Album: American Beauty (1970)
Play Video


  • This song, which was recorded in a country-folk style, was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter. Hunter was not a performing member of the band, but wrote the lyrics to many of their songs. Hunter's words were often very poetic, lending themselves to interpretation. In this song, he writes about the joy of music in the air and how we must all choose our own path.
  • The Dead performed an electric version of "Ripple" at the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, on September 3, 1988. It was the first they'd done so since 1971. According to Dennis McNally's A Long Strange Trip (p. 571), this came after Bob Weir got the request from a young man who was dying of an unidentified illness. Upon getting the request, Weir bet Garcia $10 that he wouldn't be able to remember the lyrics. Garcia took the bet and won. Weir, however, never paid up.
  • Dead chroniclers and fans have noted multiple connections between "Ripple" and the Old Testament's Psalm 23. The harp mentioned at the beginning suggest the musical instrument that traditionally accompanied the psalms. The still water, the cup, the road at night, and some other subtle pieces all suggest a connection.

    Dennis McNally also notes that about 30 friends and neighbors, all untrained singers, were brought in to sing the final chorus, "just like a church service almost anywhere."
  • This song was featured in the movie Mask, starring Eric Stoltz it was also used in the miniseries Taken.
  • Jerry Garcia spotted old pal David Grisman while playing softball with members of Jefferson Airplane. Garcia asked his friend, unplanned, to play mandolin for "Ripple." Grisman agreed and is on the final studio version. He also plays mandolin on "Friend Of The Devil."
  • Hunter wrote "Ripple," "Brokedown Palace," and "To Lay Me Down" (recorded by Jerry Garcia on Garcia in 1972) in a single afternoon at the home of Dead friend Alan Trist (also author of The Water of Life: A Tale of the Grateful Dead, a Folk Story) in Devonshire Terrace, West Kensington, London. It was the second day of his first visit to England. He had drunk half a bottle of Greek Retsina wine and had a case more beside him, which fed his inspiration. Recounting the afternoon many years later in the foreword to The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, he recalled it as an uncommonly magical one that stayed in his memory as "the personal quintessence of the union between writer and Muse, a promising past and bright future prospects melding into one great glowing apocatastasis in South Kensington, writing words that seemed to flow like molten gold onto parchment paper." Merriam Webster defines apocatastasis as "the doctrine of the final restoration of all sinful beings to God and to the state of blessedness."
  • The song's first performance came during a show at San Francisco's Fillmore West on August 18, 1970. It was the same night that "Brokedown Palace," Operator," and "Truckin'" were first played in public. "Ripple" was played during the first set, which was acoustic. It appeared between "Dark Hollow" and "Brokedown Palace."
  • The song appears at the end of the final episode of the TV series Freaks and Geeks, in which the character Lindsay Weir secretly skips out on a trip to an academic summit to join a couple hippies from her school and, presumably (taking into account earlier conversations), strikes off to follow the Dead on tour for the summer.

Comments: 20

  • Guybezzar from San Clemente This is easily my all time favorite Dead song. I listen to it once a month. The lyrics are certainly open to your own interpretation. When I was kid I thought it was about Ripple wine which I heard Jerry was fond of.
  • Rene from ChicagoOur church sings Ripple at Pentecost, which I appreciate!
  • Elliot from Montgomery, AlThey played this song at my friend's funeral. He had a lot of stickers.."Grateful Dead", "Alabama Crimson Tide" and others. His wish was to have his casket covered with the stickers. So the ones in attendance put a sticker(s) on his casket. While he was alive his car was covered with stickers. It was a nice good-bye in sending him on his way.

    He wanted me to have a particular ring of his. The ring had the first and last Dead shows he attended engraved as well as the "steal your face" design.

    I work at a casino where there's a swimming pool. Everyday I make it a point to go to the pool, sing Ripple and when comes to the lyric, "Ripple in still water..., I put my finger that's wearing the ring in the pool and make a ripple. I finish the song and tell him, "I'll see you later."

    Also at times when I see a pool of water and I have an opportunity to make a ripple in it, I do.

    Whenever I hear this song, I think about my best friend and how I miss him.
  • Krishna from Arcata, CaJust came across some lines by a James W. Foley which remind me of this my favorite Dead song...

    "Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute it is gone; But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on. They keep spreading, spreading, spreading from the center as they go, And there is no way to stop them, once you've started them to flow.

    Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute you forget; But there's little waves a-flowing, and there's ripples circling yet, And perhaps in some sad heart a mighty wave of tears you've stirred, And disturbed a life was happy where you dropped that careless word.

    Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone; But there's half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on, Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave Till you wouldn't believe the volume of the one kind word you gave."

    Drop a word of cheer and kindness: in a minute you forget; But there's gladness still a-swelling, and there's joy a-circling yet, And you've rolled a wave of comfort whose sweet music can be heard Over miles and miles of water just by dropping one kind word.
  • Gracie from Toronto, OnThe song title is "ripple". Since Garcia has already told us that the song has a spiritual meaning, it seems clear to me that ripple refers to faith. The song is about faith.

    Others have speculated that ripple refers to one action leading to another, but this song clearly states that the ripple was created WITHOUT any action like the wind or a stone being tossed.
  • Bob from Southfield, MiI once heard Garrison Keillor do a decent rendition of this song on "The Prarie Home Companion".
  • Blind Catfish Willie from Wichita, KsThis is my favorite Grateful Dead song. It embodies the essence of the Grateful Dead, the times, and the spirit of my generation, as well as Dylans Mr. Tambourine man did. It was perfect for Jerry, it is perfect for all. It is life, it is Grateful Deads essence. Peace and Love IS God and we all choose our path.

    Blind Catfish Willie
  • Stacy from Two Rivers, WiThis is one of those songs that just struck me. It is so simple and so deep . . . it's about life. About the lonely journey we all face and about a human's need to connect to other humans along that journey. We can connect, we can help each other along, but we must remain free inside ourselves to find our own way.

    All outside forces removed, we create a ripple that spreads out to all others. Our actions, or our inability to act, affects those around us. . . positive or negative it comes from inside us alone and radiates out to others.

  • Barb from Canton Il, IlMy youngest boy died in January 09. He'd gotten me back into the Dead years ago. Ripple was played at his funeral service, as well as John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy". His biggest thrill was meeting Phil Lesh in Florida. I will always love and miss you, Aaron.
  • Allison from New Haven, CtMy 19 year old brother died in August and I chose this song as his song at the funeral. I think it is all about choosing to live a life of deeper thinking and existentialism. My brother lived this life and thought of music and poetry as expressions of the "human god within all of us." I also believe it is about humans who do not subscribe to any ideology-- they search for thier own version of the meaning of life. The line: "If I knew the way, I would take you home" means so much to me b/c I think of this as dialogue between my brother and I. He would have said this to me b/c he was always searching for answers and I now feel this way towards him b/c (as the older sister) I always wanted to guide him, but he ultimately died from a drug overdose and I wish that I could have had answers for him that kept him from searching in destructive ways.
  • Tom from Marble Falls, ArWhen I die, I'd like this song played at my funeral, along with Box of Rain. I think a wake with an open bar would also add to the occasion. Of course, I want a HUGE tombstone with an epitaph chronicling my demise (in limerick form) scrolled beneath two really awesome looking gargoyles (I think we need to go back to putting gargoyles on tombstones, don't you?) Anyway, this would be an awesome song for when I die, IMHO.
  • Lalah from Wasilla, AkThis was played at a friend's funeral when I was a teenager as his casket was carried out of the church. I wasn't familiar with the Grateful Dead then but started listening after hearing this. It soothes the broken heard yet tears at you when you are remembering a lost loved one. Sorry for your loss, Deana - it's unnatural to bury a child. I hope you had a lot of support, and not just from listening to Ripple.
  • Deana from Appleton, WiI love this song so much. It means the world to me. I never knew the true story behind it as to why I'm on this site. In 1997, my husband & I lost our six day old son very unexpectedly due to Charge Syndrome. At seventeen and eighteen years old, we had no clue how to plan a funeral let alone song choices. But we did know we wanted Ripple played and it did. R.I.P Jerry Garcia and Dylan Wayne Krabbe. Love you both and Thank you for such a wonderful song. It really does mean the world to me!!!
  • Happy from In The Boonies, InThis has been one of my favorite songs for as long as I can remember. American Beauty is my favorite Grateful Dead album. It was also the first album of theirs I had. So, it's sentimental to me.
  • Madison from Norway, MeThis song always reminds me of "Heart With No Companion" by Leonard Cohen.
  • Leah from Pittsfield, MaI heard a rumor that it was about a fan who was dying of cancer and who Garcia visited as a last wish and wrote this song about afterwards. Personally, i take my own meanings from it but i think we can all agree that it's about death
  • The Last Dj from Hell.a., CaHeard this amazing song on My Name Is Earl the other night in the "Creative Writing" episode. The music that is played on that show should be enough for anyone to become a fan. "If I knew the way, I would take you home." That strikes a chord in the ol' ticker, great line. Hats off to the Dead.
  • Street Strategist from Hong Kong, Hong Kong"Ripple": Lyric written in London, 1970. According to an interview with Hunter in a documentary film by Jeremy Marre, "Ripple," "Brokedown Palace" and "To Lay Me Down" were all composed in one afternoon, over a half-bottle of retsina. (The film aired on VH-1 on April 16, 1997.)
  • Michael from Macungie, PaJerry Garcia and Phil Lesh had recently lost their parents shortly before the recording of "American Beauty." "Box of Rain" was Lesh's contribution, and he co-wrote it with Hunter as a tribute to his dying father. "Ripple" may well have been Jerry's ode to his parents. Either way, it's understandable why Jerry was hesitant to perform it. This song is deeply personal, yet universal at the same time. IMHO, the strongest cut from this incredible album.
  • Andy from Custer, SdGarcia used to say he felt uncomfortable singing this song as it deals with the supernatural, religion, and the afterlife. Jerry said he was not holy enough, and the song should be sung by a minister. I'm glad Jerry sang it. A profound, positive song.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs

Richard Butler of The Psychedelic FursSongwriter Interviews

Psychedelic Furs lead singer Richard Butler talks about their first album since 1991 and explains what's really going on in "Pretty In Pink."

Country Song Titles

Country Song TitlesFact or Fiction

Country songs with titles so bizarre they can't possibly be real... or can they?

Yacht Rock!

Yacht Rock!Song Writing

A scholarly analysis of yacht rock favorites ("Steal Away," "Baker Street"...) with a member of the leading YR cover band.

Songs in Famous Movie Scenes: Tarantino Edition

Songs in Famous Movie Scenes: Tarantino EditionMusic Quiz

Whether he's splitting ears or burning Nazis, Quentin Tarantino uses memorable music in his films. See if you can match the song to the scene.

Ian Astbury of The Cult

Ian Astbury of The CultSongwriter Interviews

The Cult frontman tells who the "Fire Woman" is, and talks about performing with the new version of The Doors.

Loreena McKennitt

Loreena McKennittSongwriter Interviews

The Celtic music maker Loreena McKennitt on finding musical inspiration, the "New Age" label, and working on the movie Tinker Bell.