Dead Best: 6 Jaw-Dropping Versions of “Morning Dew”
Where have all the people gone, today?
You won’t find a more haunting or mournful song in The Grateful Dead’s live repertoire (not to mention, more deeply disturbing).
Written by Canadian folk singer Bonnie Dobson in 1961 – and subsequently reworked by The Dead – “Morning Dew” awakens on a scene of destruction and despair in the aftermath of nuclear war. Jerry sings through the eyes of survivors who are just coming to realize the horrific extent of the devastation and loss of life.
The new-beginning promise of the song’s title, “Morning Dew,” turns something bright and beautiful into something dark and deadly – that is, radiation. It takes the purity of the morning dew and, with the ultimate self-inflicted wound of nuclear war, turns it to poison.
Can’t walk you out in the morning dew, today.
On January 14, 1967, The Dead debuted “Morning Dew” at the Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. In March of that same year the band released the song on their self-titled debut album.
Jerry Garcia’s soulfully strained vocals are perfectly suited for this slow-moving ballad punctuated by ferocious, sky-scraping crescendos. If anyone can convey the sorrow and rage wrapped up in the prospect of nuclear holocaust, it’s Garcia – both instrumentally and vocally.
The Grateful Dead would go on to perform “Morning Dew” more than 240 times before Jerry’s death in the summer of 1995. Assembled below are six of the finest versions we could find. They all sound best turned up loud.
May 26, 1972
Strand Lyceum, London, England
Just exactly perfect! The entire band performed tight and clean on the Europe ’72 tour, and this definitive version of the “Dew” from London is Exhibit A. The Dead’s pared down sound of the early-’70s takes you back to a simpler place, and the crystal-clear diamond-cut vocals from a 31-year-old Garcia will give you chills.
October 18, 1974
Winterland Arena, San Francisco, CA
DARK STAR> DEW! Do not miss this epic all-around effort that has to be in the conversation for “best ever.” The band is laser-synced and firing on all cylinders – moving through delicate, dewy valleys and climbing ferocious balls-out peaks. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Phil delivers bomber bass work (in my opinion, his best “Dew” ever), and Bill’s drumming is brilliant. Did I mention Keith’s perfectly placed flourishes from the keys? And then there’s Jerry. Man oh man does he nail it.
May 8, 1977
Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
HOLY SHIT!! Does it get any better than the “Dew” from Barton Hall? Some say it’s overrated, but I have yet to hear another peak that rivals this one. The build-up is longer and more intense than any other on record, and the legendary crescendo pops blood vessels. Jerry goes fucking berserk! How he didn’t break every string on his guitar, we’ll never know. Guess it doesn’t matter anywayyyyyyyy.
May 22, 1977
Hollywood Sportatorium, Pembroke Pines, FL
ABSOLUTELY FLAWLESS! If you like perfectly executed performances, you’ve come to the right place. This one doesn’t have the monster peak of Barton Hall but it’s cleaner and tighter – as pure and pristine as the driven snow. Listen and believe, brothers and sisters.
October 12, 1984
Augusta Civic Center, Augusta, ME
HEATERRRR! Like many songs from the band’s setlist, the “Dew” got dirtier and nastier in the ’80s – and this version from Augusta is a case in point. Well-paced and packed with x-factor. It might not be as clean as some of the versions from the ’70s but the energy is absolutely mammoth! Jerry comes out swinging with a raucous vocal performance. He’s definitely feelin’ it!
September 18, 1987
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
BEST “DEW” OF THE ’80s? Some even believe it’s the best of all time (myself excluded), but it definitely floats up near the top. Jerry’s solos soar and he serves up a spine-tingling vocal performance. “Morning Dew” is one of those special songs from the band’s live repertoire that may have gotten better as Jerry’s voice became more worn and roughly strained. Check out the Big Man’s vocal crescendo at 4:35. Enough said?