The Dead wrote about 135 songs, and did probably half again as many covers, except that doesn’t tell the whole story. Mainly because some songs, they wrote three or four times.
Jack-A-Roe and Peggy-O are–thematically–the same song: doomed love, hyphens, Game of Thrones vibe. Ramble On Rose and Tennessee Jed are musically the same song, while Ramble On Rose and U.S. Blues are lyrically the same song. Eyes of the World and Help on the Way could be mistaken for each other in a dark alley.
The Dead are lucky that they premiered Iko, Samson, Throwing Stones,and Women are Smarter after their mind-blowing Europe ’72 warm-up show at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Dick’s Pick 30). Otherwise, jamming with Mr. Diddley might have been a little more awkward. (And if you haven’t checked out this offering, you’re just a sillypants: the first disc* alone is worth the price of admission, featuring the five song Bo Diddley jam, a version of Are You Lonely For Me, Baby that defines “ragged but right,” and the only GD performance of How Sweet It Is**–which is odd, because they really rock the hell out of it, but perhaps the three chord tune was a bit boring for a certain bass player.)
To Lay Me Down, Must Have Been the Roses, and Ship of Fools are identical cousins; Black-Throated Wind and Looks Like Rain a bit more distantly related, but still clearly available to donate organs to one another. (Don’t tell Phil.) Chinatown Shuffle and U.S. Blues aren’t fooling anyone.
Now, don’t take this as any sort of chastisement, of course. Hell, a lot of really, really popular bands ripped themselves off: for example, AC/DC has only written, like, three songs in their entire career, which puts them two ahead of the Ramones.
*I hadn’t listened all the way through that first amazing disc when I wrote this, but you MUST check out the Smokestack Lightning, which is usually kind of a drag, but cooks right here PLUS the added fun of–about 8 minutes in or so–hearing Bobby try again and again to drag the rest of them into Truckin’, but the rest of them are simply not having it.
**I mistakenly thought that Bobby and Garcia played How Sweet It Is on Letterman, but it was actually Second That Emotion, because, in keeping with the theme of the post, they are also pretty much the same song. Check it out, anyway: Garcia with Tiger, Bobby with Pepto Pink, and the MONSTROUS Will Lee holding down the bass and backup vocals.