Song of the Week – Unbroken Chain, Grateful Dead


Magoos Pizza 1970-81 (GS Troup 19)I’ve got a confession to make… and it’s very difficult to admit now that I live in the San Francisco Bay area. I’m not much of a Grateful Dead fan. There, I said it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the band. It’s just that I’m far from a “Dead Head.” I love Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. But they’re so accessible that even people that aren’t music buffs like them. I also like some of the later cuts on albums like Wake of the Flood, Blues for Allah and Terrapin Station. And I must admit I get a kick out of the fact that my current home is just a little over a mile from where The Dead (as The Warlocks) played their first gig — Magoo’s Pizza.

But I’ll cement my status as a non Dead Head with my choice for today’s SotW – “Unbroken Chain” from From the Mars Hotel (1974) – which, according to some sources, was the song that was least played live in concert by the group.

Maybe it wasn’t included in the live repertoire because it was written by Phil Lesh and Robert Peterson rather than by the main songwriters – Garcia/Hunter or Weir. Or maybe it was left out until 1995 because it is so musically complex, an attribute that I find attractive. (Blogs report that they did a bad job performing it and dropped it permanently after about 10 attempts.)

So why do I like this cut? Here a few reasons: The opening with a beautiful guitar figure reminiscent of the intro to “Stairway to Heaven.” Phil Lesh’s vocal and Donna Godchaux’s harmony. Ned Lagin’s use of an Arp Odyssey synthesizer to create that eerie sound that sounds like a plane taking off. And, of course, the awesome, jazzy Garcia solo that starts about 3 minutes in.

The philosophical lyrics are interesting too.

I’m not alone in my fondness for this song. The band Animal Collective chose a sample from “Unbroken Chain” (with unprecedented permission from the Grateful Dead) to use in their song “What Would I Want? Sky.”

Enjoy… until next week.

One thought on “Song of the Week – Unbroken Chain, Grateful Dead

  1. “Unbroken Chain” was remastered this year for “The Best of the Grateful Dead.” The track is not forgotten.
    The remaster is very clean and clear, with instrumentation nicely separated. The only con for some will be that some of the warmth of the original got scrubbed.

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