Gimme Five: Grateful Dead Songs That, Well, Suck

Over the course of 30 years, 13 studio albums, and countless live releases and compilations, the Grateful Dead curated an impressive and deep collection of original compositions composed by Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter and other band members. Along the way, they also nurtured and developed one of the most rabid fan bases in all of rock, one brimming with intrepid travelers, musical jesters and Dead statisticians.

Like any band with that kind of longevity and success, there have been some musical blunders along the way. Whether it is an error in creative judgment or a miss in the quality control department, these revealing moments of weakness by the band can make their fans appreciate them even more in their fallibility.

With such a depth of quality tunes and improvisational magic at their disposal, we will allow the band these few instances of missing the target. This list is no way definitive, only a starting point to explore the strangeest and perhaps weakest corners of the Grateful Dead’s catalog …

“FRANCE,” (SHAKEDOWN STREET, 1978): This number is someone’s favorite song somewhere, but the banal lyrics and at-the-time contemporary disco production give the track a sterile MOR feel that the Dead constantly tried to avoid. Bob Weir gets to fulfill his slick rock-star fantasies, but it’s hard to believe this is the same band that created Live/Dead. Co-writer Mickey Hart’s enthusiastic steel drums and the groovy instrumental fadeout are not enough to save this one from the circular file.

“KEEP YOUR DAY JOB,” (concert performances, 1982-86): A Hunter/Garcia song that was eventually removed from the band’s set lists at the request and angst of their fans, “Day Job” would allow the band to flex their rock and roll muscles if played well, but not much more. Deadheads took the not-so-cloak-and-dagger advice of the song to heart and considered it an unneeded buzz kill when performed live in concert. The combination of a precarious melody previously mined on “US Blues” and below average lyrics made this song disappear after only 50 performances.

“‘TIL THE MORNING COMES,” (AMERICAN BEAUTY, 1970): Nebulous and uncharacteristically juvenile rhyming couplets are one of the issues with the one weak track from American Beauty. What sounds like a stale Crosby Stills and Nash reject must not have set well with the band as they performed it only a few times in concert, probably based on the difficulty in replicating the three-part harmonies. Taken in the context of the classic songs making up American Beauty, the song feels out of place because of its cardboard cutout construction that no other track on the album has. It’s not that this song is totally horrible, but more of a reflection of the powerful and classic songs that surround it.

“SAMBA IN THE RAIN” (concert performances, 1994-95): While it took years for Brent Mydland’s compositions to make second-set status with the Grateful Dead, Vince Welnick’s numbers were featured often in the band’s last two years of existence. “Samba in the Rain,” however, was often too soaked and bloated to fly, as it seemed the melody was not strong enough to inspire — no to mention that some band members never bothered to properly learn the song. Welnick’s festive on-mic asides and childish exclamations were often uncomfortable and unneeded, contributing to the sinking feeling of the track.

“WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE,” (IN THE DARK, 1987): When compared to other Hunter/Garcia creations from the same era, this track is a weak facsimile of past glories that contained all stronger melodic ideas. The song had a short shelf life as it was retired from the stage after 1989, having more success as LP filler. The bland repetition of the melody and unconvincing studio reading add up to making this number just another song.

(DIS)HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away,” “Tons of Steel” and “Wave to The Wind.”

Stephen Lewis

A creative writing major at SUNY Brockport and freelance writer from Upstate New York, Stephen Lewis maintains a music-focused site called Talk From the Rock Room: thefrodisroomrockblog.blogspot.com. He has also written for UpstateLive Music Guide and Ultimate Classic Rock. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Russell Cooke

    I would have put “Let Me Sing…” at #1. this is a fairly agreeable list though!

  • ripple947

    No list of worst Grateful Dead songs is complete without We Can Run.

  • MCS

    WOW…I kinda like 4 of them.

  • George O’Hagan

    Sorry, but I have to say ANY SONG when Brent carries the lead vocals. The guy was a whiz on the keyboards, but his voice was like fingernails on a blackboard….especially when he really “tried” to get down.

    • vic

      Brent was great!…you must be thinking of Vince (he sucked on the keyboards too).

      • George O’Hagan

        No I mean Brent. he really was wonderful on the keys, but there was something about his voice that drove me nuts…I get the same reaction when I hear a Journey song…it’s that voice! It’s just a personal thing…like some folks don’t like Good Lovin’, I just get a bad reaction to his voice…especially when he started to get really soulful. It’s just me. I go back to the Pig Pen days & I’m just an old freak who likes what he likes. And I really love The Dead. I took my late wife to her first show in 1981 at Glens Falls, NY, and my daughter to the Dozin’ at The Knick shows, in Albany, NY. My first show was at the Fillmore East in 1968. Hope everyone has a great summer.

  • ste4ve

    Agreed . . . except for “Til the Morning Comes.”

  • Mike Meoff

    Actually, ALL their songs suck.
    Jerry Garcia was an AWFUL guitarist, for starters. Need I go on???

    • avery

      Really? Let me hear you play guitar and hear the songs you have written.

    • Peter Leary

      Yep, seriously you really need to go on… but
      have a good trip and may it be a long and strange one!

  • andy

    Foolish Heart, Corinna, I Will Take You Home, Ramble on Rose, Ship of Fools

  • SparkyJabrones

    black muddy river, victim or the crime, picasso moon, visions of johanna. i sure do miss jer though.

  • Keeth

    Bullshit. They’re all good. It’s this weak article trolling for clicks that sucks.

  • vic

    Tons of Steel and Gentlemen Start Your Engines…are two great tunes.
    And they only played Gentlement Start Your Engines about 3 times.

  • vic

    Cornia, Victim of the Crime, Ship of Fools, Throwing Up (Stones), Liberty, and any Vince tune sucked (as did the band the last five years imho).
    I personally did not mind Day Job….

  • s.davis@bathspa.ac. uk

    Tilll the morning ! great song whats up with you great slide or pedal thingy. Agree with the anti-vinceand/or bruce comments. anyway stop picking holes Dead are/were light years/dimensions above and beyond anything anyone else has done culturally and musically before or since

  • Larry “Law” Johnson

    I have to disagree with these choices. The Dead have a LOT of mediocre and just plain awful songs. These are all – in my opinion – in the middle of the pack. Bearable but not something I go back to a lot. I was in a band that played “Day Job” regularly and I grew to tolerate it. “Til the Morning Comes” is an okay song from an okay album. “France” is garbage but it’s not offensive. “Push Comes to Shove” is not a deal-breaker, either. It goes by without causing too much pain. “Samba in the Rain” is…well, I’ll give you that one. It is one of the worst things anyone has ever done anywhere. Worst 5: “We Can Run”, “Let Me Sing Your Blues Away”, “Ship of Fools” and, of course the execrable “Samba”.

    • s.davis@bathspa.ac. uk

      AN “OK” album!!!!!!!!!!????????

      • Jack Straw

        france, dont sleaze me in, samba all bad………. Push, Day Job, & Morning all good……..

        • s.davis@bathspa.ac. uk

          Hang on what Album we talking bout here I’m talkin Beauty hence shock at epithet “OK”