Sunday, May 15, 2016

Got No Signs, No Dividing Lines

    One thing I’ve brought up in some of my recent posts is the difference between a tracklist and a setlist.  A setlist is obviously just the written record of what was played, and a tracklist is how the individual songs are listed on a CD or digital release.  There is sometimes debate over how a setlist should be presented (not that I have any opinions on that…), but typically everyone is in agreement about which songs were played in what order, especially after a recording is provided.  What I have found all too often, however, is that the tracklists on official releases and recordings on the archive do not match up with what was actually recorded.

    Sometimes it’s little omissions, like not listing the “William Tell Bridge” between “St. Stephen” and “The Eleven,” which I can live with.  Same with if they want to call it “That’s It For The Other One,” “Cryptical Envelopment > The Other One;” or “Cryptical Envelopment > Drums > The Other One.”  What drives me crazy on a tracklist is not necessarily differences in setlist-philosophy, but the drawing of the line between two songs in what I consider to be the objectively wrong place.  Now when I say objectively, I realize that maybe this is all just my own opinion, but I want to try to at least show my reasoning for why I feel the way I do.

    Before we get into all that, I just want to point out a somewhat related problem that shouldn’t happen anymore: mislabeling songs at all.  I can see how in 1970, if you got a bootleg recording of a show and didn’t know the name of a new song the Dead were playing, you would reasonably call it “Don’t Murder Me,” or “Cowboy Song.”  But on the 1995 release of Hundred Year Hall, from Europe ‘72, they label it as “Truckin’ > Cryptical Envelopment > Comes a Time.”  “Cryptical Envelopment”?!  It’s “The Other One,” and had been for almost 30 years at that point!  It doesn’t show that way on the Wikipedia page, but if you look at the actual CD or somewhere like Spotify, you’ll see what I mean.  I haven’t seen anything else like this on official releases, but it still blows my mind every time I see it; inexcusable.

    Quick note: if you expected a ton of research and concrete examples, you will be disappointed.  I tried to find some examples of bad tracklisting, but I ended up just getting annoyed.  So I trust you all to know what I mean, and look back at examples of this in your own Dead experience.

    Anyway, onto the main topic.  I think the most egregious of these errors is between “St. Stephen” and “The Eleven.”  The fact that there is actually a third song wedged in between the two does nothing to simplify the matter.  It seems to me that people always push the labeling too far back into “The Eleven,” making “St. Stephen” seem longer than it actually is on the tracklist.  I think you should either list “William Tell,” or “St. Stephen” should be cut off at the end of “William Tell.”  Either way, “The Eleven” starts immediately after “William Tell” finishes.  Some people believe “The Eleven” should start when the band actually shifts into 11/4 time, which does make a certain level of sense.  To me, however, the jam leading up to the switch from 12 to 11 is an integral part of the song.  Not only that, but it’s impossible to get from “William Tell” to the switch from 12 to 11 beats without the jam between them, and that jam’s theme is so entwined with that of the rest of “The Eleven” that they really are the same song.

    Another classic pairing that seems to always have the cut between tracks in different places is “China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider.”  What makes this different from the previous example is that these two songs were paired together for about twenty years, so there’s twenty years’ worth of evolution to take into account.  The stance I take is that “China Cat Sunflower” inherently includes a jam out of it, and “I Know You Rider” does not inherently begin with a jam.  So anything that comes between the two songs at their most basic levels should therefore be included in “China Cat.”  That includes the “Feelin’ Groovy Jam” that popped up in ‘73 and ‘74 (not “Mind Left Body,” I go by this invaluable guide), and, more debatably, the riff that used to signal the end of Bobby’s solo and then turned into the classic hook they would use in the 80’s.

    I think those two examples are the only ones that are routinely mislabeled, but I want to briefly get into some pairings that have more definitive lines between them, in order to examine the basic philosophy of splitting songs up at all.  I suppose this is actually a new problem, because when people had tapes and records back in the day, the only line to draw was between one side or the other.  There was only a setlist, not a tracklist.  And really, a tracklist is a total fabrication with no bearing on reality other than as a way to talk about music in an analytical way.  The music all just happens without the consideration of where one song ends and the next one begins, so sometimes the transitions between songs happens differently for different players.  If Jerry and Keith are still playing “Scarlet Begonias,” and Phil has already started “Fire on the Mountain,” there is no one argument for where to draw the line that I find to be persuasive.

     That having been said, my general rule of thumb for “Scarlet > Fire” is that when Phil starts with his “Fire” bass line, they’re playing “Fire.”  Usually the way it works is that one of them will switch into “Fire” (usually it’s Phil), and then the rest of the band will fall in with him within a bar or two.  I’d say when two or more of the band have switched into the next song, the line between the tracks should probably be drawn.  So when they’re going into “He’s Gone” from “Truckin’,” and Jerry starts the riff, I think it should still be called “Truckin’” until he convinces at least one other guy on stage that “He’s Gone” is the right choice.  Same with when Jerry starts into “Eyes” out of “Estimated;” at the time, Phil and Keith could still have steered the song into “Terrapin,” so I don’t think the track should be cut until they finally give in and join him on “Eyes.”

    Well that’s how I feel about it, but what do you all think?  What are some other examples of botched cuts or mislabeled tracks?  I bet some of you have versions of “Dark Star” that aren’t listed as a track until after they’ve already finished the first verse, because I know I do…  As always, let me know what you want to read about in the coming weeks in the comments, or on my Twitter or Facebook.  I will definitely have a review posted of the July ‘78 box set once it arrives, or more realistically a few days after it arrives, so that should be out maybe Thursday, but most likely next Sunday!

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