My Top 1000 Songs #491: Spanish Jam

[I've been writing up my Top 1000 songs on a daily basis--you can see them all in descending order by hitting the All My Favorite Songs tag.]

Gonna break a few of my list rules here: First off, this is an instrumental, and I'm largely steering clear of these, a few exceptions aside. Moreover, it's not even really a proper song. Rather, "Spanish Jam" is the unofficial name given to a jam that the Grateful Dead segued in and out of at a few dozen performances over their thirty-year run. It showed up as early as 1968, and after dropping in and out of fashion, in one of their final shows in June 1995.

The song has a simple two-chord motif, rising steadily over a march tempo, topped off with some distinctive jamming. The Dead borrowed it from Miles Davis' flamenco-tinged 1960 album Sketches of Spain (hence the informal name given the Dead's jam by early tape traders)--and particularly the closing track "Solea"--with Miles' trumpet replaced by some Garcia/Weir/Lesh vamping alongside whichever Dead keyboardist happened to be alive at the moment. (Grace Slick also repurposed the basic vibe for Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit.")

I first heard it on a tape of the Dead's June 23, 1974 Miami concert. In that performance, the motif emerges out of a trippy deep-space "Dark Star" improvisation (instrumental, with no verses), hypnotic and intense and gradually building, before surprisingly easing into a rousing "U.S. Blues." And while I've since accumulated countless other shows featuring "Spanish Jam," that remains my personal favorite. (The extended "Dark Star > Spanish Jam > U.S. Blues" was later released on the So Many Roads box set, and the entire concert was finally given an official release as Dave's Picks Vol. 34.)

One fan put together a truly astonishing collection of 45+ performances from 1968-1995 and posted it over on the Internet Archive; the jams run from around 2 to 15 minutes apiece (though typically in the 5-minute range), and it's fascinating, at least for true Deadheads, to trace the evolution of the band's sound through this one particular jam.

Here's the Miami '74 version (with the "Spanish Jam" starting at about 18:15 into the clip:

Here's one of the first versions, primal 1968 Dead, emerging out of a soup of feedback:
Making a final appearance, June 1995 (at about 1:24:50 into the concert):
Miles Davis, Solea (the song takes a couple minutes to hit the motif):