In 1987, the Grateful Dead were unwittingly about to enter into their commercial peak. After 20-plus years of evolution, the Dead had already secured their place as America’s most popular cult band. Without platinum records or mega chart singles, the band had instead created their own world of fandom and lore that encouraged followers to devote as much time and energy to the band as humanly possible.
But then came In the Dark, the band’s 12th studio album. Even though they never paid much attention to studio work and hadn’t actually released a studio LP since 1980’s Go to Heaven, the Dead had a surprising hit record on their hands. The mainstream suddenly had plenty of time for the Dead, largely thanks to the undeniable catchiness of the album’s lead single ‘Touch of Grey’.
“I first heard ‘Touch of Grey’, I heard [Robert] Hunter do it,” Jerry Garcia revealed in the documentary Dead Ringers, which covered the making of the ‘Touch of Grey’ video, the band’s first. “He does it with a different melody so I rewrote the melody. He did it completely different but I loved the way it worked.”
With jaunty rhythms and an uplifting singalong chorus, ‘Touch of Grey’ was the elusive pop-friendly song that most casual fans assumed the Dead would never make. But when they did, ‘Touch of Grey’ was embraced from its very first live performance in 1982 to its eventual hit-single status five years later.
“The song has turned into an anthem in this last tour. Everybody loves it,” Garcia explained. Garcia also opinioned that his original interpretation of the song is moot now that the audience has run with the song. “It doesn’t matter what it originally means anymore. I like to not tie things down if possible. That thing of floating… but it’s a great song to sing. It’s a great song to perform. It really works well. So from a musician’s point of view, does the song have a life of its own? It has a life of its own.”
Check out Garcia’s explanation of ‘Touch of Grey’ and watch the video for the song down below.