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The Grateful Dead songs that were never performed live


In the world of The Grateful Dead, it wasn’t all that uncommon for some of the band’s most popular songs to never appear on a studio album. Classic tracks like ‘Brown Eyed Women’, ‘Jack Straw’, and ‘He’s Gone’ all found their definitive versions on Europe ’72, and as the band stopped feeling the need to crank out studio albums every year or two during the 1980s, plenty of songs were simply never recorded during the band’s brief forays back into the studio.

Despite being a notoriously wayward recording act, the Dead actually took quite a few solid swings at studio work in the ’70s. Starting with their first truly commercially successful studio albums, Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, the band established their own record label and began churning out new records, with five albums released in six years. Since the band were working hard between recording and touring (minus a brief pause on live touring in 1975), it was natural for most songs to either be previewed and tested on the road or played in support of their inclusion on a new album.

That’s what makes ‘Pride of Cucamonga’ such a strange standout in the band’s catalogue. While tracks like ‘Let Me Sing Your Blues Away’ and ‘Money Money’ were dropped pretty quickly from setlists, they were at least trotted out for a few occasions before it was decided to leave them out. Phil Lesh’s goofy country-like tune, on the other hand, never got a single live performance in the two decades between its writing and the band’s dissolution. It remains the only track on From the Mars Hotel that never got a live performance.

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The reason why is pretty easy to see: the band briefly retired from touring after the release of the album, and Lesh himself had conceded most of his singing duties to Donna Jean Godchaux when she arrived in 1972. Lesh mostly kept his singing contributions to harmony on ‘Truckin’ and ‘I Know You Rider’, and when he decided to step up to a microphone again starting in the late ’80s, it was usually to sing ‘Box of Rain’ or, in the band’s final year, ‘Unbroken Chain’. ‘Pride of Cucamonga’, with its offbeat twang and relatively rigid structure, was not well suited for the live shows of the Dead.

‘Pride of Cucamonga’ is the most infamous song to find its way onto a studio album but never be performed live by the Dead. It wasn’t the only one, though. The African infused drum duel ‘Serengeti’ was technically never performed live, although the song was emblematic of the ‘Drums’ portion of all Dead concerts. More notable was another Shakedown Street track, the Bob Weir-Donna Jean Godchaux duet ‘France’. For whatever reason, ‘France’ never landed on a setlist, and it remains the final studio-recorded song of the band’s career that never got a chance to be played on stage.

All tracks from the final three Dead albums, Go to Heaven, In the Dark, and Built to Last, saw at least one live performance before Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 lead to a percent disbandment. ‘Pride of Cucamonga’ saw a resurrection of sorts when Lesh began leading his own groups, while ‘France’ has only seen to live performances by any Dead offshoot: one by Godchaux, and one by Phil Lesh & Friends.

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