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
Robert Hunter wrote the lyrics on the same afternoon that, after drinking half a bottle of retsina, he wrote "Brokedown Palace
" and "To Lay Me Down."
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.