Grateful Dead Songs That, Well, Suck: Gimme Five

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.

        • chillsmills

          I have to agree with George. I always hated Brent’s cheap Michael McDonald imitation of a voice and wish that the Dead had found somebody with a less horrible voice. When Jerry, Bobby, and Donna were on they were as good as any vocal trio in the history of rock. I think that there are a lot of Dead fans who would gladly pay a thousand bucks for a Brent voice removal filter. I can’t count the number of times I’ve cringed listening to him ruin an otherwise fantastic song. It wasn’t bad enough for me not to see boatloads of Dead shows, but I still rarely listen to any song that is contaminated by his vocals.

  • 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.

    • ruk777

      Tons of Steel WAILED!!!!!

  • 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”

    • ruk777

      TOTALLY Agree with s.davis. American Beauty is a friggen MASTERPIECE and could arguably be considered the dead’s very besl Lp by FAR. You are on crack, or you just do not know the grateful Dead. If they did not release American beauty, Workingman’s dead and Live dead in 1970, the band probably would have been dropped from the label and would doubtfully have survived. It is their coupt d’etat. Without question.

  • ramblin_p

    ???? ‘TIl the Morning Comes??
    Seriously? Such a nice song!

    Push Comes to Shove isn’t bad either…

    Never a huge fan of some of the cheesier Brent material, but
    I think all of their songs have their place and time to shine…

  • Morning comes, when push comes to shove… Solid tunes, IMO, and certainly not among the worst offenders!

    Samba? Yeah, probably. My list

    Corrina.
    Liberty.
    Lost Sailor.
    St. of Circumstance
    Unbroken Chain’s Melody, although the jam could rock

    • ruk777

      why does everybody hate Samba In the Rain? It has a GREAT beat/groove to dance to. The lyrics create visions of a beautiful woman and myself drenched in a rain storm in Brazil and laughing, holding hands, running and kissing. I think it is a beautiful song. when vince would do his “blips” at the beginning, I would get excited and if I wasn’t dancing already, this one would get me grooving’ and shaking! And don’t forget- lyrics by Robert Hunter!!! (Bet you didn’t know that!):

      Let’s get down and dirty
      Don’t bother to explain
      Don’t care if they call a cop
      and say we are insane
      we’ll keep goin’ til we drop
      Samba in the rain

      • Yeah, I know it’s Hunter lyrics. It’s in a completely different league from his best work, although I find the Welnick framing uninspiring. IMO, it’s simply not as special as much of Hunter’s other stuff, although the music makes it less inspiring IMO. Maybe if the music put me into the zone better, like Jerry could do with the wild west themed or psychedelic stuff.

        But alas, we’re all inclined to be drawn what we like. There is no wrong, we like what we like! Though I doubt any dead fan “hates” Eyes or China Cat!

        • ruk777

          you are right. this is pure opinion. None the less, fun to talk about. I am floored that anyone would list ‘Till The Morning Comes as a top 5 worst. That is unbelievable. I know there are many who did not like Vince. His tiny-tink keyboard sound was annoying, but he seemed to get better all the time. And yes, not Hunters best, or close. But not his worst. He did write Day Job and Push Come to Shove, right? Just something about Samba’ made me want to totally get up and boogie. Same with Long way to go Home. No question, Brent was the best by far, though I’m not considering Pigpen a keyboardist per-say. mare of a lead singer who would play harp more than keys. but he did have the B-3 which is the sound from the heavens. And I agree. Anyone who can say they “hate” Eyes or China Cat basically is saying they do not like the Dead. It’s not for everybody. I learned that long ago.

          • In all honesty, with all but a few tunes I could find nice moments. Still, there remain those that would always be the “OK. Who needs a beer?” tunes you’d be perfectly fine ditching out on to grab a fresh one.

            And I’d agree on Brent and the B-3. His harmonies were also fantastic, and a few of his leads were always solid — e.g., Mr. Fantasy always a pleaser.

            • ruk777

              to me Brent made the Dead psychedelic again. With those crazy chimes and bells. No other keyboard player sounded like him. He was one of the all time greats and people should think of him in that way. He brought the dead to new heights. Such a sad, sad tragedy when he was lost. For some reason, you can be a multimillionaire,be a part of one of the top rock and roll bands of all time, have two amazing and beautiful daughters and still not be happy. And I mean so unhappy that you literally kill yourself. Any fool knows that shooting up heroin, let alone cocaine, by yourself with no one there to call for help if you go too far is suicide. Ask any person for three wishes and they might be what he has- multi-millionaire, member of greatest rock band ever and to have two beautiful children. What else could one man possibly want. he was their best

              • ruk777

                6/9 of what year? I want to listen. Drums were always my “get a beer” OR TAKE A LEAK “song”.

                Here’s one to discuss. what are the most psychedelic 15 minutes of grateful Dead music ever played? haha! Have fun with that! I’ll say Eyes of The World 9/3/77 Englishtown NJ (TOTAL MISTAKE- I MEANT TO SAY EYES OF THE WORLD 8/6/74 Jersey City, NJ. Check it out. It will blow your mind!)

            • ruk777

              6/9 of what year? I want to listen. Drums were always my “get a beer” OR TAKE A LEAK “song”.
              Here’s one to discuss. what are the most psychedelic 15 minutes of grateful Dead music ever played? haha! Have fun with that! I’ll say Eyes of The World 9/3/77 Englishtown NJ

        • LOL. I just had to bail on a 6/9/77 Sunrise to suppress the vomit in my throat. Yeah, if I really dig through all the repertoire, there are some tunes that really don’t sit well.

          As for insane, U.S. Blues?!?! Seriously?

          I’ll agree that different things floats da boats.

          • ruk777

            yea, I should remove US Blues from my list. There are so many other songs that could replace it. And the version in the Grateful Dead Movie is spectacular. So let me think of a song to replace that… How about sticking one of those Bobby blues songs in there. The one I really disliked the most was CC Rider. Unless it has to be one that th Dead wrote. I could put France up there I suppose. I don’t think they ever played it live?

  • ruk777

    Bro- you are absolutely insane. While I will agree that there are at LEAST 5 Dead songs that, well, suck. With the exception of France, none on your list even come close. Till the morning comes was one of their most psychedelic songs from the freak out era. It is a twisted mind fuck and jerry’s leads are vicious. ‘Nuff said. Samba in the rain- while I admit, lots of fans never took to Vince Welnick, I must say that every time I heard the beginnings and bruce doing his “BLLLLLp”s, I would get completely stoked and would dance my ass off. Along with So Many Roads, those two songs are well written and down right GREAT jams. As for day Job and When push Comes To Shove, I see your point, but they are short little rockers. Like you say, in the vein of US Blues. They were GREAT encores, set openers or closers. It’s hard to pick 5 songs that are the worst, but let me try- How about corrina? How about Picasso Moon. Those are both terrible songs. They sound like they are from a different band and the vocals are horrendous. I think Corina might be one chord. I think many of the blues songs could make the list. Why? because they all sound the same- Walkin’ Blues; Wang Dang Doodle; Smokestack Lightning; Little Red Rooster; CC Rider; and dare I say it- Minglewood? If there had only been Minglewood then that would have been cool. Just about every Brent song is GREAT- Far From Me! Just a little light, Blow Away, We Can Run, I will take you home, and my favorite Easy to Love You. he was their best keyboardist BY FAR and his boise was awesome! If you don’t like Brent you don’t like the dead. back to the 5 worst. I think I need three more. How about Sunrise (I will omit France since they never played it live and same with Let me sing your blues away, though that would probably not meet my top 5 worst list). How about Money Money for #4 and okay, dare I list a jerry tune? I guess it would have to be US Blues only because it was over played to death and compared to songs like Brokedown Palace, Eyes of the World, Stella blue and Terrapin Station it isn’t even in the same league. Sorry Jerry. But you just played it too much. And yes, I’ll take Day job over US Blues. That’s why they called it Useless Blues. That’s my top 5:

    1. Corrina

    2. Picasso Moon

    3. Sunrise

    4. Money Money

    5. US Blues

    6. (all the Bobby Blues tunes)

    -drkstrcrashes

  • ruk777

    oh, i forgot Mexicali Blues. That one could DEFINITELY be on the top worst list.

    • Yeah. Maybe the part about ending up drunk with a 14-year-old girl.

      Yeah, I know… the booze always makes ’em do it.

    • Bruce Wayne

      Love Mexicali, a classic song off a classic album (“Ace”)

    • Juan Perez

      Confirmed…you are not a dead head

      • Stephens Answer

        Hmmm, I guess seeing my first show in 1980 then ending up seeing over 200+ shows with jerry, from north to Alaska, south to LA, east to Florida, bak up north to NY and all points in between (summer mid-west were my favorites. LOVED out door shows. Not to mention when I wasn’t touring we were putting on our own acid tests with me on lead guitar. Ending up doing a couple of years for conspiracy in the 90s which was perfect timing. Yea, I guess you are right. I don’t know how much more of my life could have been dedicated to the Grateful Dead. When in the joint we made ceramic Stealie mugs with their names under the handle with gold leafing. jerry Garcia himself sent me and my partner a thank you letter which is my most cherished possession. But you are right, even though I know 95% of every Dead song on guitar, I am not a Dead head and probably know nothing about the band. When was your first show? The Further Festival?

  • Tom Denman

    Hey Author Can I have a list of the rest of your articles? I want to determine if there are others that suck, or if it’s just this one.

  • Marty

    I am a huge Dead fan, but there are a few songs, some fan favorites, that i just can’t take.

    1. Dancing in the Streets (Absolutely terrible, nails on a chalkboard)
    2.Samson and Delilah (Same refrain repeated too many times)

    The next one is just a song I have never been into, but it is nowhere near as bad the the other 2 I already mentioned.
    3. Estimated Prophet (I’m sure i’ll catch flack for this one, but I have never been a fan)

    • Juan Perez

      Are you sure you are a dead head?

  • Juan Perez

    Sept 4, 1979

  • Juan Perez

    By the way, I was responding to Marty