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Shakedown Street—6    

 

Released: 1978

1) Good Lovin’ 2) France 3) Shakedown Street 4) Serengetti 5) Fire On The Mountain 6) I Need A Miracle 7) From The Heart Of Me 8) Stagger Lee 9) All New Minglewood Blues 10) If I Had The World To Give

 

This is a very uneven album, with four good to great songs and six average to pointless songs.  One of the biggest reasons for this imbalance is that Jerry, by far the Dead’s best songwriter, only wrote three of the tunes and, save for the title track, they are not among his best efforts.  Bob Weir and Mickey Hart come through admirably, but all in all, this album sounds dated.  It has a different vibe from any other Dead offering, specifically in the drumming patterns (some have claimed it is the Dead’s disco album), but ultimately “Shakedown Street” is severely bruised by the overbearing amount of filler.                                              

 

A cover of  Good Lovin’” starts the album and is a typical Dead cover in that they slow it down and add elements of their own (in this case Hart’s unusual Latin beat drumming).  It’s just ok—nothing really amazing or anything spectacular, just a standard Grateful Dead cover.  Pigpen used to sing it in concert, and frankly it could have used his style.  The fact that they even included it on the album displays they might have been hard pressed for new ideas.  France” follows and continues Hart’s strange, but captivating drumming.  Donna Godchaux takes the lead vocals with Weir singing harmony.  This is a very intriguing, mellow song that sounds like adult contemporary music (save for the coda which really cooks).  You might not like it at all, but it is so foreign sounding and curious that I enjoy the hell out of it.        

 

The title track is next and is a definite highlight with its guitar fills and disco beat.  One of the Dead’s best 1970s songs, it has all the elements that the latter half of this album lacks: great music, an excellent hook, and a catchy chorus.  Serengetti” is pointless.  Just about the most filled in filler I’ve heard since “What Become of the Baby” on “Aoxomoxoa.”  Why release this?  I feel like this was a joke that I couldn’t get.  It’s just a boring drum fill repeated for two minutes.  Blahh!      

 

Fire on the Mountain” is awesome.  It is a Mickey Hart/Robert Hunter original and is probably the best non-Jerry Dead song.  Some have said that it pales in comparison to live versions, but this studio version in no way diminishes its greatness.  Jerry’s solo is perfect and it is just a classic.  These are Hunter’s best lyrics on the album, and one of the best openings to any Dead song ever: “Long distance runner, what you standing there for?”  What a unique way to say such a common thought. 

 

I Need a Miracle” is one of Bob Weir’s best songs.  It has a hard rock feel and is really sung well.  A deserved concert favorite, it will get your toe tapping and you’ll feel compelled to sing along with the chorus—certainly another highlight.  Unfortunately, the rest of the album is all padding.  From the Heart of Me” is a Donna Godchaux tune and despite her pleasant voice is just dreary and uninteresting.  All New Minglewood Blues” is a cover of a 1920s blues song.  It has great lyrics like: “The preacher man call me a sinner, but his little girl call me a saint,” and “With a couple of shots of whiskey, women round here start lookin' good.”  But this song sounds like any band could have done it.  Yes it is a good song and the Dead don’t do a bad job, but like “Good Lovin’”, they must have been a little sterile in the songwriting department to include it on a studio album. 

 

Stagger Lee” and “If I Had The World To Give” confirm the lack of material.  They are both written by Jerry, and sung exceptionally well, with the latter even having a nice solo in the middle.  Regrettably though, these tunes just don’t have a lot going for them.  It’s not that either suck or anything, it’s just they lack distinction.  Stagger Lee” is just a story song with the backing chords never changing and with no chorus or hook or even that interesting of lyrics.  If I Had The World To Give” is a step better musically and lyrically, but is another adult contemporary song that sounds like it should be played in the halls of Wal-Mart or something.

 

With “Fire on the Mountain,” “Shakedown Street,” and “I Need A Miracle,” you can’t really call this a bad album, but it isn’t great either.  Save for perhaps “France,” the rest of the album does nothing to add to the Dead catalog and in the case of “Serengetti” actually takes away from some of the Dead’s mystic.  Still, after 13 years and 1.73 billion tons of drugs consumed, to have an album with a change of sound, and three excellent songs is a fine effort.                         

 

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