Touch of Grey” takes you from the highest peaks of joy to the deepest valleys of introspection, all within the span of a few minutes. “‘Touch of Grey’ is one of the Grateful Dead’s most beloved songs. It encapsulates everything the band stands for a free-spirited and positive attitude, upbeat energy, and a unique melding of folk, rock, and blues,” adds Midder Music.
“The song is a celebration of life and the joys of living, as the lyrics exhort the listener to embrace the present moment and to let go of their worries and fears. Touch of Grey is a classic rock anthem that has become a staple of the Grateful Dead’s live shows, and it continues to resonate with fans of all ages,” says Singers Room.
5. “Sugar Magnolia” (1970)
When “Sugar Magnolia” hit the airwaves, all of a sudden, your world transformed into a stadium and your kitchen become your stage. You just had to sing along! “Sugar Magnolia stands as one of the Grateful Dead’s best-known songs, and one of the key tracks from perhaps their best-known album, American Beauty. Written by Robert Hunter and Bob Weir, the song may be responsible in no small part for the group’s hippie appeal, with its sunny good-time feel and lyrics like, ‘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,‘” shares Ultimate Classic Rock.
A truly epic song is like a rollercoaster for your emotions and Sugar Magnolia takes you to the highest peak. “It reeks of everything that made the band brilliant,” writes Far Out Magazine. “Taken from American Beauty, an album which saw the group really hit their stride, the song is imbued with a powerful beauty that not many can match. You can thank Robert Hunter and Bob Weir for the lyrics which helped to turn a sea of hippies into a fanbase known simply as Deadheads.”
A fantastic song knows exactly which button to push to make you smile and “Sugar Magnolia” satisfies. “Sugar Magnolia is from 1970’s American Beauty album and was written by Bob Weir and Robert Hunter. Weir wrote the first half of the song and when he performed what he had in the studio for the first time Hunter easily completed it. It’s believed that the song was about Weir’s girlfriend and it became one of the ‘Dead’s’ indelibly popular classics,” writes Blues Rock Review.
If you had to choose one Dead song to represent your life, which song would you choose? Leave a comment to let us know!
You might also be interested in:
- Best Rock Bands of All Time
- Best Guitar Solos of All Time
- Best Concert Venues in the U.S.
- Best Drummers of All Time
- Music Grotto
- Singers Room
- Rocks Off Mag
- Stereo Gum
- Ultimate Classic Rock
- This Is Dig
- Far Out Magazine
- Midder Music
- Blues Rock Review
- The Guardian
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