Grateful Dead – Touch of Grey

I knew of the Grateful Dead from some older brothers of friends I had and particularly one. I had heard of them as a kid in the seventies before I actually heard them. I always pictured this heavy tough metal band with a name like that. Whenever they toured they would draw a good amount of fans despite having no top ten hits…until this song. After this song, they drew huge amount of attention and fans.

When this came out in the 80s, it was like Deadmania. With MTV  suddenly everyone was talking about them. While big success is great it did cause some trouble at some of their concerts. Chilled-out Deadheads followed them around the country for decades. Some financed their travels by hawking food, T-shirts, and handicrafts…not to mention pot and LSD usually peacefully. In the years more would add to the fold…some described it as a community more than a concert. In 1987 they suddenly had an influx of new young fans (Touchheads) and some didn’t know what the band was about. Along with them came some gate crashers and riots.

With the backing of the band, older Deadheads handed out flyers on how to act, trying to mellow out the crowd.

Robert Hunter started writing the lyrics to this song in 1980, and the Grateful Dead first performed it in 1982. They played it sporadically over the next few years and finally recorded it for their 1987 album In The Dark.

In the Dark peaked at #6 in the Billboard Album Chart. It was their first album since the 1980 Go To Heaven. Touch of Grey peaked at #9 in the Billboard 100.

 

From Songfacts

Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics, as he did with many Dead songs, although Jerry Garcia wrote the line, “Light a candle, curse the glare.” This is according to the book Box Of Rain, which was written by Hunter and is a collection of his published songs. In the book, it is “A Touch of Grey” and has an asterisk next to the line Jerry wrote. >>

According to David Dodd in The Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, the line “Light a Candle, curse the glare” is a play on Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 reference to Eleanor Roosevelt’s death. He said, “She would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.” The line, “The Ables and the Bakers and the Cs” refers to the first two words in an older version of the military communication alphabet, “Able” and “Baker.” The modern version starts with “Alpha” and “Bravo.”

The song is about the band aging gracefully. The phrase “Touch Of Grey” is a reference to getting older, as for most people, their hair starts getting grey as they age.

Aging gracefully is a challenge, especially in the music industry. According to Dead drummer Mickey Hart, Robert Hunter wrote the lyric as a pick-me-up. “When he wrote ‘Touch Of Grey,’ we were struggling,” Hart said. “But it became an anthem to us. It perked us up.”

This was The Grateful Dead’s first and only hit song. They never set out to be on the radio, enthralling fans with their mind-bending musical landscapes and confounding critics with their interminable jamming. Their large and loyal following ensured that their albums sold well and their concerts were full. For many of the Dead faithful, it was strange hearing the group on pop radio and seeing them on MTV, but the song fit well with their canon and was clearly not an attempt to chase the ’80s trends.

The song did change the dynamic of Dead discovery. Most fans were turned on to the band by listening to their classic albums or going to a concert with a seasoned follower, but now there was a new poseur class who came on board for “Touch Of Grey.”

The line, “I will get by, I will survive,” became a mantra of resilience in the Dead community. When Jerry Garcia fell into a diabetic coma in July 1986, it looked like the group could be finished; when he returned to action in December, the group opened with “Touch Of Grey,” reassuring fans that they would indeed get by.

Following Garcia’s death in 1995, various incarnations of the band and associated acts like Ratdog and Phil Lesh & Friends have played the song. A notable performance came on the final night of their Fare Thee Well tour on July 5, 2015 in Chicago when Trey Anastasio and Bruce Hornsby each sang a verse. When the band returned that year as Dead & Company with John Mayer in the fold, the song went back into rotation.

The band made a video for this song, which was the first one they made for MTV. Directed by Justin Kreutzmann, they shot it after a concert at Laguna Seca Raceway in California on May 9, 1987, which let them use a real audience. The crowd was re-admitted after the shoot was set up; they saw the band run through the song in human form, and also as skeleton likenesses. This footage was combined to create the clip.

The video was included on Dead Ringers: The Making of Touch of Grey, which was sold as a home video.

The Dead were known for varying their setlists so that every show was different, and they didn’t change this tradition even when this song was on the charts. Instead of catering to newcomers by playing their hit single at every concert, they only played it when they felt like it.

The Mighty Diamonds covered this in 1996 on Fire On The Mountain, an album of reggae versions of Grateful Dead songs.

In addition to its #9 showing on the Hot 100, this song went to #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart and #15 on the Adult Contemporary tally.

Touch of Grey

Must be getting early clocks are running late
Faint light of the morning sky looks so phony
Dawn is breaking everywhere
Light a candle curse the glare
Draw the curtains I don’t care ’cause it’s alright

I will get by I will get by
I will get by I will survive

I see you’ve got your fist out say your piece and get out
Yes I get the gist of it but it’s alright
Sorry that you feel that way the only there is to say
Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey

I will get by I will get by I will get by I will survive

It’s a lesson to me the eagles and the beggars and the seas
The ABC’s we all must face try to keep a little grace

It’s a lesson to me the deltas and the east and the freeze
The ABC’s we all think of and try to win a little love

I know the rent is in arrears the dog has not been fed in years
It’s even worse than it appears but it’s alright
Cow’s giving kerosene, kid can’t read at seventeen
The words he knows are all obscene but it’s alright

I will get by I will get by I will get by I will survive

The shoe is on the hand that fits, there’s really nothing much to it
Whistle through your teeth and spit ’cause it’s alright
Oh well a touch of grey kinda suits you anyway
And that was all I had to say and it’s alright

I will get by I will get by I will get by I will survive

We will get by we will get by we will get by we will survive
We will get by we will get by we will get by we will survive

 

Author: badfinger20 (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

40 thoughts on “Grateful Dead – Touch of Grey”

  1. Great track!
    One fella who follows my blog is a huge fan! When I get home tonight I’ll copy and paste this article so he can read it
    He’s a cool Deadhead! Lol seen em many times

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deke! I was glad to see them popular for the first time to the masses and not just cult…but it caused trouble for them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One thing I liked about the band was the set lists you never knew what they might play- some tours – probably most tours are so structured. I recall seeing Neil Young back to back nights- Cleveland and Pittsburgh- same set both nights and i knew the set. being a smart ass in Pittsburgh I started calling out for songs and Neil would play what I called out- soon heads around me started turning… I then let it rest.. Neil and I were working on the same page! lol.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh that is classic! They must have thought Neil and you were buddies lol.
      I read where the Dead would not play Touch of Grey if they didn’t feel like it. That probably would have pissed alot of the newer concert goers off…I would have loved the variety of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I saw them 4 times- a couple times were excellent – one so-so and one towards the end- not so good but it was towards the end and Jerry clearly wasn’t on the top of his game anymore… The biggest thing I ever got from The Grateful Dead- in an interview late 80’s during their peak of popularity- an interviewer asked Jerry how he felt about the deadheads- and his response was “It’s hard not to like someone who likes you.”- I had never thought about that before and I have found it to be true 99% of the time.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That is a good statement…so true. Makes you think a little bit.
        I never got to see them. I always wanted to but never could travel at the time. At the end I guess because of his health…I don’t think he really wanted to be up there sometimes.

        Like

      3. I am not sure where I read it- but Jerry was pretty much stuck in hotel rooms- couldn’t go out because of the fame.. I remember being shocked when he died but after i thought about it- it was one of the most predictable celebrity deaths ever- he didn’t take care of himself-and had to be the oldest looking 53 I’ve ever seen. Sad.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’ve noticed looking at pictures he started to visibly age in the late 70s…then it went down down…from what I read he flat out refused to do anything he didn’t want to.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I heard the same things. I think it was probably a miracle that he was able to go out there and perform as often as he did. He couldn’t have felt well at all. It is amazing how skinny he was in the late 60’s. Doesn’t look like the same man.

        Like

  3. awesome song, whole album was good. Like you, I heard of them when I was probably 5, but didn’t hear any of their music til I think I heard ‘Casey Jones’ a handful of times on FM oldies shows in the early-’80s. Was very surprised at how accessible this song was, and how it took off up the charts after them being such a “cult” band for so long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was happy to see them get their due finally though it did cause some problems with crowds. I thought they were some heavy metal band when I was a kid with that name.
      Uncle John’s Band, Casey Jones, and Truckin’ were the first ones I heard as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bill Kreutzmann’s son Justin Kreutzmann directed the behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the video. Touch of Grey was their biggest success, but it is far from being their best song. I guess it came around at the right time to expose Generation X to this underground culture. I saw the Dead 35 times in concert and I have pleanty of good memories from those concerts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh no it’s not their best song. I was going to comment to you last night. I have US Blues halfway written. I usually write more than one post on a band when I can at a time. I just heard this one yesterday afternoon.

      I so wish I could have seen them. I have to respect those to followed them around…it sounds like a cool way to live life for at least a year….this song opened them up to the masses.
      It turns out I haven’t posted anything on them at all. I just did a quick post on them in general so I will be posting more .

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is something you will take with you for the rest of your life. I’ve had some of the coolest conversation with Deadheads… one was an older brother to a friend I had…I called my buddy to tell him Garcia had died…he wasn’t there and his brother answered… I hated telling him that…it broke his heart.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Good write up on a big band. It seemed nothing was simple with them, as much as their fans were the free-spirited sort. I like this song. “Every silver lining’s got a touch of grey”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I had heard their name for decades and that they were a cult band, but it was only a few years ago that I actually started exploring the Grateful Dead more closely. At that time, I was particularly drawn to their early ‘70s roots-oriented albums.

    While I boldly declared I had moved from a knucklehead to a Deadhead in a blog post, in retrospect, that was an exaggeration. I like some of their songs and I’m happy for them they finally had a hit with “Touch of Grey.“ But I’ve since largely moved on to other artists.

    In general, I’m also not a big fan of 10-minute-plus jams. One or perhaps two per gig is cool. After this, I kind of want them to get it over with in 4-5 minutes!😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No I’m not a fan of the long jams either…remember I love the 2-4 minute power pop singles. My favorite albums are Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty…those probably the ones you are talking about. Very Americana albums.

      There are selected songs I like by them like US Blues and a few from the late seventies and I did like this album.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL… I like Casey Jones, Uncle John’s Band, Truckin’, Ripple, and US Blues a lot. This one I like a lot also.

      Like

      1. Petty did well to make stuff from his career second wind (like Full Moon Fever and Into the Great Wide Open) into radio hits. Most of his contemporaries didn’t last that long on the radio,

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think if an older artist…stays true to himself/herself …good things can happen. The Who for instance…their last album was good. It made it to #2 which isn’t bad but it doesn’t mean what it once did.

        The Grateful Dead were in their 40s although Garcia looked pretty bad…when they released this one…their biggest hit.
        It probably would not happen today.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think it’s much easier for a veteran act to get a high chart placement than it used to be as the music scene is so fragmented.

        But much harder to get a song stuck in the cultural vernacular.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh I agree with that. It doesn’t mean what it did before.
        Being an artist now even young doesn’t compare to what it was before. On the plus side…you or I could release a bunch of songs to the world…they may not be heard by a lot of people but the opportunity is there.

        Liked by 1 person

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