Track of the Day: 'Can't Come Down'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Fifty years ago today, five musicians began a long strange trip at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park. The Warlocks were fronted by clean-shaven lead guitarist Jerry Garcia and rounded out with guitarist and singer Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, and keyboardist/swingman Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. The group later discovered that another band had already signed a contract as “The Warlocks,” so they dropped the fusty, mid-‘60s period-piece moniker in favor of a new one—something a little more mysterious, a little spookier, a collective name that maybe better captured their collective spirit. Almost exactly seven months later, on December 4, 1965, the Grateful Dead performed for the first time at a Ken Kesey Acid Test.

Though the Dead is famous for the live recordings of shows traded by Deadheads, there are no known recordings of the pizza parlor gig. But here’s an oddball early track from November 1965, a year and a half before the band’s debut record:

It doesn’t really sound anything like the band that would emerge—either the hard-driving, primal psychedelia of the late 1960s, or the agile, jazzy swing of the 1970s. Dead expert David Dodd confesses, “I’m not sure I would even necessarily know that it was a Dead song if I heard it on the radio.” The music was apparently written by the band, with lyrics by Garcia. Musically, it’s a kinda foursquare British invasion knockoff, though Pigpen’s harp and Garcia’s so-so Dylan-knockoff lyrics recall Bringing It All Back Home, which came out six weeks or so before the May 5 gig.

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