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Music

The Grateful Dead song Robert Hunter called "my favourite"

@TylerGolsen

In his long association with The Grateful Dead, lyricist Robert Hunter created some of the most iconic lines and phrases in the history of hippie culture. From “What a long strange trip it’s been” in ‘Truckin’ to “This darkness has got to give” from ‘New Speedway Boogie’, Hunter created some of the most oft-quoted and beloved lines for an entire generation. When your first contributions to a band include ‘Dark Star’, ‘China Cat Sunflower’, and ‘St. Stephen’, you know you’ve got a long career ahead of you.

It was on a cut from 1970’s American Beauty, however, that contained one of Hunter’s personal favourite lines. Although everyone from former President Barack Obama to your weird stoner cousin have quoted the line “Let there be songs to fill the air”, Hunter keyed into another line from ‘Ripple’ that had special resonance for him: “Let it be known there is a fountain/ That was not made by the hands of men.” 

“That’s pretty much my favourite line I ever wrote, that’s ever popped into my head. And I believe it, you know?” Hunter told Rolling Stone. “We were in Canada on that train trip [the Festival Express, 1970] and one morning the train stopped and Jerry was sitting out on the tracks not too far off, in the sunrise, setting “Ripple” to music. That’s a good memory.”

American Beauty was the culmination of the Dead’s initial turn in commercial fortunes. After their first three experimental studio albums failed to find an audience outside of their dedicated following, the Dead simplified the process: acoustic guitars, minimal time in the studio, and a strict eye on coming in under budget. To streamline the process, nearly all of the songs going forward would be products of a prodigious writing period for Hunter and Jerry Garcia. 

1970 saw the release of two albums with this philosophy: Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. For the first time in their career, the Dead actually sold a fair number of LPs, allowing them greater freedom from their record company and expanding their audience to a new group of fans who were ready to hop on the bus and join the Deadhead cult. What they found was a rich tableau of old-time Americana that could only have come from the mind of Robert Hunter.

Check out ‘Ripple’ down below.