Grateful Dead – Ripple

Ripple is one of the best-known songs by the Dead and just a beautiful song to listen to. A big brother to a friend of mine was a pure dead head so I got a full education in the 80s. At that time I hardly ever heard them on radio. I do remember this song in the movie Mask in the scene where Rocky dies. Lately, I’ve been reading and listening to their discography again and I’ve listened to them a bit closer.

The song was written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia. Hunter was not a performing member of the band but wrote the lyrics to many of their songs. Many of them were framed by Garcia’s wonderful melodies. His words can be poetic and lend themselves to interpretation…much like some of Dylan’s lyrics.

The song was on their album American Beauty album. The album peaked at #30 in the Billboard Album Charts in 1971. It was reissued for its 50th anniversary and peaked at #19 in 2020.

I’ve been wanting to post this song for a couple years after seeing Jim cover it. The post is here. The Grateful Dead was primarily known as a live band for good reason. Sometimes live versions sound better than their studio cuts. This one though, I don’t think anyone can top the studio version of this song including them. They only performed the song around 40 times in their career.

While playing softball with members of Jefferson Airplane in 1970. Garcia saw his musician friend David Grisman and asked him to play mandolin on Ripple. Grisman agreed and is on the final studio version. He also plays mandolin in Friend Of The Devil.

They performed an electric version of Ripple in Landover, Maryland, on September 3, 1988. According to the book A Long Strange Trip,  Bob Weir got a request for Ripple from a man who was dying of an illness. Upon getting the request, Weir bet Garcia $10 that he wouldn’t be able to remember the lyrics. Garcia took the bet and won. Weir, however, never paid up.

Dennis McNally the author of Long Strange Trip also notes that about 30 friends and neighbors, all untrained singers, were brought in to sing the final chorus, “just like a church service almost anywhere.


If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home


Author: Badfinger (Max)

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

16 thoughts on “Grateful Dead – Ripple”

  1. Very nice, mellow little song. I don’t remember ever hearing it before, but I should go look at my CDs…I have a double-disc compilation of theirs but could only name you maybe 6 songs on there. Cool video too (the studio version).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice tune, Max! When a few years ago, I finally decided to do some Grateful Dead exploration, I listened to “American Beauty” and liked it. In general, their earlier music spoke more to me. I also liked the predecessor “Workingman’s Dead”. Again, the Dead showed mercy with a live version that clocks in under 10 minutes! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would say the improvisation and a different show at every concert. Plus they communicated with their fans plus let them tape shows.


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