by Aaron Donovan, 1999
Most Americans born in the latter two thirds of this century know this song as the 1966 pop hit performed by The Rascals that survives today on oldies radio stations. However, the song had another, much different life away from the spotlight of pop culture. It was a Grateful Dead staple for nearly all of their touring career, coming in two distinct phases. First, there were the 133 known Pigpen versions between 5/7/69 and 5/25/72 (and at least one very early Pigpen version, on 5/19/66) and then there were the 293 versions sung by Bobby between 10/20/74 and 6/24/95. "Good Lovin’" was the first of the former Pigpen tunes that the Dead revived, and it was the only former Pigpen number in the rotation throughout the whole of the post-Pigpen 1970s. The band didn’t revive Pigpen’s other songs until much later. "Turn on Your Lovelight" was brought back on 10/16/81, "Big Boss Man" on 12/26/81, "Hard to Handle" on 12/30/82, "In the Midnight Hour" on 12/31/82, "Smokestack Lightning" on 10/09/84, and "I’m a King Bee" on 12/08/93.
The band used the Pigpen versions of "Good Lovin’" as an early vehicle for extended jamming. These monster versions, which easily lasted more than 15 minutes and usually included about five minutes of drum solo sandwiched in the middle, were likely to comprise the core material of a set, around which all else would be based. They were full-blown productions: the song would start out of complete silence with a familiar and energetic drum rhythm to the same ecstasy-inducing effect as when done in "Not Fade Away." With the drums laying down a strong rhythm, each band member would make a distinct entrance: the two guitarists would come in almost simultaneously, followed by Phil’s power-bass, and finally Pigpen’s husky vocals.
By the spring of 1971, Pigpen would use the song to play matchmaker to the audience, suggesting courses of action to the audience, such as, "Now I want everybody in the place to turn around and say ‘Hello’ to the people standing beside you." Generally his "Lovelight" raps were more inspired (they usually came later in a particular show), but one of his all-time most famous raps in any song came during the classic version of "Good Lovin’" performed on 4/17/71 at Princeton University. Besides clearly taking a personal interest in seeing members of his audience go home happy, Pigpen’s habit of singing the lyrics in the first person makes it seem as if Pigpen is talking right to each person in the audience. When sung in the first person, Pigpen makes "Good Lovin’" sound like romantic advice to an old friend. (Weir, in his versions, would often add brief personalized rap stanzas like, "You need it, I need it too, I’m talkin’ about me and I’m talkin’ about you," but by then the shows were too large and the band members too famous, so most of the personal affect is lost.) While the early versions of "Good Lovin’" never quite matched the intensity of a Pigpen-driven "Lovelight," they were often the highlight of a set in which they appeared. The best of these early "Good Lovin’" performances is probably the spectacular 5/2/70 Harpur College version.
The song’s second phase began during the show known as "The Last One," a show that thankfully turned out to be more about firsts than lasts. The band surprised the audience with an unexpected "Good Lovin’," which opened the third set on 10/20/74. At the time it was played, Deadheads hadn’t heard a Pigpen number since the band played the closing bars of "Chinatown Shuffle" way back on 5/26/72, the last show of the "Europe ’72" tour. It was also the first time they heard another band member singing vocals formerly sung by Pigpen. If anyone that night thought poorly of the practice of reviving a song formerly sung by the late keyboardist, their sentiment is nowhere to be found today. Adding to the emotional milieu of that unique night, many people expected the band to open that set with "Dark Star," as Mike Dolgushkin notes in his review of that show in DeadBase.
Frankly, however, for all its historic importance, the breakout version is not that great. Probably, the band wanted something to spice up an auspicious night, and chose to break out an old song that they all sort of remembered how to play. The version is over 12 minutes long, but the jam is weak at places — it even sounds almost like a proto-"Fire on the Mountain" (which had just been written by then) beginning at about 6:15 minutes into the song - and the backing vocals are not quite polished to their usual gleam. Evidence that the band hadn’t rehearsed the number all that thoroughly comes at one point when Donna (the only person on stage that night who wasn’t in the band when the song was last performed) sings "Mr. M.D." where she is supposed to sing "Doctor," and Jerry corrects her on the next entrance by singing his "Doctor" more loudly than usual. It is, however, a good version to have, since it’s a great window into what the song would have sounded like if it had been played more often during that great, unique era — 1973 and 1974.
Nearly two years later, the band decided to keep the song in the rotation, placing the song in the middle of the second set during the show of 10/3/76. It stayed in very heavy rotation (once every 2.6 shows) from that time until mid-1984, after which time it was played less frequently, once every 9.4 shows. There were two ways the song was performed during the post-revival years of the song’s life. First, after thrice experimenting with putting "Good Lovin’" after "Fire on the Mountain," the band decided it flowed better following "Bertha." The chord structure in "Good Lovin’" guaranteed a smooth transition from "Bertha," and the two songs seemed made for each other. The two formed a high-energy pair that was often used to fill the crucial slot of second-set opener. The performances of the two in tandem began with the famous 5/9/77 Buffalo version and mostly occurred in ’77, ’78, and ’79 though the pair continued to show up in setlists occasionally all the way until the show of 6/6/93 at Giants Stadium, when it opened the second set.
Second, beginning in 1980, the song was used to close the second set, alternating with such rockers as "Sugar Magnolia," "Around And Around," "Turn on Your Lovelight," "Johnny B. Goode," and "One More Saturday Night," and "Throwing Stones" > "Not Fade Away." In the early and mid 1980s, it usually followed "Around And Around," as if the band didn’t think either one alone would be a good closer. Then the boys gradually split the two, using either one alone to close the second set, a move that added variety to the part of the show where it was most needed.
In general, Bobby’s versions seem somehow cleaner (both musically and lyrically). His voice is smooth and more controlled compared with Pigpen’s gruff bluesy style. Regarding the lyrics there were several differences, such as the fact that Bobby sings the song in the second person, singing "All you need," where Pigpen had used the first person, singing "All I need." Another difference is that while Pigpen used the rap to highlight the need for sexual contact between those in the audience, Bobby, while preserving the rap at the end of the song, used it to much different effect — he used it to describe the shrinking global village and de-emphasize the Cold War. He often notes that people need good lovin’ "Even in Russia," "Way down in China," and "All over the world!"
But the main distinction between the two phases of the song’s life is at the band doesn’t jam out as much on the later versions. While it had been a song that showcased the band’s talent at improvisation, it became a get-up-and-dance showstopper. The Weir versions are not as prone to cause the listener a mental meltdown, but they do have great moments of catharsis nonetheless. A classic example of prime Weir/Garcia interaction comes on Halloween 1980 during a particularly high-energy "Good Lovin’," that was caught on the Dead Ahead video. Weir gets into what can only be described as "a zone" during his rap. He is so out there that he stops playing guitar, gazes off into space, and arms waving for emphasis, tells the audience that they’ve just got to have a little good lovin’. Weir gets so into it that even staid Jerry cracks up. When the camera shows Jerry, he’s shrugging and smiling in a friendly way, as if to say, "I can’t believe this guy."
In general, Bobby did a good job of carrying on a lyrical tradition begun by Pigpen. He continued to add a rap section of the song, and he paid tribute to Pigpen during the rap segment of the song with words like, "It’s like a friend of mine used to say, gotta have some lovin’ each and every single day, or I’m just gonna dry up and fade away." I always interpreted that as a salute to Mr. McKernan, but of course, maybe Bobby was just talking about some other guy he knew who used to say that.
In the later versions, Jerry tended to lay back vocally, allowing Weir to rap and generally dominate the vocal portion of the song. Garcia would just chime in with the words "Good lovin’," when the time was right — singing them with an upbeat, almost pop feel. There were exceptions to this, though. In September 1987 the Dead performed four versions of "Good Lovin’" in which Jerry sings a couple of verses of "La Bamba." It was a nice flourish for a song that some would say was not as innovative as some of the high-rotation Dead originals. The Spanish verses, which lasted about two minutes each, fit well with the rhythm of "Good Lovin’," and they came as a welcome shakeup to Dead fans. The most famous of these "La Bamba" versions was on 9/18/87, at Madison Square Garden.
But no matter who sang the song, "Good Lovin’" makes the short list of extremely successful cover tunes performed by the Dead. Like "Turn on Your Lovelight," and "Not Fade Away," "Good Lovin’" was a cover tune that became a Grateful Dead staple, serving the band and Deadheads well over the long haul. No matter what the composition of the band, the song sent the crowds home happy year after year. I won’t go so far as to say, "It’s just the one song you just can’t have too much of," but for a cover song, it’s one that can be listened to more often than most.
1: 4/6/71, Manhattan Center.
2: These lyrics can be found reprinted in Gans, David, and Peter Simon, Playin’ in the Band, pp. 129 - 133 and DeadBase VIII, p. 377.
3: DeadBase X, p. 365.4: 10/31/80. Bobby says something similar on 6/14/80: "A friend of mine once used to say, ‘Gimme some lovin’ or I’m gonna fade.’