My Top 1000 Songs #601: Shakedown Street

[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.]

As you'll know if you've checked out Jittery White Guy Music--yep, still there for the perusing on hated the Grateful Dead right up to the moment I loved the Grateful Dead.

And, yeah, I really hated "Shakedown Street." I still remember the first time I heard it, at a party thrown one summer by my high school friend Craig. Pretty good mixtape, the usual suspects from the early 80s, some Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, etc. And then some incongruous piece of warmed-over disco starts playing, and I had to give Craig a hard time, like, what is this disco shit?

He was a little taken a back, definitely took it as a personal affront. "C'mon, it's the Dead."

I mostly knew them from earlier 70s classic rock chestnuts like "Truckin'" and "Casey Jones" and the like (which I didn't care for, either), and was a little surprised. One more validation that the Dead were pretty lame.

Of course, a year or two later, everything changed. It's the stuff of legend in these here parts. (Ok, got pretty baked in college, heard just the right concert tape at just the right time in just the right state of mind, and it was all over for me.)

And, fine, the studio version of "Shakedown Street," from the 1978 album of the same name, could still be accused of being a little bit disco-adjacent, with its dance-friendly beat, but that riff is an all-timer. Just a couple notes, a wah-wah pedal, and it's instantly recognizable; I'm happy to defend it as a wickedly insinuating track, Garcia pouring on the charm. Plus, even for those who don't care for Robert Hunter's usual lyrical conceits, this one's chock full of sing-along couplets. Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart; just gotta poke around.

Though, of course, like most Dead, it's best enjoyed in live form. As a relatively late addition to the repertoire, a lot of live versions come after Jerry began his downhill slide, the vocals often a bit pained, but you get one in the sweet spot--for me, a lot of early 80s performances--with the band stretching it to 10 or 15 minutes, some astounding white-boy funk being jammed out, Jerry, still nailing the notes, and, hey, it's another great way for fellow skeptics to get shown the light. 

Here's a personal fave, Philadelphia 4/6/82, found on one of the Road Trips archive releases (audio only):