“Mountains of the Moon” is an obscure song, even by the standards of the Grateful Dead who had a habit of turning deep album cuts into concert staples. The group originally recorded it for their third studio album Aoxomoxoa (the name nobody can pronounce). Written by Jerry Garcia, Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh, the lyrics resemble a lost medieval ballad: “Cold mountain water/The jade merchant’s daughter/Mountains of the moon/ Bow and bend to me.” One can imagine Tyrion Lannister dancing to it on Game of Thrones.
In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
When you consider their longevity, the sheer number and variety of their live performances, and influences as diverse as bluegrass, country, soul, rock, psychedelia, blues, and jazz, it is likely that the Grateful Dead may have recorded and/or performed more covers than any other band that is best known for its original songs. (There’s probably a wedding band out there that has a bigger songbook, but that’s not really the point.) Grateful Dead fans have been trading and cataloging their favorite band’s performances since long before the idea of digital music and the Internet even existed, and now there are numerous databases available online — one of which shows 343 separate covers performed by the band (and solo projects and offshoots), including soundchecks and performances with guests.
Therefore, it is somewhat surprising that Cover Me has never turned its lovelight directly on the Grateful Dead. We have written numerous times about covers of Dead songs, but a quick review of the archives indicates that only three covers by the band have been featured—Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” and Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and “Mama Tried.” So, that leaves us a mere 340 to choose from today. To make this project (inspired in part by Phil Lesh’s 75th birthday this Sunday and by the recent announcement of the band’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago this summer) somewhat less insane, we will limit ourselves only to recordings or performances by the Grateful Dead, proper — no solo projects or anything from after the death of Jerry Garcia.
Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Sweet Jane” is a great song. Released on 1970’s Loaded, the Velvet Underground’s last studio album featuring Lou Reed, it immediately became a staple of FM radio, despite its odd and provocative lyrics, unusual structure, and unconventional sound, and it continues to get airplay to this day. What’s the appeal? Part of it, of course, is the riff (which apparently includes a “secret chord”), part of it is the indescribable cool of Reed’s delivery, and part of it is that magic that makes some songs great and others not so much. According to Rolling Stone, it is the 335th greatest song of all time, which is curiously specific. And now, in honor of Reed’s passing earlier this week at the age of 71, the time has come to write about it here on Cover Me.
There’s always some song that’s getting a lot of cover attention at any given time. Whether ironic or sincere, there’s some intangible quality about certain songs that makes them supremely coverable. That song, at the moment, seems to be the theme from HBO’s Game of Thrones, and it’s easy to see why. A range of new covers – from Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band, Marissa Nadler, and Chvrches – have sprung up in the wake of the premier of the show’s third season, and display the vast possibilities of the song.