The most recent instance of this debate I found myself in was at my latest Phil show. I mentioned this briefly in the post about said show, but it’s up for debate what they actually opened with. To my ears, they opened with “Dark Star,” but it could also be said that they opened “Jam > Dark Star.” The same thing happened with the “Dark Star” I saw before this show at Halloween (also with Phil), where they went from a dead stop (ha) into a jam, and that jam materialized into “Dark Star.” My argument for why both of these instances should just be called “Dark Star” and not “Jam > Dark Star” is that “Dark Star,” as a song, inherently includes several jams.
The same is true for songs like “The Other One,” “Bird Song,” and “Playing in the Band.” All of these songs do have themes and solidified parts, but the majority of each song is instrumental. I use “theme” as a more or less technical term borrowed from jazz, where the theme is kind of like the equivalent of a chorus -- a familiar part of the song that returns at various points and identifies the song. But jams also have their own themes, whether it be a one-time-jam or a recurring jam. I think most of us are familiar with this idea, even if we don’t realize it; it’s the same reason you know that they’re starting “The Other One” or going into “Eyes” before they’ve actually done the song-proper. If every differently themed jam in a song was listed, then you would have something like: “Dark Star > Jam 1 > Jam 2 > Jam 3 > Jam 4, etc. > Dark Star,” which for the purposes of labeling is a huge headache. The whole point of songs like these is to be vehicles for sonic exploration, which is obviously going to take the music in different directions, but they will typically return to the song they came from. So instead of calling it “The Other One > Jam > The Other One,” it should just be called “The Other One.”
There are some interesting exceptions to this rule when it comes to the more common jams that the Dead would insert into their music. Jams like “Spanish Jam,” “Mind Left Body Jam” and “Feeling Groovy Jam” all cropped up repeatedly during certain eras of the Dead, and I typically think that they are worth mentioning in a setlist, because these are practically songs in their own rights*. However, we should keep in mind when looking at these examples how we would want it listed on a CD or MP3 player. Take for example Dicks Picks Volume 19, from October 19, 1973, which includes the progression “Dark Star > Mind Left Body Jam > Morning Dew.” While that is a distinct jam that’s sometimes worth listing, in this particular case I think it would be more appropriate to simply call it “Dark Star > Morning Dew.” In this case the “MLB Jam” is a part of the “Dark Star”; that is the context that it came from. Likewise with the “Spanish Jam” listed after the “Dark Star” from the Jai Alai Forum show on 06/23/74 that is included on the So Many Roads box set. On the box set they even call it “Dark Star Jam,” but that’s because they don’t include the entire “Dark Star.”
So those are some of the more clear-cut issues, but what about the trickier ones to decide on? Look at something like “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider.” Some people routinely list the transition as “China Cat > Jam > I Know You Rider” on the archive, but this is clearly unnecessary. “China Cat” implies a jam out of it, and it was typically the same jam, depending on the era: pre-hiatus it included a Bobby solo and eventually a recurring thematic jam, post-hiatus it was a more simplified jam. “Scarlet Begonias” and “Eyes of the World” also inherently include jams out of them and typically should not have “Jam” listed in the setlist.
For all three of those, however, I think there are exceptions that could be made. Sometimes the jam will go on for much longer than it typically does, and sometimes it will go into musical spaces that are totally foreign to the song. The “Eyes” from 12/04/73, for example, is listed as 23 minutes long, but the majority of the outro jam is atypical for “Eyes,” so a strong case could be made for labeling it as “Eyes > Jam.” The same will happen for “Scarlet” sometimes, especially if it isn’t going into “Fire on the Mountain.” There’s also the 20+ minute “Here Comes Sunshine” from 04/02/73, which features a totally unique and unrelated jam out of it. The only issue, like some people have posted on the archive, is that if you list each separate jam you end up with track listings that say “Here Comes Sunshine > Jam > Space,” which seems like too much. You also see people listing sequences such as “The Other One Jam > The Other One > Jam > The Other One > Space > Wharf Rat,” which is absolutely wrong; just call it “The Other One”!
This also relates to “That’s It For The Other One,” which is the original name for “Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One > Cryptical Envelopment.” I think this should always be listed as “That’s It For The Other One,” because that listing implies all of the individual parts. This is really a strange case, however, because it varied so much in the years they performed it (quick note, I won’t bring up the ‘85 versions because they were so sparse). It eventually developed a “Drums” interlude after the first “Cryptical,” and that segment went from being a couple seconds long to almost ten minutes long, and occasionally featured a small jam in the middle of the “Drums.” They also dropped the second “Cryptical” or limited its length fairly regularly in its later days. I can see the case being made for calling it “Cryptical > Drums > The Other One > [something other than Cryptical],” but I think that whenever you have “Cryptical > The Other One” with only a drum or jam break in the middle, it should still just be labelled “That’s It For The Other One.”
Going back to “Dark Star,” here’s another interesting example of debatable track listings. One of my favorite shows is 03/24/1973 from the Spectrum in Philly, and among other things it features, allegedly, “He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Jam > Spanish Jam > Dark Star > Sing Me Back Home.” Now while it is true that “Spanish Jam” is a distinct jam, in the opening jam I’m certain you can hear them hint at “Dark Star,” so I think that the appropriate listing would be “He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Dark Star > Sing Me Back Home.” It is interesting to note that what is usually labelled as “Dark Star” on recordings of this show is under 5 minutes long, so some people think the rest of it is totally separate.
One final topic I’ll touch on is the development of “Drums >Space” as a featured part of the Dead’s shows. If what I’ve been saying above is true, shouldn’t it also apply here? What I mean is that “Drums” eventually evolved to a point where it always implied that “Space” would come next, so should it really just be listed as “Drums”? That’s how Dead Base has traditionally done it, and I think it does make a certain amount of sense. However, I think that “Space” is handy to list when you compare earlier shows to later ones, because sometimes it would just be “Drums > The Wheel” (1976) and other times it would be “Drums > Space > The Wheel” (1980) and I think that’s an important enough distinction.
While we’re in “Space” here, what is the difference between “Jam” and “Space”? On the archive some people don’t recognize a difference, typically calling it “Drums > Jam.” But you’ll see tracks listed as “Space” dating back as far as 1971 (earliest instance I have at least), and it’s interesting that people feel moved to list it as a distinct thing from a jam. I think there’s honestly no real difference between the two, and what people list as “Space” is a any jam that features heavily on feedback and cataclysmic meltdowns, or whenever heavy special effects were employed. For my own purposes, I only list jams that come immediately after “Drums” from ‘79 onward as “Space,” because that’s when it became a regular part of the show, and that was right on the cusp of them getting more filters and effects for their guitars, and Brent’s addition of synthesized sounds really pushed the envelope. I’ll never really get into an argument about “Jam” vs. “Space,” though, because I think they are both applicable in most situations.
So what’s the point I’m getting at? Well I don’t honestly have one point I’m trying to make, I’m really just hoping to start a discussion about this...and also rant about some of my pet peeves in the Dead world. When should it say “Eyes > Jam?” Is “Jam > Dark Star” really necessary, or can I get away with saying they opened with “Dark Star?” Also, if I’m so intent on keeping sequences intact, shouldn’t “China > Rider,” “Alligator > Caution,” and “Scarlet > Fire” each be their own tracks? This also brings up my own prejudices on where tracks should be cut (when does “St. Stephen” end and “The William Tell Bridge” begin?), but that’s a topic for another time. Let me know what you guys think, and as always let me know what you want to read/talk about next time! You can follow the blog here, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
*For a much more in-depth analysis of the Dead’s jams, and pretty much anything related to the Grateful Dead, I recommend checking out the Grateful Dead Guide, especially the three posts below. They go into way more detail and do a ton more research than I have time to, and are definitely worth checking out!