“The Beatles were why we turned from a jug band into a rock and roll band.” – Bob Weir
There’s no doubting that The Grateful Dead are one of their generation’s most avant-garde rockers. The band not only championed the spindly grooves of R&B for dancing but also pursued mind-altering riffs and prog-rock jams before prog-rock was even invented. It means that their connection to The Beatles, the band who at the time acted as the most popular group in the world and the darlings of the mainstream, is deep but unique. Admittedly, it’s strange to think of a band of outsiders like the Dead being so infatuated with the Fab Four. However, the truth is, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and the rest of the band were just like anybody else— completely smitten with the lads from Liverpool.
We’d imagine that infatuation may have softened as the Grateful Dead’s own classic style grew but, in truth, there are plenty of connections between the groups. There are a number of moments that the two groups crossed paths, Lennon reportedly attending a Garcia show and Linda McCartney holding a photo session with the band which was later made into a film about the band directed by Paul McCartney. ”I heard on the news that Jerry had died, and I thought, ‘Oh no, I was just about to show the film to him,’” McCartney told the New York Times. ”I’d been in correspondence with him, because he was a painter and I thought he’d like this. Unfortunately, I missed him. I suppose it has become a little bit of a tribute to Jerry because of it.”
With such a strong connection and The Grateful Dead’s penchant for covering plenty of songs during their tours, it’s no wonder that Weir, Garcia and the band have had a go at a few tunes over the years. While there have been plenty of Fab Four covers of the years, it’s their sensational rendition of ‘Revolution’ which is by far the best and it couldn’t be a more perfect crossover for the two bands.
‘Revolution’, taken from The White Album, is certainly one of The Beatles more subversive tunes. “Completely me,” said Lennon when asked whose idea the song was. “We recorded the song twice. The Beatles were getting real tense with each other. I did the slow version (Revolution 1) and I wanted to put it out as a single: as a statement of the Beatles’ position on Vietnam and the Beatles’ position on revolution.” The song was some of the band’s most overtly political music.
“The first take of ‘Revolution’…well, George and Paul were resentful and said it wasn’t fast enough,” the bespectacled Beatle continued, “Now, if you go into the details of what a hit record is and isn’t, maybe. But the Beatles could have afforded to put out a slow, understandable version of ‘Revolution’ as a single, whether it was a gold record or a wooden record.”
It was this side of The Beatles that we imagine The Grateful Dead aligned with — the slightly sideways and always artistically pure face of the band. It seems fitting that they should pick up this cover and do such a fine job of it too. It’s the perfect vehicle for the band’s noodling lead players to let go and find a real groove to return to. It’s a gentle piece that only grows and grows.
Garcia went on to cover the band on numerous occasions picking out both the pop gems such as ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ as well as some of the looser pieces like ‘Dear Prudence’ proving that while The Grateful Dead may seem like the antithesis of The Beatles pop-pomp, the two bands actually had a lot in common. Including the song ‘Revolution’.