Jesse Jarnow

“mountains of the moon” (original angel choir mix) – the grateful dead

“Mountains of the Moon” – The Grateful Dead (download)
from Aoxomoxoa original mix (1969)

High on the list of Dead tunes likely to convert freak-folkers is Aoxomoxoa‘s “Mountains of the Moon.” With Tom Constanten’s swirling harpsichord and Robert Hunter’s oblique, mythical lyrics, it’s a bauble that didn’t sustain in the Dead’s repertoire, whose most tender songs required (for better or worse) a certain machismo to survive the ‘heads. While “Mountains” served as a perfect prelude to at least 11 “Dark Stars” in 1969, its modal (1) melody couldn’t even last long enough for the band’s abundant acoustic sets the following year. Drag.

I love how Hunter’s lyrics get down with the folk mythos — Tom Banjo, Electra, etc. — but also find a moment of psychedelic focus, the hallucinations parting for a brief second like ascending angels: “hey, the city in the rain.”

It is perhaps the aforementioned angels who hummm and ooooh behind the original 1969 version on Aoxomoxoa, removed by Jerry Garcia himself in a 1971 remix. On first listen, I wished there were more of them, but I think they’re in just the right proportion to last the duration of the track’s four minutes without grating. Like the Blood on the Tracks demo acetate, the Aoxomoxoa mix comes bundled with the vinyl warmth of its source. (Big ups to SeaOfSound for the music.)

(1) I think.