Forever Grateful: Jerry Garcia Ballads

Jerry Garcia was one of the greatest musical talents the world has ever seen, though one of the most unconventional suspects in the conversation of “best in history.” His notes were imperfect, his voice you could say raspy, and he wasn’t looking to overly flaunt his chops. What made Jerry special was his ability to bring you into the music, and make you FEEL every note. He could make your eyes light up in excitement, but could turn the mood around in an instant with the most subtle of chord progressions. He could captivate an audience in a way that few have ever done, having us all hanging to his words and lost in the music. Jerry’s playing was heartfelt, vulnerable, and exuded emotion.

Often times that emotion kept us on the edge of tears, and at times send us deep into the abyss of our own personal stories we conjure from the music. As we celebrate the life and times of Jerry Garcia during the ‘Days Between,’ we’ve chosen eight songs with the Grateful Dead that exemplify Garcia’s ability to pluck on your heartstrings. Explore a few of these beloved ballads below, and listen to the playlist here in the nugs mobile app, streaming with a free trial.

  1. Morning Dew
    Grateful Dead
    5/2/70 Binghamton, NY

    This Bonnie Dobson original is one of the oldest songs in the Grateful Dead repertoire, a standout track on the Dead’s first studio album and a consistent staple throughout the lifespan of the band. With lyrics that were written in hopes for peace in a time when nuclear annihilation was an international threat, Jerry Garcia used this song as a launch pad into the hearts of his followers. It’s a haunting song, and this 13 minute version encapsulates the essence of humanity with deep improv and a uniquely punchy ending.

  2. Days Between (12/11/1994 Oakland, CA)
    Grateful Dead
    Ready Or Not

    While it didn’t make it to the stage until 1993, and was only played 41 times, “Days Between” has made a name for itself as one of the most sentimental ballads in the catalog and will live eternally in the songbook of the Grateful Dead. It’s a shining example of Robert Hunter’s lyrical style, and this version in particular is devastatingly hypnotic with a powerful and explorative outro-jam.

  3. Standing on the Moon
    Grateful Dead
    7/7/89 Philadelphia, PA

    An integral Hunter-penned song that joined the repertoire months before this show, “Standing On The Moon” was one of the strongest vocal features of latter-day Jerry. By the time the song was in rotation the band was setting up in stadiums and performing for 30,000+ people, but even the massive crowds of the 90’s would plummet into silence to hear Jerry sing “I’d rather be with you.” This take from the final performance at JFK Stadium shines, an exemplary rendition of this Grateful Dead classic.

  4. Ripple
    Grateful Dead

    “Ripple” is one of the most well-known songs that the Grateful Dead ever wrote and for very good reason. Garcia and Robert Hunter found a way to touch people even outside of the Dead world with powerful lyrics and the universal message of finding peace in everyday life. This particular track stands as one of the all-time greatest versions, taken from the iconic live-album Reckoning, recorded on 9/26/1980 at the Warfield Theatre.

  5. Stella Blue
    Grateful Dead
    10/21/78 Winterland 1978 – San Francisco, CA

    After making its debut at the Hollywood Bowl on Pigpen’s last show in 1972, “Stella Blue” stayed in the rotation all the way through 1995, appearing 328 times on the Grateful Dead’s setlist. Like many Hunter/Garcia masterpieces, the song tells the story of someone down and out on their luck, but the mood brightens triumphantly when Jerry belts out “dust off those dusty strings just one more time, gonna make ‘em shine.” We want to avoid saying any song here is the best of the best, but this version sees all sides of Jerry at his best, and in epic proportions.

  6. Wharf Rat
    Grateful Dead
    5/22/77 Pembroke Pines, FL

    While on the subject of down and out characters in Grateful Dead songs, “Wharf Rat” has to come to mind. A sad but inspirational story, the old man down by the docks will never be forgotten, and Jerry’s rendition here won’t either. This tear jerker has a tremendous Jerry rift in the jam and an eternally beautiful quality to it, with Donna’s backup vocals adding the perfect balance to Jerry’s dire conveyance of the lyrics.

  7. Brokedown Palace
    Grateful Dead
    6/20/91 Clarkston, MI

    Robert Hunter was in a sentimental mood on his 1970 trip to London, as this is the second song on this list to be written in the same afternoon from his stay, accompanied by “Ripple,” as well as “To Lay Me Down” – which also belongs on this list of ballads. The song was often used to bid the fans goodnight, closing out many shows with the lyrics “Fare you well” ringing throughout the audience. 20+ years after it’s first play, this later take from Pine Knob holds a different weight then earlier versions, and you can hear it in Jerry’s voice and playing.

  8. China Doll
    Grateful Dead
    Pacific Northwest ’73-’74: Believe it If You Need It

    It’s chilling, haunting, and an emotional story that was initially coined “The Suicide Song” by Robert Hunter. There’s a can’t miss acoustic version from the Reckoning album, but with this version from the University of Washington in Seattle on 5/21/74, Jerry’s heart is in it and every note sung and played hits your emotions hard, but leaves you with that sparkling glimmer of hope at the end.

Enjoy this playlist in the mobile app, and you can save it to your Library for desktop playback. You can explore the full collection of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band recordings here, and if you’re new to, start a free 7-day trial and listen to every show and more concert audio and video from your favorite artists.